You Tell Me: How Do We Fix Our Education System or Can We?

I’m still on an education kick, especially since it seems that’s all that’s in the news right now. These are the headlines in our local paper from the past week:

The latest budget forecast is due out today, and though everyone is hoping for better numbers than we received earlier, nobody is expecting it. My teacher friends are wondering if they’ll have jobs next year, parents are wondering if they’ll have to find extra daycare, should the schools go to a four day week, and everyone is up in arms about the quality (or lack thereof) of education.

Solutions that have been tossed around are:

  • Cutting out Middle School Sports
  • Cutting out Elementary School Music
  • Moving to a Four Day School Week
  • Cutting Staff
  • Cutting Administrator Salaries (that suggestion mostly comes from the public)

I’m not convinced any of these things will fix the public education system, though. I’m not even convinced that more money will fix things.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for teachers and principals. They work hard and dedicate their lives to helping students get ahead. But oversized classrooms and strict testing standards prevent teachers from doing their jobs effectively.

I think another big, but often unmentioned, problem is the lack of support from a child’s parents. Over the years I’ve volunteered in both of my children’s classrooms, and I’m appalled by what I see.

  • Kids are late to school every day (elementary kids, whose parents bring them!)
  • Kids come to school hungry (our school got a grant to provide free breakfast to every student, every day…that’s the first 10 minutes of class).
  • Kids deal with abuse or parental drug abuse at home.
  • Parents make excuses for their kid’s bad behavior.

As long as teachers are acting as social workers for our children, they aren’t going to have the time to teach academics properly. If a child doesn’t have a stable and supportive home environment, how is he supposed to learn? If I were worried about daddy hitting mommy, I don’t think I’d be able to focus on math.

I’m not sure what the solution is. A decent school budget would certainly help, but it’s not going to solve the problem. Until more parents step up and take responsibility for their children’s education, even if it’s just in supporting the schools by making sure their children are fed and do their homework, the educational system is bound to stay broken. Unfortunately, there will always be parents who don’t care, and therein lies the problem. And that makes me very sad for their children.

What do you think? Will money solve our public education problem? Will anything solve it?



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By , on May 15, 2009
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{32 Comments}

  1. chris:

    As a high school teacher for 18 years, I can say that every problem I have had in the classroom has stemmed from lack of parental support. Fix the parents! The schools would be just fine, if the kids would behave appropriately, do their work with a sense of purpose – or at least resignation that they have to do the work. Bad attitudes and behaviors come from the home. In the last school I taught in, the parents were “all over their kids like a bad suit” when I called with a problem. Needless to say, there weren’t many problems. The failure rate in this class was 3-7% which means only a couple of kids were failing in five classes, this is an excellent rate. How to fix the schools? Fix the parents. Something we always believed in – “I’m not your kids’ second parent, I’m not his social worker….I’m his teacher. I am there to teach. There is a lot that goes into that, however instilling morals and values is your job – the parents’ job.”

  2. 0be1:

    I love this country, but what I have to say will probably make a few of you mad, sorry. 1) Have you (or our government for that matter) ever stopped and wondered how other countries who are far more impoverished and have a high population do it? Then once they graduate many end up getting the equivalent of an American’s job in their country. In case no one has noticed, India is becoming the IT mecca of the world. Companies go to these countries not only for cheaper labor, but better talent.

    2) Over the years MANY liberals have screamed for looser standards in our world. They have taught the children to be unruly, showed them how to not respect authority, and have demanded that morals and discipline be far removed from the school system. So what did they expect to happen?

    I respect teachers very much for all that they do (unfortunately I was one of these students once, and for that I am very sorry). I think since our new President is on such a generous spending spree, he should quit bailing out these big companies that they say if are not bailed out the economy will collapse and invest more, much more in the paying of our teachers and healthcare system. I think we should stop lying to ourselves about our countries own moral values (which by the way government elected officials (you know who you are) also help teach our children moral values) by showing them that it is ok to have an abortion and you who want to have sex at a middle school age, we will provide you will condoms so you and your baby do not become more of a burden to our welfare system.

    Wake up government and get you #^@%* back on track NOW!!! Invest in programs that will help and make parents responsible for the children and being a parent. If they do not want they kids, take the children away from the horrors they live in and into a family that with love them and discipline them properly. Parents and lack of pay and benefits to the teachers are the underlying problems. What the education system to turn around, make the parents more accountable to the raising of the children. The child gets in trouble at school, the parent should be held accountable as well. Spend as much money as you did in bailing out these companies this year in education for more schools, higher salaries, smaller class sizes, and more teachers aides, and you will not be disappointed.

