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Politics and the Public School System

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July 13, 2012

I know it is the middle of summer and for the majority of families and teachers that means no school. But this doesn’t mean school can’t be on your mind. Public schools are funded by taxpayer dollars; therefore, this money is received from our government systems (whether it be local, state, or federal funds). This money is not handed over freely though.

Most people agree (regardless of party affiliation) that there is a problem with the public school system. We want certain educational outcomes for our children, but can’t seem to make these outcomes come into fruition. Could it be a problem with how our current school system works?

Setting the Standards 

Ultimately any parent, teacher, or legislator’s goal in our education system should be the highest level of learning possible for students. We want to know if a school is doing a good job teaching children or if they are falling behind. The problem is that everyone evaluates a good education in a different manner. Even educators have had a hard time determining exactly what should be taught to students.

This desire to be able to determine if an education is good or bad led government bodies to try to standardize education. They wanted the ability to compare each school to determine if that school was meeting standards, above standards, or below standards. If the school was below they would need to rise to the occasion, and if the school was above they should be rewarded.


The need for standards led to standardized testing. This was a simple method to determine what children were really learning. Through the tests one could see on a standardized level which schools were excelling, which were falling behind, and who was on par.

This is where the real issue of determining what is “most important” came into play. Politicians working in conjunction with education professionals outlined their idea of the “ideal knowledge” children in various grade levels should attain. This became the standard for schools to beat.


This all sounds logical in retrospect and a seemingly reliable way to evaluate an education system. However, what is it doing to our school systems?

Anyone with a child knows that part of the beauty of learning is watching it happen. Those lightbulb moments for children can be spectacular. Is teaching a child to learn to take a test well a lightbulb moment? Sadly, for many it is not.

The Socratic form of learning has been replaced by memorization and the need to know the information now. Shouldn’t we be focusing on the long term retention of this knowledge and ultimately fostering the learning process in our children? Essentially, for my family, I would rather have a child who is learning to think through an issue than a child who can recite a set of answers to me. Socratic forms of teaching focused on the why. Why is the answer the answer. Today I don’t feel teachers are able to teach the why as much as the what. Instead of asking why is the answer x; we are asking what is the answer requiring only an answer of x.

Teachers and principals are being limited by the bureaucracy of a standardized system. What is important to a parent or teacher may not be important in the scheme of testing, so it will probably not be taught because teachers simply don’t have time for it. They are told they must live up to these predetermined expectations or risk losing their job, or funding for the school. This means they have to focus on the whats.

Fortunately, as a taxpayer or parent of a child attending public school you can make changes. Join your school’s PTA and get involved with the teachers. Let administrators know what is important to you, and most importantly let your legislators know what is important through voting and petitioning for change. There are a number of educational reform groups that would love help from any concerned parent or citizen.

Do you think standardized systems are hurting the education system, or do you feel it is the only way to keep schools in check?

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