Any discussion of education reform must start with the realization that the system is broken and in need of reform. In an honest disclosure, I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers and I have been teaching as an adjunct faculty at a New Jersey college for fourteen years. Education reform is not a Republican verses Democrat, or union verse non-union issue. Education reform is a realistic view that the system is not only expensive but is also very broken. This blog answers the question how to reform education in America and give our children the education they deserve and that we pay for. As a businessman, I believe the best way to improve any product and lower its price is competition. I strongly support school vouchers as the best way to improve schools and give parents the freedom and choice that they deserve. The educational monopoly we currently have is not conducive to a good education and thus is an injustice to the child, parent, and society as a whole.
The United States spends on education more per student than any other nation in the world. This fact in itself is not the crux of my argument. It’s what we are getting for that very high price tag. It's like buying the most expensive Rolls Royce the dealer has and getting a beat-up Pinto Ford. No offense to Ford, I and my wife both drive Fords. The feeling of getting ripped off is very unsettling. The United States is rated 27th in Math, 33rd in Reading, and 22nd in Science. Did I mention that we spend much more than any other country in the world on Education? Let’s take Germany for example. Germany outscored the United States on all three measures. Germany overall spends less per student than the United States. Yet starting salaries for teachers in Germany are higher than starting salaries for teachers in the United States. I do think we need to rethink tenure and re-evaluate teacher’s performance on a regular basis. I am recommending cutting the duplicative and unnecessary administrative salaries but not teacher's saleries. New Jersey has 600 district superintendents and 21 county superintendents, each with office, staff, budget and a salary between $125,000.00 and $250,000.00. Why not remove the 600 district superintendents and all the curriculum advisors, staff and budgets that come with each one. Such a move would equal hundreds of millions of dollars a year in savings for New Jersey alone. The 21 county superintendents are already in positions to lead their respective counties. Not a single student, teacher, or parent would even notice. Correction, they might notice the funding for music and language studies are back again.
We must look at the funding disparity between Low income and high income school districts. Low income schools districts (Abbott school districts) get significantly more funding than higher income school districts. Although they get more money they still do not perform up to par and have low graduation rates. How is it that some kids are worth more than other kids? Why not give each student the same amount of funding. For example a set dollar amount of $7,000.00 to $8,000.00 per student irrelevant of district. Most school districts would be able to offset property taxes by a quarter to a third. Abbott school districts do not need more money, but rather they need a four prong solution. In order to improve the quality of education in Abbott schools we need better supported teachers. Good teachers that are doing a good job should get pay raises and recognition. Teachers who are not performing should be replaced. Parents must also be responsible for their children’s school performance. As a society we have lowered the standards so everyone can pass, that’s not reality. Throwing more money to the problem is not the solution. The United States spends more than any country and New Jersey more than any other state, and we still underperform. To fix the problem we need parents, administration, unions, and government to work together for the greater good of the child, not for the benefit of union, administrators, or special interest groups. School vouchers are still a valid option that must be considered, it is a parent’s right to place their child at any school of their choosing without having to pay for both.
Why do other countries, developed and developing, outperform the United States on math and science? Money is not the answer to this question. Obviously we already out spend and under perform. The answer is much deeper. The United States use to rank much higher in previous decades. The answer has to do with the breakdown of the American family and society’s diminishing respect for education and educators. Children today, on average, have less supervision, due to divorce and single parent households. It’s not about poverty; it’s about responsibility and respect of parents, teachers and the institutions. In some cases, parents are trying to be best friends with their kids, the kids have friends, and they need parents. In countries that outperform the United States, the parents and students take school much more seriously and education is viewed as a privilege. How do we instill that in our kids? It must first start at home. We must save the American family, reduce fatherless homes, reduce teenage pregnancy, Reduce societies dependence on social services, and raise the standards for academic achievements. Rather than lower the standards so everyone meets them, we should raise the academic standards and lift our students to meet those standards.