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Make Scholars -- Not War

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If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people. ~Chinese proverb When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on January 8, 2002, he imposed unattainable federal mandates on local public schools; however, he has failed to provide the leadership and resources required to give them any chance of meeting the standards. In 2004 (the last year for which full statistics are available), we spent $462.7 billion to educate our children. Local school districts raised 43.9 percent of their budgets, the states contributed 47.1 percent, and the federal government chipped in $41.3 billion, or less than nine percent. A broad disparity of education funding continues to exist. The amount of money available to educate children depends, not only on the wealth of their families and the communities in which they live, but upon the priorities established by our elected local, state and federal representatives. Nationally, we spent an average of $8,287 per child in 2004; however, the range was from $5,008 in Utah to $12,981 in New Jersey. On the fifth anniversary of its signing, NCLB remains underfunded by billions of dollars; its objectives are still focused on "teaching to the test;" it continues to unfairly punish public schools and their hard-working and dedicated teachers; and it deprives our most needy children of a meaningful opportunity to obtain the education they need to survive in a society in which knowledge is the key to success. Almost 70 percent of professional educators rate NCLB as a failure, primarily because its emphasis on testing deprives students, particularly the most disadvantaged, of a meaningful education that includes social studies, foreign languages, the arts and music. This poor grade is also assigned by 60 percent of all Americans, who either believe the Act has had no effect on schools or has had a negative effect. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as currently defined by NCLB, is scheduled for reauthorization this year. Congress is required to act, and we can only hope it acts wisely. Our representatives must accept the truth, reject the false, and choose a path leading to success and away from failure. It is true that the education of our children is and should remain one of the most important tasks of our federal government. Indeed, our society can never achieve its inherent potential, and it will never have the collective strength to be all it can be, until every child has equal access to nutrition, health care, and education. A Matter of National Survival. Let us pretend for a moment that we have decided that the education of our children is just as important as national defense for the survival of our nation, our freedoms, and our way of life. What if Congress and the President agreed upon a comprehensive education policy and they dedicated sufficient national resources to fully fund public education? What if our federal government recognized that, while national standards may be beneficial, most education decisions should be made by local school boards in order to meet the specific needs of their own communities? Imagine this! The $2.9 trillion budget that Bush just submitted to Congress includes $700 billion in new military spending, including $235 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus far, we have spent almost $662 billion on these wars, and it is estimated that the total bill will exceed $2 trillion, when all costs are calculated. What if Bush had truly extended a helping hand to ensure that no child was ever left behind, instead of flipping off the world by starting an illegal and unjustified war? What if we had a president who loved reading as much as playing video games - one who saw him or herself as an teacher rather than as a warrior? If we valued public education as much as we value national defense, we might establish a National Education Academy along the lines of the military service academies. With a mission to establish the highest standards for professional education administration, graduates would become officers in a National Education Corps. Graduates of the Education Academy would agree to serve the same obligatory period as military officers. Officers should be required to spend at least two years teaching in low-income public school classrooms following graduation, before returning for a master's degree in education management. The purpose of these standards would be to prepare a cadre of professional managers for the Education Corps and to inspire and improve the operation of public schools in every school district across the country. Given the complexities of the modern world we live in, shouldn't we also improve the standard free public education to include a two-year academic or vocational college degree? Moreover, shouldn't we provide a free four-year college education for young volunteers who provide a year of valuable public service at age 18, when they become adults? Perhaps we should also provide free public education through a master's degree for those who contribute a second full year of valuable public service. Students who want to participate in the public service program could voluntarily register with the Education Corps at age 16 to begin planning their public service offering to ensure that it provides the maximum value to our society. Given the billions of dollars presently owed by college graduates, imagine the incredible boost to our economy if we immediately forgave the repayment of all outstanding student loans and substantially increased the average education level of all members of our society! The Education Corps should establish national educational standards and oversee the annual testing of all students. However, testing should never include draconian punitive sanctions, such as those imposed by NCLB. In 1998, President Clinton proposed voluntary national testing of all fourth graders in reading and all eighth graders in basic math. Instead of covering specific, detailed curriculum, the proposed tests were basic, reflecting a common set of expectations. The short 90-minute tests were intended to provide reliable data on how American children were mastering the basics, rather than to punish students, teachers, or schools for failure. Clinton's Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, stated, "If all of our efforts to raise standards get reduced to one test, we've gotten it wrong. If we force our teachers to teach only to the test, we will lose their creativity. ... If we are so consumed with making sure students pass a multiple-choice test that we throw out the arts and civics then we will be going backwards instead of forward." We must listen to that quiet voice of reason and adopt a more sensible education policy. It is possible to establish effective national standards, without federal control. For example, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has proven to be a very successful, non-governmental program for administering and awarding national teaching credentials. The National Board is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization governed by a board of directors, most of whom are classroom teachers. It created a system of advanced certification based on high and rigorous standards and constructed a workable system to assess accomplished teaching. The Board issued its first national certifications in 1990, and today more than 55,000 classroom teachers have been certified. Let us imagine that we evolved our public education system to its fullest potential, one that truly outshines the efforts of all other nations. What about the private school system, the one relied upon by the wealthy, by those who prefer a religious education for their children, or by parents who believe their local public schools are unsafe or substandard? Clearly, in a free society, they should retain that right of choice. It should not be difficult to determine the average annual cost, per student, for public education. Those parents who provide private education for their children, through two years of college, should receive a tax deduction equal to the average value of the same public education; however, that does not mean that the rest of us should subsidize private education through vouchers, as long as we offer a safe and beneficial public education system for all students. Conclusion. Just as a baby bird must ultimately stand at the edge of its nest and either spread its wings and fly off into its future, or fall back into the nest and die, we stand trembling at the edge of our polluted nest, fearfully looking out into a peaceful universe. We shall find the courage and strength to fly away, but not until every child enjoys equal access to nutrition, health care and education. This then is our task - to create a government that nurtures us and wisely provides for the future of our children. Otherwise, we shall fall back into chaos, ruin and despair, a brief footnote in the annals of time.

 

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William John Cox authored the Policy Manual of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Role of the Police in America for a National Advisory Commission during the Nixon administration. As a public interest, pro bono, attorney, he filed a class action lawsuit in 1979 petitioning the Supreme Court to order a National Policy Referendum; he investigated and successfully sued a group of radical (more...)
 

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