    What’s that Mr. Government you don’t think that’s a good idea? Yeah, I didn’t think you wanted to lose your kickbacks and fat salaries yourself by selling out the country you swore to serve. Instead you send more jobs overseas, put us further in debt, and are having fun taking a once great and mighty nation, and driving it straight to hell.

    By the way, we too now homeschool our children because we care about what happens to them in our schools and what type of education they get. It is sad to say that our one daughter graduate kindergarten last week and she in students in her class learned and experienced more than most 3rd graders in our public school systems. Hang in there teachers for those of you who can, or better yet go on a massive strike and shut our schools down until the government will hear your cries like the rest of a failing nation. Seems that’s the only way you are going to see your billions.

  3. Dee:

    In order to have parent involvement when they are schoolage means they need to have parent involvement as babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Our society accepts the fact that most parents are not raising their children. They go from being in daycare 8 hours a day as young babies to being in school all day. You can’t expect a parent to work wonders with their children in the few hours they have them in their care. Where I live they are now starting 3 year old preschool. Three year olds are going to public school all day. This is just free daycare in my opinion put under the label of schooling. Who are we kidding? Of course children have no manners or discipline they have spent most of their lives in a room with kids their own age and very few adults. Who are they going to learn how to behave from? Their peers or their daycare worker?

  4. Rita:

    I teach first grade and have 32 students. All of your thoughts and feelings are those I have had too. I have no soap box to stand on. I am exhausted daily. Was thinking today I would never give 32 seven year olds to anyone and expect them to work with them alone.

    I love children and love what I do each day. These children are 7 and need a lot of one on one attention. How do I divide myself in 32 ways all day long? I just went to the funeral home for one of my little guys whose father died this week. Another I have been providing clothing for all week as his pants won’t stay up or his shirt is so large it is falling off. His family is on drugs and not into taking care of the children. This little one steals from me and his classmates daily. These are just little examples of what goes on in a day. Many get free lunch. Many are still hungry. For some their parents do not make sure they can use the bathroom so I make sure they get juice & or fruit to help them along as they become miserable. Need I say more?

  5. Leslie:

    My 2 cents on how to fix it:

    1) SERIOUS STUDENTS: My kids attend the advanced classes at a public school. The advanced classes basically teach the “serious” students separately.

    2) INVOLVED SUPPORTIVE PARENTS: The few times I’ve gotten an email or note about my kids having trouble, I am there the next day letting the teacher know I’m 100% behind him/her, then following through with discipline at home. I also volunteer at the school regularly.

    3) GET THE UNION OUT OF TAXPAYER SUPPORTED INSTITUTIONS: I LOVE teachers and LOATHE the Teacher’s Union. We have had some INCREDIBLE teachers (and I’ve told them how great they are) and some HORRIBLE teachers including:

    – one who couldn’t spell
    – another who told me she hated children
    – one who actually admitted to me that she loathed teaching (it was already obvious) but was only 10 years away from a comfortable retirement pension so she stuck it out.

    But guess who got cut during the next budget crunch? Three of the great teachers.

    Why do we pay for the school, but have no say in who teaches our children?

  6. bob:

    My Mom has been a teacher for almost 40 years. My Grandfather ( her Dad) for almost 50. My Great Grandmother for almost 50. So I come from a long line of teachers. Over the years I got an earful of what works and doesn’t work from them.

    I grew up in Tennessee,which even now still has a pretty good public school system by national standards. Most of the public schools were fairly decent. But there were problems back then and now they- like many others- are making cuts.

    I agree with what everyone else said- more discipline and parental involvement. But To be honest- one of the biggest factors for the schools failing is money. Yes- Money.

    Teachers don’t get paid near what they deserve. When I got out of college, I was making almost double what my Mom makes after just 4 years. I live in California now and last time I looked, the starting salary was something like $32,000. A house costs $500,000 in this area. $32,000 is a joke for the cost of living here.

    But the bottom line is that the US government has for decades let education fall off a cliff. We have spent trillions of dollars on worthless banks who committed outright fraud and led us into the very recession that now affects teachers who will pay the price by being laid off. We spend a tiny fraction of the US budget on education compared to anything related to big business, wars, and again- bailing out irresponsible financial institutions.

