Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Former School Board Member Speaks

When it comes to Education we are “between a rock and a hard spot” and it isn’t going to be more funding that will solve this problem.

This past week I had the opportunity to chat with one of the more significant educational leaders of the state, who had recently attended an international conference on quality of education where Singapore, Finland and Alberta were clearly major topics of discussion. These places are thought to have some of the best education in the world by many measurements. Many are disheartened about the possibilities of Washington education ever approaching the level of these systems.

The philosophy of these three educational systems is in some ways quite different, but the outcomes are quite similar according to most who keep up with the “education race”. Just to give those of you are who aren’t following this race some perspective, Washington State is 50th in the nation in college completion, and the nation is 25th in mathematics worldwide.

What our Washington observer found in all three of these systems was an overwhelming engagement between the educational community and the parents of the children in the system.

In my years on the school board I often commented on the gap that exists in this community between the parents of the children who are not doing well, over 50% by most measurements are behind, and the school district.

Simply put we have many parents that don’t understand what it will take, in the non-school hours, to bring up a child that has a knowledge base to make mature decisions and we, schools, are more than reluctant to call this issue to their attention.

This Holiday season I noted that most sought after presents for children were electronic devices that would occupy hours and hours of their “free time”. For years we have also heard from children that they “have nothing to do” when not in school. Youth activities have flourished to occupy the time of our children. Meanwhile the knowledge base of these same children has diminished exponentially. Read a non-fiction book for pleasure? Not likely! When college interviewers ask “What do you know something about that wasn’t taught in school”? They get a lot of blank stares!

Why is it that any soccer match will bring out more parents than a PTA meeting? Is there a presumption that “others will handle the education stuff”? I think so. While parents are most willing to pony up time and dollars for any activity that will occupy their children, they are unwilling to do the same for insisting that they master the skills they will need in their future.

A few years ago I read in one of the national newspapers about the Singapore education system. In the article they quoted a secondary school principal from Singapore that had canceled Christmas vacation as he felt that the achievement scores of the school weren’t adequate and needed some additional time. I can’t decide who would be most upset in this community if this were to happen! Would it be the teachers? The students? Or the parents? I do know that the most attendance I ever saw at a school board work study was the evening we had to decide what vacations we would have to cut because of weather closures! Parents were more concerned about when we would not have school than when we would have school.

In other parts of the world school lasts considerably longer each day and there are more school days in the year. When this discussion comes up here there is uproar about the need for “free time” for our children. To do what? It certainly isn’t to broaden their knowledge for most of them.

Is it time that we insist parents take a more realistic view of their responsibilities for the upbringing of the next generation? There are only 24 hours in a day, and we seem bound and determined to occupy our children’s time with things that will satisfy them, rather than things that will prepare them for adulthood.

A recent poll of parents found that their primary concern about their children’s education was that they be “satisfied” while in school. I once had a parent tell me that their child no longer thought that school was “fun” and this disappointed her. I was reluctant to suggest that he “suck it up” but that is what is happening elsewhere in the world where what used to be considered “3rd world” countries are now the ones which we depend on!

Here we continue funding “gladiator training” and coliseums and call it “education”. But not in Singapore, Alberta, or Finland, education is just too important there. Have we lost our way?

Charles R. Hoff
Federal Way Washington


Anonymous said...

I was 15 in '75, my family was on welfare, and the Massachusetts economy and the national economy was in the tank. There has been the oil embargoes, and the years went on with high unemployment and high inflation.

I've watched the news since I was a little kid, and I'd see people who'd been laid off being interviewed on the news. Frequently people would wail about how hard they worked and how much they sacrificed and how loyal they were AND

POOF! It was all over and it was all gone.

At 14 or 15 or 16 it seemed VERY obvious to me that the world had changed from whatever it was, and, since it wasn't too nice for my family anyway I'd better figure out a career strategy other than relying on ...

the kindness of strangers?

It seemed obvious to me that, with skills, at least you'd have something to offer the next employer.

In the last 33 years I've learned to keep my mouth shut about that attitude - it REALLY makes people nervous, and, it is a lot better to change the conversation to football or buying the new couch or fixing the car or ... stuff talk.

For some reason people are still living in, or attempting to live in, this Leave It To Beaver fantasy - they'll get some job and come home for dinner and work hard and get a gold watch and not get their retirement ripped off or get their health eliminated.

Until people pull their heads into the sunshine, they aren't going to demand retraining security OR

competitive education for their kids.


Anonymous said...

Ask parents to take a realistic view of education?

Lets start with school and the curriculum they're feeding kids, as if its the final word in education. This is state-sponsored terrorism. Stop hurting kids. Schools are creating opportunities for violence - especially in promoting racial intolerance.

The majority of students find school unsatisfying and a "waste" of time. Educational researchers don't count those kids. OSPI doesn't count them either. School districts have simply learned how to hide their failing students. Washington schools are a disgrace. The majority of Hispanics do not graduate with high school diploma and it is not their fault. It is discrimination. The alternative programs should be scrapped, they are in clear violation of federal regulations. Programs are of to be of equal caliber, yet different to account for different learning styles. The alternative programs in this state are atrocious and students get nothing of value for attending. Title I funds have been squandered from lack of oversight. Some administrators belong in jail.

Anonymous said...

In very little time, you will have a South African millieu in which the majority of people are no longer enslaved by apartheid, but instead through ignorance. If you can afford to pay for your education, then all you will need is a brick wall with electric wire. Just don't forget to bring change for the parking attendants. This is a racist society, no better than the Ancient Romans. You have what you wanted, now see if you can live in it.