"A word in earnest is as good as a speech"
~Charles Dickens: Bleak House

Sunday, September 4, 2011

US Education ...... I fear for the future!

Before I get into my tirade about education policy in the US. I just wanted to give some helpful advice to moms of kids starting school for the new year. The best tip I can give you is to properly pack their lunch (and yours): Simple Things to Do to Lessen Back-to-School Stomach Bugs. I had not thought about this, especially with the invention of insulated lunch bags. After all, my mom would send me to school with an egg salad sandwich in a paper lunch bag in June, and I survived!
I would like to start my rant today with a summary of Ron Paul's stance on education (quoted from The Hechinger Report) as he runs for the Republican nomination for President.

Ron Paul: U.S. Representative Paul, of Texas, is a self-proclaimed “homeschooling champion,” even devoting a section of his website to his position on the subject. He supports tax credits for parents who home-school their children and, if elected, promises to “veto any legislation that encroaches on homeschooling parents’ rights.” Paul is for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education—he referred to it as a “propaganda machine” in March—and voted against NCLB in 2001. In a tax credit bill, he once proposed an annual $1,000 tax credit for teachers. Much like Gingrich, Paul is against the federal government giving out student loans for higher education, saying in an interview with MSNBC, “Nobody has a right to somebody else’s wealth. You have a right to your life, you have a right to your property, but you don’t have—education isn’t a right. Medical care isn’t a right. These are things you have to earn.” Paul did later clarify that he was fine with students receiving loans from other sources, such as the schools themselves.

I am amazed and horrified! While I appreciate parents who home-school their children and think they probably do deserve a tax credit for all that work, I also believe there should be standards in place so that we know these children are actually learning their ABCs and 123s. I also think there should probably be some sort of training program to make sure the parents home schooling their children actually are intelligent people who can pass knowledge on to their children.

As for higher education .... I wouldn't be where I am today had I not received my Pell Grant or my (what was called at the time) Educational Incentive Loan (if I graduated from college with a certain GPA it was a grant - if I did not complete college it became a loan ... but we will talk more about this later). And after looking at Ron Paul's biography I would be interested to know whether or not he too benefited from some federal grants and/or loans. While I have to admit that he is correct that education is not a right specified in the Constitution, it is a part of civil society that keeps us one step ahead of the competition. And this is a step we are losing quickly!

However, I recently listened to a report on NPR that the United States has gone from #1 in students who graduate from college to #10. While our high school dropout rates have been declining, our college drop-out rates have been increasing. "For every five students who start in community college, only one finishes within three years, even though community college programs are supposed to be two years or less. The numbers at four year colleges are not much better — only around half the students who enroll manage to get their Bachelors’ degrees in six years." The primary reason for this is money! While the federal government and state governments have been reducing the budgets for state-run institutions and they have been reducing the amount of money available for low-income students ..... tuition at all academic institutions has been increasing.

Since I work at a private university I get the question about tuition all the time: why is it so expensive? Part of the reason is the need for student services. While the report I read, which led me to this blog, says that American high school students are better prepared for college than generations before, I would argue that point. Every freshman class I teach seems to be a little bit more clueless than the class before .... primarily the problems revolve around the ability to write an academic paper and/or think critically. While the international students in my class always have language issues, they can think in a logical manner and make an argument based on facts (they do plagarize more than American students but I have been told that is usually cultural and they are not taught to cite sources). An awful lot of the tuition a student pays where I work goes to student resources like tutors, the learning center and counseling. The other point I always make is that students expect more cool stuff - the latest technology in the classroom, bigger & better dorms, etc. etc. All of those things costs money. But the primary reason for tuition increases at public institutions is lack of federal and state funding.

I DO NOT advocate just throwing more money at public institutions or increasing grants and loans. The system is broken. Colleges get funding based on the number of students they enroll - this translates to Freshmen. Once the students are in the institution, the services or even classes may not be there because there is no consequence to the institution if the student drops out. So, while I fundamentally disagree with everything Ron Paul stands for, I can understand his frustration with the cost of higher education for the government. It is attrocious and it is ridiculous!

We seem to be goverened these days by two political parties .... the party of the system is broken so lets just get rid of the whole thing (whether it is FEMA, EPA, DOE, Welfare, Healthcare) because the government should not be responsible for civil society - clean air, clean water, disaster relief, education, etc. And the party of nothing is wrong so lets just keep putting money into programs that have not necessarily shown positive impact. There has got to be a happy medium. Being able to admit a program doesn't work (such as education and welfare) while still being able to admit that the programs need to work in order for our society to continue. How much better off would our system if higher education be if schools got paid for the number of students it graduated, as opposed to the number of students it gets to walk through the door (if only for one year).

I am worn out from my ranting this evening - so I will save parent involvement in primary & secondary education for another day. I have to go write my syllabus!


  1. i've always believed education to be a right - not a luxury... the same with healthcare - otherwise it only benefits those with some wealth, not most of the population who battle to survive - one of the problems of an inequitable capitalist society...

  2. Wow, great post!

    Our government is broken, too. Let's fire them all and put intelligent and responsible moms and dads in office! I guarantee they'd do a better job!

  3. Wow - what a thought provoking commentary, Leann. I can see where you are coming from and the situations that you describe certainly have many parallels in the UK.
    The issues surrounding the "right" to education and to healthcare are complex but are things that have been taking up more of my thoughts of late - and of course are closely related to the tax issues that I blogged about recently.
    Finally, I did smile at your comment about each class you teach being "more clueless" than the last. Again, I can empathise with that but although we might smile, it is a very worrying situation. In my view it suggests a trend that the young are less motivated and "turned on" by learning, knowledge, skills and cultural pursuits - and when that happens the very fabric of our society is at risk.