By Kevin Lair
Senior Elm Writer
As a college student and educator I am deeply passionate about education and the countless paths to success a robust education can provide. I was blessed to have such a strong, academic upbringing in my hometown of Easton, Pa. through the Wilson Area School District and the persistence and compassion of my teachers, parents, and peers.
As I have gotten older, I have seen first-hand the successes and failures of the education system in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Although we enjoy top-notch educators we are seeing more and more obstacles placed between students and their educational futures. Bureaucratic red tape, overzealous unions, and nationally-imposed standards impede the abilities of teachers, families, and states to educate students on the skills needed to succeed.
The answer for many is to simply throw more money at schools, but that does not fix the root of the problem. Increasing funds will not ensure that good teachers are hired and bad teachers replaced, that parents take a more active role in their children’s lives and education, or that our students are learning the skills necessary to serve as civic leaders and transition into the workplace.
According to a 2008 report published by the Heritage Foundation, spending increases have not corresponded with equal improvement in American educational performance. The report said, “Long-term measures of American students’ academic achievement, such as long-term NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reading scale scores and high school graduation rates, show that the performance of American students has not improved dramatically in recent decades, despite substantial spending increases.”
The report adds, “Since 1985, real federal spending on K-12 education has increased by 138 percent. On a per-student basis, [it] has tripled since 1970. Yet, long-term measures of American students’ academic achievement have not seen similar increases [and] the achievement gaps among white, black, and Hispanic students persist in test scores and graduation rates.” Clearly, concentrated efforts to improve America’s education system must consist of more than simple spending increases, particularly when it comes to minority students.
One important step towards educational equity is the public charter school system. These schools offer students a premier education regardless of their home address or financial background, providing students in failing schools and poverty-stricken neighborhoods with the opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty.
School choice and opportunity especially impacts the education of minority students. According to the American Psychological Association, African-American and Hispanic students are more likely to attend high-poverty schools and witness higher high school drop out rates than Asian American and Caucasian students. The APA’s webpage on “Ethnic and Racial Minorities & Socioeconomic Status” notes that “high-achieving African-American students may be exposed to less rigorous curriculums, attend schools with fewer resources, and have teachers who expect less of them academically than they expect of similarly situated Caucasian students.”
The employment and educational futures of these students should not be defined by their income, race, or location, and public charter schools provide these students with opportunities that they would not otherwise have. Expanding public charter school access provides students and educators more opportunity, improving the public school system.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan is fighting for students through record funding and a pledge to expand school choice. In a state that is consistently ranked as one of the most restrictive in the nation in terms of charter school laws, Hogan’s initiative would give charter schools increased funding, greater freedom to approve additional schools, and greater autonomy over student admissions and hiring. In the Maryland General Assembly, House Bill 486 and Senate Bill 595 seek to promote these efforts, yet Democratic lawmakers and teachers unions have politicized these issues and watered-down these bills in committee, impeding educational opportunity and choice for students.
At the end of the day, we must remember that a premier education is not a Republican or Democratic issue but a human rights issue. The more we politicize our educational priorities, the more our students and schools will suffer. Students who are well-educated commit fewer crimes, find greater employment opportunities, and invigorate our economy.
Every student deserves a robust education with qualified teachers, adequate funding, and school choice. A child’s education cannot rest solely in the classroom. Parents must be more engaged with their children and play an active role in their academics, athletics, and school functions. An education system directed by students, parents, and teachers will provide more opportunity, better results, a more educated workforce than one run by unions and bureaucrats.