What is happening to our education system in Wisconsin and our country concerns me even in my retirement from a 25-year career in education, followed by three years on Oregon’s school board.
It seems that everybody is an expert about education these days, from politicians to businessmen. Reform of our public educational system is needed to educate all of our children.
The problems of public education are many: the cost, curriculum and reaching out to underachieving students.
Concerns also include classes being too big, teachers being biased, people wanting choice where their child goes to school and some people who don’t have children wonder why should taxpayer money support things that do not concern them.
The complaints go on. There are problems with how we educate all the children in our country, but we must understand our roots, our shame and our future. This future must include an equitable funding mechanism for education, both public and voucher schools.
Public education can be traced to the early 1600s, with the Puritans. They developed schools that taught the virtues of family, religion, and community. Girls were taught to read, but not to write.
In the late 1700s, Thomas Jefferson believed the young country needed good public schools and that taxpayers should fund the schools. During the mid-1800s, academics became the managers of public education, inclusive of the teaching awareness of new progress in science and technology.
In the South, public schools were not widespread. This was due to the large population of African Americans who were intentionally kept uneducated so they could be controlled as slaves. Rich, white plantation and business owners either sent their children to private schools or paid for private education in their homes.
As the population moved west, common schools were created, the single school house with all ages in one room. Parents paid for a teacher by providing a place for them to live. So education was for those who could pay, excluding people unwilling to pay or those without money.
When a large influx of European immigrants came, they brought with them Catholicism, as well as other religions. They built their own schools without state funding to keep control of their curriculum.
In the late 1800s, a change of educational philosophy came when American philosopher, psychologist, social and educational reformer John Dewey promoted fundamental approach of education by offering education to all children.
Dewey saw learning by doing and development of practical life skills as crucial to children’s education, with emphasis on educating the child to reach their full potential. This concept is still included in modern day educational institutions philosophy, but the history of education still affects the system.
We still struggle with disparity through race and economics in terms of student success. Students in Wisconsin are supported with ranges of $8,000 to $18,000, depending on where they live.
Many public schools do not have the resources to fund their school districts, whether they are in the city or rural. Rural schools in Wisconsin and across the nation are closing at an alarming rate and urban schools still struggle with so many financial and social issues.
Education provides knowledge of the world around us, the progress of our society – including technology, science and diverse belief systems – and it should help change the world into a better place to live. But we now have taxpayer money funding private schools that are predominantly religious in nature and bring with them their own biases.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau of Wisconsin revealed that private voucher schools in Wisconsin have received $269.6 million in state funding in the 2017-19 years, while public schools have seen a $90.6 million reduction in funding. On the federal level, the Secretary of Education – with no background in education, let alone public education – has promised $20 billion dollars of taxpayer to voucher schools across the nation.
The Wall Street Journal (a centrist news media source) has been following the voucher schools of Milwaukee since 1990. It found that students who used voucher schools did not see academic gains in their new schools and that they performed worse, on average, than their matched peers in the public schools that they left.
Public schools are inclusive of many ideas, a microcosm of our extremely diverse society. Voucher schools are allowed to teach what they want without the oversight public schools incur, and they take from those students who need the public schools, gifted as well as special need students.
Reform is necessary, to those taxpayers that want financial help to defer their cost of school choice, we need to discuss oversight and work to equalize money to all our schools and students. Our future of an informed and educated populace depends on this reform.
Even today, as in the past, public schools were and are the cornerstone to having an educated populace for preserving democracy, economic growth and social progress.