Considering the opportunity emerging on our collective landscape politically, I think it's time that we finally make the meat & potatoes argument for public education. The substance of the argument requires a firm understanding of the fundamental principles, the irreplaceable ingredients that drive high academic achievement for all children.
1) The educational environment established by the child's primary nurturer, educator and advocate. Parents, parenting!
2) Access to early learning opportunities making the compulsory age of enrollment 4 years of age. Brain Development and Hard wiring.
3) Ensuring the highest professional qualifications and qualities of the child's secondary educator (the teacher). Specifically, their understanding of child growth and development, the curriculum being articulated, possessing the ability to manage a classroom, and to develop a relationship with the child and family that builds upon an atmosphere of high expectations for academic achievement.
4) Maintaining Teacher-to-Student ratios that allow each child and educator fully participate in the most important mandatory life experience that can be offered from Pre-K (4 yrs of age) through grade12 (or 17yrs of age).
Let us be very clear and upfront! Only one of the fundamental precepts above costs the taxpayer nothing, but its absence sends the equation into disarray. Parenting, extended through family and community involvement is a central tenet of every successful educational enterprise. The influence of parents, family members, and peers are beyond obvious to all observers. Communicating high expectations for academic achievement is often lost in translation between the school and the home. This fatal flaw begins the demise of the young scholar often ending in drop out after the phenomenon of "drop in" (going through the motions of education for the social aspects involved). We must create an environment of high expectations that begin at home, meet each child where they are when we receive them and commit to the collective work of getting them prepared to compete with their peers nationally.
Here's where it gets sticky. It's easy to talk about what someone else must do, or even easier what someone isn't doing. Remember, Public Education is currently compulsory from age 5 through 16. Parents can be jailed for neglect and abuse if derelict in their duties to ensure their children attends school. So I ask, what is the penalty for federal, state, and local governments that do not commit financial resources commensurate with providing the very best opportunity for every child under their educational care, ensuring that they depart that compulsory experience prepared for the challenges of the next level?
As a country, we have NEVER fully committed to funding public education! We have waffled in the debate between democrats and republicans at every level of government in every state in the union, as a result the greatest majority of our children have collectively languished in the squalor of dilapidated often over-crowded and technologically challenged buildings. Learning from secondary educators who are over-worked and under-paid with expectations from every boss (federal/state/local/parents) that exceed those of a healthy "Big Three" (Garnett/Allen/Pierce)! Please indulge my basketball metaphor, but I'm willing to bet if you were to ask the Big Three their opinion about the subject of teacher pay vs. teacher expectations the answer would clearly illustrate the point, but I digress. As we bicker back and forth another generation of our graduates hit the world market in June. Are they ready for what India, China, Russia, Japan, England, et al are producing?
Let's distinguish an important difference. Public institutions operate on tax dollars, while private educational institutions operate by charging tuition and seeking other funding sources. Tuition is a gate that keeps the control factors in place, like student- to- teacher ratios and the type of educator is hired to communicate the curriculum. Tuition and the private nature of the institution also eliminate the requirement to take EVERY child where they are, and often require entrance examinations that allow them to extract only the crème de la crème. This isn't cheap! From a local perspective, the premium cost of private school opportunities averages approximately 20x's the yearly local tax contribution of the average tax payer to public education per child. Homeowners please understand, generally: 50% of your public school system is funded by 60% of your local tax money. The state picks up the rest (with every state getting formulaic money from the Federal Government) usually by state formula's based on per pupil expenditure, average daily attendance (in some states), etc. and something called maintenance of effort (a complicated way of saying at least as much money as you did last year). The long & short of this is that you decide "locally" what type of school system you want by how much you are willing to contribute! We can point the finger of blame at the State, who can either point it at the Feds or point it back to us. If, as they say "All politics is local", then believe me all public schools are as well!
As Prince Georgians we have some very tough choices to make in very challenging economic times. At some point in the very near future, our declining property values (local) will meet our declining enrollment numbers (state), which is in line with not meeting our census expectations (federal); they will meet up with our declining employment numbers (personal), which is heading for a meeting with our exceedingly high foreclosure rate (Crisis). Swift local action is necessary to deal with this impending crisis.
Our schools are the leverage to push us out of this mess and facilitate our rise, so our investment in them and attention to them should match our rhetoric. Strong, academically rigorous school systems are invariably a feature of areas that enjoy strong economic development and high quality of life and low crime rates. Small & Large businesses alike look at the ranking of school districts as they choose where to locate. Economic viability depends on sustainable recruitment of the best and brightest and your ability to attract them to homestead. So Prince Georgians the decisions that you make to pay 20x's over is a personal one and those who have, should do as they will. The fatal flaw that we have perpetuated over and over since the mid 70's is the decision not to allow ourselves the flexibility to fully contribute to public education through our local tax contribution structure. This error is more damning than anyone is ready to admit and the crux of our "perception of affluence" (that's your teaser for the next article).
Let me sum it up for you. Small classes are extremely effective! It cost more money to put fewer children into a classroom! The best and brightest educators produce en masse better, brighter, more prepared adults from the children we send them. Pierce, Allen, & Garnett (healthy) produced a championship, but it costs! Just imagine if Boston had them all in their prime, another Dynasty. That's the point! How long can our kids wait for us to get this right? We say we want to attract corporations and businesses to increase our business tax base; we say we want the best and brightest in front of the future of our country, our state, our Prince George's County. We've got to make some changes in our collective priorities and stop sitting on our collective check books!