It doesn’t matter one iota how smart or informed any person thinks they might be, no-one is an expert, or even well-versed, in every subject, regardless what Donald J. Trump says. Intelligent human beings generally comprehend that if there is a topic they are deficient in, the course of wisdom is seeking out an expert in the field and tapping them for as much information as they are willing to share. It is unfortunate that politicians are not always prone to seeking advice and counsel from experts, the right kind of experts, but this past week one politician signaled that to better serve America’s children, and end “the educations wars” that began with George W. Bush and slightly de-escalated by President Obama, she would go to the real education experts..
While many Americans gave their rapt attention to FBI director James Comey’s press conference last Tuesday, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was laying out a plan for America’s schools in front of the National Education Association; and it was a plan that informs Clinton’s intelligence on education and the wisdom to seek out counsel from education experts: public school teachers. Although it seems like a no-brainer, this is the first time in a couple of decades that a politician promising to be a champion for education is not planning to take advice from people more interested in breaking unions, privatizing public schools, and pandering to moneyed interests.
Now it’s true that President Obama sought advice and counsel from so-called “education experts,” but they were billionaire experts in the school privatization sector and not the people, predominately women, toiling in the trenches to educate the next generation of Americans. For all the great achievements President Obama has accomplished, his one weak point was allowing corporate billionaires to influence education policy and his outgoing Education Secretary said as much with a very tepid mea culpa on the crusade to test America’s student population into idiocy.
Former Secretary Clinton told the mass of public school teachers that she would, besides end the education wars “expand access to child care and Pre-K, pay teachers more, forgive their college debt, construct new school buildings, and bring computer science courses into K-12 education.”
Where Clinton really shined was telling the audience that her administration would “stop focusing only on quote, ‘failing schools.’ Let’s focus on all our great schools too.” As far as that favorite anti-public school advocates’ term accountability, Clinton said, “Advise me and hold me accountable. Keep advocating for your students and your profession.” Now, there has been such a push to portray all of America’s public schools as abject failures that a fair number of Americans are ignorant about the real success of the public schools and how American students easily best their foreign counterparts in achievement if they are in social-economic areas of wealth. In fact, last year there were two separate studies revealing that “America’s wealthiest traditional public schools that are unionized with tenured teachers are among the world’s highest achieving schools.”
The real issue with why many public school students fail has nothing to do with teachers; it is due to income inequality, woefully inadequate public school funding, parent involvement in the classroom and no parent involvement in the home. Those aspects are not founded on anecdotal information, but a mountain of peer-reviewed studies spanning three decades. Now, it didn’t require several University research projects to determine what’s wrong with America’s students.
Any public school teacher knows that ignorant parents attempting to run their child’s classroom throughout their K-12 education, lazy parents or those with no interest in the value of education, and poverty are the primary drivers of poor student achievement. What is curious is why no other politician has thought to take the course Hillary Clinton laid out: confer with public school teachers or take five minutes to peruse the mounds of data, including Education Department research laying student failure where it belongs; socio-economic status, underfunding, and inadequate or poor parenting.
Clinton’s plan, although well thought-out, is missing one aspect: training prospective and current parents of young children to instill a lifelong value of education. According to just one of several studies, “Parents convey attitudes about education to their children during out-of-school hours and these attitudes are reflected in the child’s classroom behavior,” and “positive attitudes towards education and school were associated with the child’s increased academic performance.” That “positive attitude towards education and school” is where parents should be focusing their attention instead of inserting themselves in the classroom. In fact, according to yet another study, “an increase in the parent’s school activities, such as increased number of parent-teacher contacts, was associated with worsening achievement.” Where parent involvement does help student achievement, and a point that few politicians have ever learned from talking to teachers, is “the positive attitudes parents have towards their child’s education, school, and teacher.”
America’s public education system is not going to improve by robbing more public school funding to support privatized and typically underperforming charter schools; something an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose. And, student achievement is not going to improve by burdening them with more corporate-created standardized testing; something the Obama Education Department finally admitted was wrong-headed. It is also something any public school teacher could have told the Ed. Department if they had bothered to inquire.
Hillary Clinton may not have a silver bullet to stop the education wars, or improve student achievement, but unlike the current and former occupants of the White House she is willing to go to the people who understand what needs to be done. That may not make her an expert on public education, but it does make her intelligent and capable of providing the assets teachers require to accomplish what most Americans expect from their public schools. The primary obstacles to implementing the policies teachers and education experts have called for over the past two decades is the Kochs, ALEC, corporate billionaires and Republicans who want the public schools to fail because an informed populace is an existential threat to their political lives.