Saturday, April 01, 2006

Education Should be Top Priority

Unlike a mischievous child who gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar and then learns his lesson after his parents dole out the punishment, the government never seems to learn lessons.

One lesson a boy scout learns from the beginning is to be prepared. Government agents at all levels must never have been boy scouts, because their preparedness for the aftermath of a disastrous hurricane strike last summer in the wake of Katrina was put to the test. They failed miserably.

But, the thing is, government officials and their agencies should have been highly prepared for a disaster since that’s pretty much all they’ve been training for since the 9-11 attack.

One of the problems is that their focus was too narrow. Apparently, training for a disaster brought on by terrorism doesn’t prepare you for a disaster brought on by nature.

Even a lesson learned in one area never seems to be applied to other areas of concern. One lesson that might have been learned from New Orleans is that a few billion dollars spent on prevention might have saved a hundred billion dollars on reconstruction, not to mention saving countless lives.

Terrorists and hurricanes may strike us again. And maybe the government has learned a hard lesson on how to deal with such eventualities. We can hope so. But there are other disasters waiting in the wings that could very well be prevented, but won’t be.

America’s education system is only years away from a disastrous implosion, especially inner-city education. Indiana’s school systems won’t be spared.

Currently, metropolitan schools in Indiana are filled with over-stuffed classrooms, less-than-adequate numbers of qualified teachers, and decrepit facilities.

So what is the response to this disaster-in-waiting? The people who hold the purse strings tighten the budget. So schools are forced to lay off more teachers, cut back on school supplies, and delay improvements to facilities.

Classrooms that have been barely functional in recent years will be non-functional in years to come.

Take, for example, a class of 32 diverse students and one teacher. Many classes now contain inclusion students, those students who have some kind of special need and who used to be taught in special education classes, but who are now lumped together with gifted students and average students in one classroom.

It forces the single teacher to differentiate instruction and cater to the needs of a diverse group of students in a single setting. Discipline becomes an issue as the more advanced students get bored and run out of things to do while the teacher is trying to get the less-prepared students to catch up.

Teaching a large, diverse classroom becomes nothing more than stylized babysitting. As ISTEP testing is showing, students aren’t learning nearly as much as they should be.

Just as spending $10 billion to improve the levy system in New Orleans would have prevented disaster and saved over $100 billion in clean up efforts, spending sufficient funds to fix our faltering education system will prevent the disaster of a poorly-educated public who will be in charge of running this country in a few years.

Other countries in Europe and Asia take education much more seriously. The result is fewer welfare recipients, higher employment rates, and less crime.

Instead of cutting funding for education, it should become this nation’s number one priority. Cut anything else if you have to, but fund education properly.

Educational funding is an investment in the future. Shortsighted politicians would rather see immediate returns.

But a highly-educated populace that can compete dynamically in a global economy is the only way the country is going to progress in the 21st century.

Spend the money to bring class sizes down, to add extra teachers to service the special needs students, and to bring the facilities up to standard. Spend the money to deal effectively with troubled students who cause the discipline problems. Spend the money to purchase needed supplies and equipment that will make youngsters more eager to learn.

Some people may say throwing money at the problem won’t solve it. But don’t just throw money at it; invest the money in a wise manner. Create a master plan that is designed to solve our education problems within 10 years, and then properly fund that master plan.

The lessons we supposedly learned that spending a little now will prevent having to spend a lot later should be applied to our education system. Otherwise, down the road, the price will be far greater than what we spent on hurricane relief.

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