Can we support public education with more than just tax dollars? PTA's and other parent groups help. So do civic minded corporations that sponsor school activities. But are there structural supports we can give to education?
For example, how about requiring grade eligibility for a young person to drive? Students whose grades slip would have their permits suspended for at least a semester. Drop outs must wait until they're seventeen or even eighteen before they can get a license. The measure is hardly unfair if it removes some of the most irresponsible and accident prone drivers from the road.
What about employers proudly favoring high school graduates in hiring and promotion? Furthermore, what if they rewarded employees who complete additional course work? This is commonly done with white collar workers, but why not blue collar as well? Don't state and federal governments have an interest in promoting a well educated workforce in this time of increased international competition? Couldn't incentives be built into their tax codes?
Why do we resist the idea of high stakes testing? Students take one standardized exam after another, but few, if any, count for grades or graduation. Rather, we aggregate the results and use them to evaluate schools and school districts, but not the students. Some other time I'll expand on the unreliability of low stakes testing, but for now let me ask what a high school diploma can possibly mean if students are not individually accountable for what they have learned?
The dilemma our schools face can not be remedied by targeting teacher unions or innovating new curricula; neither can we test our way out of it. The dilemma is a cultural one: our society lacks consensus on what education means and what a diploma is for. We say we want our kids to learn, but we settle for adolescent daycare, trusting that if kids can just reach their twenties without a pregnancy or a prison sentence, they'll find their way.
With unemployment topping ten per cent, while engineering jobs go begging, we can not afford to be so blasé. We must make public what a public education means.
Crack the Whip by Winslow Homer. Once these kids left their one room school house, they were eligible for free land under the Homestead Act. Click on the picture for a closer look.