    Yet look at what’s happening in India and China. The governments there put huge emphasis on school. The result is that something like 70,000 engineers graduate in China EACH YEAR. Almost an equal number does so in India. These countries wisely realize that you can’t build an economy with ditch diggers and hamburger flippers. They have focused heavily on math and science. As a result, their economy will likely eclipse ours very soon. Education is just as important as national defense. If we have a generation of dumb kids who choose to go into careers that are neither challenging or inventive, then we will fall behind. Good education means good business and its a crime that the US fails to get it.

    Perhaps there’s something to be said about those other countries. Kids grow up often in poverty conditions. From an early age they see what the results will be unless they strive to succeed in school. That’s totally opposite for the kids in America, whom live in subdivisions full of Mcmansions and Wal-Marts. For them they only see what they are expected to have and the pressure to succeed to prevail is simply not there.

    But getting back to topic- our schools need more attention and more money.

  7. Andrea:

    This is such an important topic, one that’s been weighing on my mind heavily as our first baby is due next month! Too early to start worrying about education? Maybe. But it’s something that’s important to me. My husband is a pastor and it drives him crazy to hear Christian circles claim that the only answer is to pull our kids out of public school because surely that would make it worse… and maybe his mindset was the answer even 10 years ago, but now? I’m not sure leaving our kids in public schools is going to do anything but damage our own children, not change the system. I’m already seriously considering homeschooling and our daughter isn’t even here yet! Teachers are already expected to not only be able to make every child a genius, but to be their parent as well. And I agree that teachers should love their students and try to teach them well, but parents have GOT to step up and take responsibility for their own kids. Pres. Obama had no trouble getting a credit card bill through Congress, a bill that will prove helpful to those who are trying to get rid of credit card debt, but what about the other problems we’re all facing? Who will stand up for us? We may never know the answer.

  8. katiya:

    I was going to be a teacher once when I was naive enough but decided to be a doctor instead. Best choice ever!!! I’d never send my child to public school with the unruly undisciplined who dwell there.

    Meg in the post above makes excellent points as well. Where parents got the idea that school is where you go to drop off your kid and your responsibility ends are really setting their kids up for failure. My husband went to a school in Ghana that if you misbehaved or didn’t learn your lessons you got beat practically. While that is extreme it would almost eliminate discipline issues in the classroom. I went to public school until 5th grade. My parents sent me to private school after that since the public schools nearby were not up to par.

    Until education is reformed and brought into the 21st Centrury I won’t be sending my child to be indoctrinated. I can see why many choose homeschooling or private schools. I say dump the Union and Dept of Education! My husband and I will be homeschooling and using private schools as well.

  9. You are 100% correct in your assessment. Whether your child is schooled at home, in a public school, or a private school, YOU, AS THE PARENT, ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR EDUCATION. Our government’s job is to provide the opportunity to all children for education, because not all parents can provide it directly. Their job is not to do ALL the educating.

    Besides that – whether you homeschool or not, our children will learn the most important things from us. Teaching directly has less effect than our examples, and sadly, too many of us are giving the wrong example. (Being late, making excuses, dumping blame/responsibility to others,etc…)

    In many areas of our lives, we have abdicated our responsibilities as citizens. We have given up responsibility for our own health care, responsibility for our safety, responsibility for our finances, and responsibility for our education. We even give up our responsibility to hold the government accountable, i.e. just voting in the incumbents because we know their name, and we don’t take the time to educate ourselves on what they’re doing with our hard earned dollars.

    More money isn’t going to solve this (although it couldn’t hurt to pay our teachers a more decent salary – God knows they deserve it).

    More support and involvement from parents, and less involvement from the government. We seem to have forgotten that Washington DC, our state, or our school district do not know what is best for our children. We do. Step up, folks. It’s time to play this game like we want to win.

  10. Amen, sister. I’m a teacher and can tell you that it’s not the teachers who are making the school systems fail; it’s the clientele. Money won’t really fix things either, but less money will definitely make it worse! Class sizes will increase making it even more difficult for teachers to keep discipline and order.

    PS. I am a middle school band teacher and have been for eight years. My job has been eliminated due to two levy failures (all music, art, and PE are cut for K-6).

  11. Rae:

    My husband, the teacher, has often said “I could get so much more teaching done if I didn’t have to do a parent’s job, too!”

