DICK BAYNTON: Education 101

Dick Baynton

One of the solid foundations of every nation is its dedication to educating its people. Countries that lag on education for children and young adults sacrifice quality earnings at all economic levels and technical development in a world of technology and economic growth.

Consider that the literacy rate in most European countries and ‘western’ nations is 99% (Norway claims 100%). Literacy in Iran is listed at 86.0%, Iraq at 79.7%, Egypt at 73.8% and Afghanistan comes in at 38.2%. World leaders know all these numbers and no obvious remedies are being taken in those countries where literacy is lacking. The UN apparently has little interest in literacy.

National leaders have the responsibility of educating their flocks of citizens. These potentates have some limitations and restrictions due to cultural norms. Some nations discourage and even prevent some members of the citizenry from seeking education. In the Middle East and North Africa, some countries limit educational advancement for females. In India, one report indicated that only about 60% of children reach beyond the 5th grade and there is a wide discrepancy between literacy of men and women (76% vs. 54%).

The four most important building blocks of every primary and secondary school system worldwide are A. Knowledge gained by students B. Instruction communicated by teachers and textbooks, C. Curriculum; basic reading, history, science, civics, math and geography and sometimes economics and foreign languages and D. An appropriate enclosure where knowledge absorption can flourish.  However, it doesn’t stop there; the huge bureaucracies including union membership by teaching faculty, school boards in charge of budget and standards of conduct and learning, county, state and national oversight by individuals some of whom don’t know what is being taught and who is teaching it.

Additionally, these bureaucrats are spending other people’s money on budget items that may have little or no relationship to educating school children. And perhaps worst of all, many of the textbooks are slanted in historical content and civics (government) that often favor the thoughts and theories of the author(s). The 2018 proposed budget for the Department of Education headed by Betsy DeVos amounts to $59 billion; 9 billion less than the 2017 budget. Some of the budget is aimed directly at educating students (Pell Grants) but most of the rest is bureaucratic spending; federal oversight over state oversight. State budgets, by extension exercise oversight over county and city (local) education.

Common reasoning would suggest that there could (should) be some correlation between per student spending and indicators of educational achievement such as high school graduation rates. The state with the top graduation rate of 91% is Iowa which spends $10,313 per student. New Mexico and Washington, D.C. are tied for the lowest graduation rate of 69%; New Mexico spends $9,012 per student while D.C. spends $17,963 or about double the New Mexico rate. The state with the lowest per-student spending rate of $6,555 is Utah with a graduation rate of 85%.

National, state and local leaders should be able to sniff out the cause and effect relationship of spending and achievement. Teachers should have a direct link with student performance to compensation and benefits. When that relationship does not exist, there is no compulsion for teachers to excel in the teaching profession.

Students that don’t absorb knowledge in high school are destined for low earnings, unemployment and even welfare as a full-time occupation. Some will end up as gang-bangers and end up in a morgue or retire with lifetime prison benefits. If the curriculum is dumbed-down to accommodate slow-learners, our schools are probably turning out many graduates and drop-outs who will be dependent on the plethora of benefits provided for non-contributors to our economy. School boards and administrators should never endure teaching facilities that are run down and rat-infested that we heard about in Detroit only a few years ago.

Educators and officials can define the challenges for educating our youth. However, the aggregation of administrative bureaucracy, teachers unions focusing on compensation and benefits without regard for teaching and learning and the deterioration of traditional family life with discipline and parents to emulate takes its toll on the process. Improvements are inevitable as evidenced by the three-million NEA members’ hatred for Charter Schools, Betsy DeVos and President Trump.