Quality Education in America

Every child in America has the right to a free, quality education, Right?  After all, do we not have a law called “No Child Left Behind?”

Many of my teacher friends know that my wife and I are hosting a foreign exchange student this year.  She is a delightful young lady from the Republic of Korea who likes to be called, Betsy.

On our way home from school one day recently, Betsy was asking me questions about the meaning of various English phrases.  Question after question after question… “Oh!” she would say in response to each answer, followed immediately thereafter by another question.

Growing weary of being the constant respondent, I asked, “So, Betsy, tell me, what do you think of American schools?”

“Um… American schools very different… better… everything in America is better.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes, schools very nice.  Teachers all very good and very… kind… but…”

“But what, Betsy?”

“American students not so kind… they make it… um… difficult.”

How very astute, I thought.  It takes a sixteen year-old girl from a foreign country, after less than two weeks attending classes in an American public school, to put her finger right where it sores the most.

Thinking about this, I remembered having heard our principal, a fine, well-liked, professional educator in his own right, tell the young people at our school on many occassions that they have no special rights as students, save for the right to a quality education.  Now, in all fairness, I’m sure that he believes this.  Hey… I believed it too until doing a little research on the subject.  I’m sorry to have to say that it simply is not true.

If it were true, the state would be compelled by law to make sure that every young person could graduate from high school with a diploma, or at least finish with a certificate of completion and trade skills of some kind.  If it were true, with things as they are, millions of parents would be suing school districts all across the country because we are not meeting the educational needs of all — not in Texas, not in Utah, not even in states like California where teachers are paid the highest salaries.  If it were true, we would have to have many, many more special education teachers in public schools, and ten times as many bilingual teachers in Texas would not suffice.  If it were true, public education would cost taxpayers a great deal more, and teachers wouldn’t have class- rooms filled with special needs students and English as a Second Language students trying to keep up with gifted, talented, and highly motivated students sitting right next to them.  If it were true, we would be more worried about each young person learning as much as they can, according to each student’s individual gifts and interests, rather than worrying about whether they can all be made to squeeze through the same academic sieve in the same way and in the same amount of time.

Truth is, none of us is created equal, and none of us has the right to a free, quality education — not in the good ole U.S. of A.  Education in the United States, contrary to the beliefs of many, is not one of our freedoms under the Constitution or any state law, neither is free access to it.  Provisions of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 do prohibit discrimination by states in the manner by which edu- cation is provided.  But it is not a right.  Rather, it is a privilege that is given according our our states’ various priorities and resources.

I made this connection after Betsy’s comment because I recently read where the Washington, DC city council has declined to pass a measure called the DC Education Rights Charter Amendment.  This amendment would have added to the city’s essential governing charter the requirement to provide a “free, high-quality education” to all citizens.

Now, why do you suppose they declined to pass such an amend- ment?  Sounds like a good thing to me, “a free, high-quality education.”  It’s something most of us think our kids all have coming to them, considering all the tax dollars that we give to our states, ostensibly, on it’s behalf.  But what would politicians really do by passing such a mandate, a mandate that says that the same public schools that they say are failing today shall, by their decree, hereby instantly provide a free, high-quality education?  Well, it would certainly launch a million lawsuits.  Today’s lack of quality public education would become actionable.

But lawsuits forcing even higher taxes won’t solve a problem that’s even more basic than school budgets.  The problem isn’t about money, folks, nor do I believe it’s about the lack of quality, dedicated teachers.  The problem is about apathy, especially among our kids from lower income households.  And I’m not just talking about African American and Hispanic students either, although they do seem to be afflicted with this more than European and Asian American students.  Many students from lower income families, not all mind you but many, simply enter the system with low expectations for success and, over time, validate their reckoning. 

So, where have we gone wrong?  Well, maybe it’s time for legis- lators, parents, and the courts to back off from integration and pro-inclusion mandates that do nothing to motivate slower students to try harder.  All they do is squash young people’s self esteem and distract the otherwise self-confident, highly motivated students.

