Wednesday, April 9, 2008

First travail: public school

Monday morning I took the Painter in for his kindergarten testing. The magnet school we'd like to get him in is all booked for this year. We can get on the waiting list for next year. The zoned school (one of the reasons we chose this neighborhood) is likewise all booked for the year. They're supported by a federal grant that mandates a maximum class size of 15. So, they'd like to bus him off to another school with class sizes around 30 (30! for kindergarten). Um... no thanks.

There are three schools in town with the mandated smaller class size. I called them both, to see if we could have him enrolled there for the remainder of this year. Apparently, the school district requires the local school to take him next year regardless. One of the other two low student/teacher ratio schools is similarly booked. I haven't heard back from the other.

We may just keep him out of kindergarten for the remainder of this year. It's upheaval enough, to move in the middle of the school year. I'd rather avoid the upheaval again, after a couple months of attending one school (crammed into an oversized classroom), of starting over at yet another school in town.

I think it's absurd the low priority my country (and compatriots) put on education. Constant headlines complain over the supposed profligacy of spending for education. Um... where? Sure, I'd be willing to accept that there is some waste, but I'd say none of it can be attributed to teacher's salaries. And it pales in comparison to the huge sums of missing or misappropriated funds in the military and foreign aid programs.

What we really need in this country is to double or triple the number of teachers (from Kindergarten through Graduate School) and significantly increase salaries along the way. Despite the arguments in this article, there is no problem with too many teachers, and there is no reason to believe that the pool of public and private funds is too low to both increase the ranks and increase their salaries. According to that article, a $10,000 across the board increase in salaries and benefits would amount to $40 billion. Put it in perspective: that's less than 10% of current annual U.S. military expenditures. That's 20% less than the "bridge funding" for Iraq & Afghanistan in the 2007 budget.

I think we could afford it. I think we have cause to shift our priorities.

If salaries and benefits (and public esteem for education) increased, there would be greater interest from a broader swath of potential teachers. There would be an increase in supply, as more and more college graduates considered teaching a worthy and rewarding profession, thereby allowing for greater competition (without cutting demand). I don't see any lack of competition or supply in higher education (if anything there is the opposite... but too little funding, too few positions).

It all comes down to this: increase funding for education. PERIOD!


undine said...

You're right, and this is all true. But unless Halliburton can make a profit on education, it's not going to get funded at the same rate as military spending. (Sorry--I try not to make political statements, but this particular issue of spending priorities makes me bitter.)

ArticulateDad said...

Yes, undine, but where exactly do those profits for Haliburton come from? Um... in large part from government expenditures! That is, from the public coffers.

It's patently absurd for supposed conservatives to pretend an ideology of small government when in fact they're supporting massive spending from those governments.

It's high time we balance our priorities. Sure, there needs to be a military. We live in the real world. But, as some are fond of saying: more money is not necessarily better spent.

Let's begin applying the same criteria across the board. Let's hold the military and security sectors of our economy to exacting standards, and find the way to shift a portion of those funds to other areas, principally education.

Haliburton and Lockheed, et al, are more than welcome to compete for public education funds. Who knows: maybe they can find a way to make profits without destruction.

Lilian said...

Oh yes, Amen to this.

BrightStar said...

Yes! Increase teacher's pay!

I remember when I was in high school, and I told my guidance counselor that I wanted to be a high school math teacher. He told me that I was "too smart" for that. He told me that I should become a doctor or a lawyer and make more money. Well, I did end up becoming a doctor, although not a physician, and I am not making tons of money, but more money than I could have made teaching K-12.

I think it's a shame that lower pay draws some of our smartest people (although not all) away from teaching.