    We live in an area where the schools aren’t the very best, but we know that our son, when he gets there, will be fine at whatever school he’s at, because he will have parents that are disciplining him and will be involved in his classroom.

  12. Julie D.:

    I am about to be a former teacher. My job was eliminated along with 32 others due to budget shortfall. Even before this happened, I was seriously concerned at what happens in schools. I have a 2 year old and I’m not sure if I’m going to send him to public school or not. The best analogy I’ve heard about public education is that it’s like rearranging chairs on the decks of the Titanic. You hit much of the problem with the lack of parental involvement. I think if all parents were required to volunteer at school at least once a month and they were in here seeing how their kids act, things would change. Or, if we had some webcams parents could dial into and see what little Johnnie was doing behaviors would change. Another big problem is testing. Testing is very big business in this country. We spend millions of dollars each year on tests, testing equipment, test prep, etc. The fact is many of my students understand the material, but they just don’t test well with the mult. choice format. There’s other little stuff that I think should be done – uniforms (could be as simple as jeans without holes and a polo shirt I’m just tired of seeing cleavage and thongs). Smaller class size would help too. If they required politicians to take the same tests students take and publish their results, I have a feeling many of the tests would go away.

  13. My wife is a teacher, and according to her the 3 biggest problems are:

    1. Lack of support at home.
    2. Crowded classes.
    3. Strict testing standards that don’t help kids at all.

    She barely makes any $ and has to fight administrators, parents, the public, and the DOE to teach her kids. That is why teachers either quit early or stop caring for our kids.

  14. marci:

    Having worked as a teacher’s aide for 12 years, and and as a school secretary for 6 years, I’d say the two of the bigger factors are as you said: Lack of discipline and respect, and lack of parental support. The teachers cannot both teach and do the parent’s job, ie, discipline and respect. If there are no consequences at home, it’s hard to make a student understand that what they are doing is not right. Students lack in accountability because their parents lack in accountability – altho there are always those great exceptions. I think I saw the best students come out of the homes where the TV viewing was limited also!

    Another major reason would be the union stranglehold over the school districts – my major pet peeve. It is almost impossible to get rid of a bad teacher – the union protects them too well. I’ve seen it too many times. Plus during layoffs, due to seniority, the union insists that things go strictly by the hiring list dates – with no way to keep a ‘great teacher’ or great aide or great secretary, etc… No matter what the skills are, the seniority list rules. This does not encourage those new people who are top-notch to hang around long when they are in danger of being laid off every year just due to seniority. The better qualified go elsewhere for jobs, where their talents will be appreciated, and leave behind those less qualified, and less enthusiastic, to staff the schools. (Altho there are some fantastic teachers who do stay put…thank you!) Sad but true.

    And what about the high cost of health care? Again, the unions… Here in Oregon the unions will not go to a less costly health insurance pool even tho it would save the tax payers millions of dollars. When I was within a school district, I brought several health plans, less costly to the school district but just as good for services, up for consideration, but the union would not even consider them…. Instead of the school district paying $500 or $600 per employee, they pay about $1200 per employee…. double the rate, and the taxpayers are footing this ridiculous bill!

    No, I didn’t get laid off – I left!

  15. NMPatricia:

    Totally agree with you. Maybe I just got lucky with my kids. And I know enough about kids that I cannot take much of the credit. However, I knew nearly every one of my kids’ teachers personally, volunteered in as many classes as possible (gets harder in high school!), was part of the PTA/etc, and made darn sure my kids knew that they were accountable for their actions. A vast majority of the teachers were grateful and worked with me in any way they could. I respected their limitations of time given their loads of responsibilities, committees and students. I did my part and they did theirs. And my kids won out over all. Great post, right on.

  16. Angelsong:

    You’ve pegged it. Parents have abdicated their responsibilities as parents, and the children pay the price for it. I am made aware, on a daily basis, how difficult it is for children to learn when there is drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and child abuse in the home. In too many cases, parents tell teachers, “this child is not my problem, s/he is yours.” Parents expect the schools to rear children so that they (the parents) can focus on their own interests (which are often not healthy at all.) Until parents wake up and realize what they are doing to their kids, nothing is going to change. Lack of parental supervision at home, and lack of parental involvement in schools leads to many serious problems, including violence in the schools. When I was in elementary school, the rules were, “no talking in class, no running in the halls, and no chewing gum.” Today, there are rules about not bringing weapons to school. It’s sad, and it is scary.

