School Daze.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for thousands of kids across Amarillo, my daughter included. While the exact day children go back to school may vary from district to district, there is one undeniable fact – the school year is longer than it was when I was a kid.

When I went to school (you know…back in the dark ages, when St. George slew the dragon…a time before cell phones, instant messaging, and satellite TV), school NEVER started before Labor Day, and never lasted beyond Memorial Day. Those two holidays were the bookends to the freedom days of my youth. Today, it is vastly different, with state legislatures regularly extending the required number of days in the school calendar every time they consider the matter. My question is “why”?There’s a joke that goes something like this: Two young boys are walking to school, when one says “I wish I’d been born a hundred years ago.” The other asks why, and the first replies, “Think of how much less history and science we’d have to learn!” That’s cute, but If that were true, all schools would be year-round, and last from 8 in the morning to well into the night. Nope, the school calendar is yet another example of state legislatures trying to do something to fix a problem. Problem is, they don’t understand the problem, and their solution fixes nothing.

I have a couple of thoughts on education, and having taught in the public school system as well as privately for a number of years, I’m doing more here than just spewing a lot of hot air. The problem is not (as so many would have you believe) impossible to fix, and the solution is NOT adding more days to the calendar, nor is it throwing more money at our public schools – at least not in the way we’re currently going about it. I have a few steps that I believe would save our schools – and save our kids from the sub-standard education that most are receiving.

#1 – Break the grip of the NEA on the public schools. The teacher’s unions (of which the NEA is the largest) has a death-grip on public schools. They hold that the problem is money, but they want to see ALL teachers get more money – bad ones, good ones, ones that climb on rocks…that sort of thing. Until we can reward good teachers (and fire bad ones) we’ll never get the kind of results we want out of our schools. Capitalism works. Socialism doesn’t. It’s time our schools began practicing capitalism. The President needs to issue an executive order removing the NEA as the legal representative of teachers in collective barganing. Think it can’t be done? Ask the former Air Traffic Controllers union. With the stroke of a pen, President Ronald Regan dissolved their union and reinvented the way unions bargained. The NEA needs to go. Now.

#2 – Establish merit pay for teachers. Reward the good ones. NOW. With money. And lots of it. Make it worthwhile to choose teaching as a profession. Raise the pay for good teachers so they can afford to stay in the profession.

#3 – De-emphasize sports. In the last dozen or so years, arts and music programs have been slashed – or even eliminated, while at the same time, football, basketball, baseball and soccer programs have received unprecedented funding. Why? I’m not anti-sports, but it’s insane that we glorify jocks at the expense of musicians and artists. If we need to cut expenses, it should be across the board – not only at the expense of fine arts programs. Our kids need to know more than just how to score a touchdown.

4# – Allow the taxpayers a say in how their tax dollars are spent. Yes, I’m talking about a voucher program here. Call it what you like, but no parent should be forced to send their kids to a bad school. And we’ve already had years of proof that throwing money at bad schools doesn’t make them better.

5# – Promote charter school programs. My daughter is in one and it’s GREAT. Charter schools are paid for by tax dollars here in Texas, but they are separate and apart from the schools in the local Independent School District. One big difference: at our school, if a kid is a discipline problem, he or she can be expelled. Try THAT in a public school today.

#6 – Stop exending the school calendar. – Attendence is historically low on days prior to Labor Day and after Memorial Day. Why? Family vacations. Just because a school wants the kids in class doesn’t mean a parent can swap his or her vacation time. Besides, between those two holidays, teachers already know kids are going to learn zip. Let’s stop letting the legislature pass “feel-good” legislation that makes them think they are Doing Something, and go back to a REAL Summer vacation.

#7 – Stop teaching the test. In Texas we have TAKS – the standardized test that determines if your child knows enough to graduate to the next grade. I have no problem with them taking the test. I have a HUGE problem with teachers being allowed – or forced – to teach the test. It’s supposed to be an honest assessment of what a child knows. Teaching the test skews the results. Stop it. Now.

#8 – Encourage parents to be involved. I’ve yet to participate in a PTA that wasn’t resented by the school it’s set up to aid. That’s stupid. Schools need to stop being territorial and let parents that are so inclined to play an active role in their kid’s education.

#9 – Invest/enable distance learning solutions. Look, if and when the wheels come off in this country, wouldn’t it be nice to know our kids could stay home and still learn? If I can telecommute, why can’t my kid? The technology exists right now. Why not use it, and allow kids to work from home several days a week? It would fix school overcrowding, cut down on disease transmission (around here, we refer to the first few weeks of school as “Petri Dish Time,” because we know our child is gonna come home with every bug the other kids bring to school. I can’t wait.) It’s easy enough to design a system with webcams and tracking to know if the kids are actually working on their home computers. As long as it’s optional, why not try it?

#10 – Get God back in our schools. Look…there is NO CONSTITUTIONAL LAW THAT MAINTAINS THERE MUST BE A SEPARATION BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE. I’ve looked. Not in there. I promise. The idea that allowing a kid to say a prayer in school somehow violates the Constitution is a lie perpetrated by the American Atheists crowd and the ACLU. If we can have “In God We Trust” on our money, why can’t we trust God to play an appropriate role in our public schools? Let’s cut the nonsense, and tell people that find God “offensive” to try home schooling and leave the majority of us in peace.

I’m sure there are more, but if we were somehow able to get these ten ideas implemented, I think we’d be far, far ahead in fixing what’s wrong with our schools. Can we do it? Sure. Will we do it? I have my doubts. Which is a shame, because an American child’s mind is a criminal thing to waste.

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