  17. Meg:

    Good point Katiya — parents’ attitudes does make a huge difference. Those who believe school is just daycare may find that that is really all they get.

    Parental involvement is key. Unfortunately, I think our society is set up in such a way that it is harder for parents to take as active a role in their kids’ lives nowadays as before. Parents have to work longer hours, there are fewer vacation days, and two parents working is the norm. While some parents obviously do great despite all that, I wonder how in the world they do it except that know they must.

    People need more time nowadays to spend with their kids and actively parent, not just “be” a parent. I’d like to see better wages, fewer hours, better benefits (esp. health), more vacation time, maternity/paternity leave, etc. I know it’s not a perfect world, but it just seems that with all that room for improvement that we could do a lot better.

    (By the way, I studied to become a Spanish and Latin teacher but for various reasons, including all this crap, decided after graduation to work from home with my husband in our business and other projects instead. Probably for the best considering that all non-contract teachers (1st – 3rd year teaching) got laid off locally and I’d be out of a job right now if I had gone into teaching.)

  18. Liz:

    I am presently a substitute teacher in Texas but was also a substitute in Kansas before we moved here. When I started working here I was appalled at the lack of respect. I have been called names, lied to, and have had students tell me that they are not going to do as they have been told. Students are not held responsible for their actions at home so why should that be expected of them at school. There is a lack of morals and values in many homes so how can we expect students to perform any differently in school. I have heard students talk about having to drive their mothers to the hospital to have a baby because the mother’s boyfriend couldn’t come and take her, children whose admire their parent’s because they are in a gang, and other unimaginable things. These are middle school students and this is happening in schools that are located in middle income areas NOT inner city schools. How will our education system improve when these students are going to be in our work force and education field in the next few years?

  19. Kat:

    As a former teacher, you have hit the points I have been making for years. I’ve always felt that parent and community support would make a world of difference in education.

    Something else to think about. Kids are raised in an “instant gratification” society. If they want something, they almost always seem to get it from parents, family members, or in some cases schools, without having to do any work for it. Because of this kids seem to think they are entitled to good grades and knowledge instead of having to work for it. Students are no longer held accountable for learning, it is the fault of everyone else that they aren’t learning (according to parents.)

    Thanks for broaching the topic!

  20. Meg:

    We HAVE to pay teachers enough that we don’t lose highly-qualified individuals to other careers because teacher pay pales in comparison. Why should the person who fixes your plumbing get paid more than the person who is in charge of making sure your kid is prepared for the future? (No offense to the plumbers out there, of course.)

    We HAVE to treat teaching as a profession and give teachers respect. Teachers put up with so much crap these days. It’s enough to demoralize anyone.

    We HAVE to give teachers enough time to plan lessons, grade papers, etc. and not take time out of teaching to do so. Teacher planning periods are practically a thing of the past.

    We HAVE to reduce class sizes. Good teachers are supposed to tailor lessons to different students who learn differently, have different backgrounds, etc. They can’t do this well in large classes. It’s hard just to keep everyone on task in a large class.

    We HAVE to promote different areas of study. Some people want to save money by cutting music or sports, but let’s face it, not everyone gets excited about math and reading. There has to be something to get other kids excited, show them that they have talents, too, and keep them from dropping out.

    We HAVE to feed our kids better. As Michael Pollan says, giving them chicken nuggets and tater tots and 10 minutes to eat them is just teaching them to be fast food eaters. It’s also setting them up for a world of health problems and will make it harder for them to learn.

  21. This is exactly why I’m homeschooling my daughter. I have a M.Ed. degree, and taught in public schools for 5 years. I know what it’s like, and I don’t like it!

  22. Keonne:

    Simple. Get rid of the Department Of Education.

  23. You’re spot on with this, Lynnae. All the money in the world can’t fix the fact that there are too many parents out there that just don’t seem to care about their children’s education. Parents need to step up to the plate and show their children that they really care.

  24. I think that there should be more adult involvement in schools- not necessarily more teachers, but parents going in and volunteering in their kids’ classroom. And, as one of my favorite characters on one of my favorite tv shows said: if you’re not happy with the school system, then run for school board.

    If more parents volunteered like you Lynnae, then I’m sure things would be different.

  25. Personally, I don’t think this problem will be SOLVED– ever.

    Parents need to step up and participate, further, parents need to stop treating school like a babysitting service.

    More money is not the answer– better spending of the current budgets is the answer.

    Like I said– I don’t think it will be solved . . .

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