Maybe Betsy’s got something.  Maybe, just maybe it’s time to let teachers, administrators and educational counselors start making class placement decisions based on students’ needs and teachers’ special gifts and qualifications.  One size, after all, never did fit all.

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Published in: on August 15, 2006 at 2:53 am  Comments (11)  

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. AMEN, brother!!!

  2. I feel that this is very true in americcan schools today.If u do not respect the privlage that is your education than you don’t deserve it. People these days just do not understand that what they have is not always what they deserve.

  3. I think that this is completely true and

  4. Dear Mr.Garry
    First off my email adress is not working at the moment so as soon as it is, i will give you the new adress. Also i did not get to read the hole article, but from what i read i would like to say this. I believe Betsy is a very nice and kind person. Though she can not always understand me, and i can not always understand her, she is very nice. Every time i see her i stop and say hi. She should not have to face mean teens and other people who speak to her or treat her rudely. I just want you to know that if i see someone being mean to her i will stop whatever they are doing.

    Brandon Williams

    I also want you to know that even though i dont always behave in class i try my best. You are my favorite and most interesting teacher.

  5. I agree. Although I make an attempt to seperate my school life and my social life, I have made many friends who cannot keep up with the pace of some classes. Although I have many of my friends in mind (both from Cedar Hill and Waxahachie), I would whole-heartedly support ‘weed-out’ classes. The passing of students to and from teachers depending on their own personal gifts (the students AND the teachers, not just one) would be a very drastic change from the rigid list of classes the schools are now using. I believe it would also help students find a teacher that would be the most beneficial to their particular mindset.

  6. Mr. Garrry,
    I think your article is very true. Our schools could be doing much better.

    I especially liked how you mentioned that students from lower income familys are more likely to have automatically lower expectations.

    My recently-ex boyfriend got held back in eighth grade last year, because he doesn’t believe in himself. I know him to be highly intelligent. He failed almost every class. This is because, in my opinion, people (including the system), have told him time and time again, through not only words, but actions, that he is to dumb to do the work that he is truely capable of.

    I myself find Geometry excrutiatingly painful while Pre-AP English is unbearibly easy. Although I must admit that I find myself skewed towards Language Arts in that capacity.

    Anyway, I found your article very interesting and in my opinion correct. The idea of placing students with teachers who would teach them the best seems an awesome idea to me.

    ~Kelsey Pettit

  7. Mr. Garry,
    I agree that the problem seems to be apathy. I have been in high level classes- AP and Pre-AP where the teachers were willing and able to teach and teach well. The issue was certain students. They seemed to want good grades to come easily to them and without effort. The work was very doable- the problem was that it required effort- something that the students seemed to shy away from. By constantly complaining, they wasted hours of class time. Others simply didn’t care about their grades and, assuming that others felt the same way, disrupted class as often as they wished.

  8. Mr. Garry, I forgot to mention one thing in my comment. I attended Dunaway Elementary for the grades 2-5, and we were the only ‘specialized’ class in the school. We were isolated from everyone else. I didn’t make one friend outside of my class. So, if you only specialize one group of people, your theory would not work. but applied correctly it could work really well.

  9. As a Texas teacher you should know that the Texas Constitution provides: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

    However, success is not guarenteed, only the opportunity to succeed is provided. Which is as it should be.

  10. Dear Kent:

    Just a few weeks behind in my reading. Your comment that “a free, high-quality education” sounds like a good thing struck a nerve. I don’t disagree with you, but . . .

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, first passed in 1975, mandates “a free appropriate public education” [FAPE] for students with disabilities that is delivered pursuant to each student’s “individual education plan [IEP]. This existing law sounds like a good thing.

    However, as a parent on the receiving end of the supposed benefits of this law, I would like to see the public education system spend as much time, energy, and money on fulfilling the spirit of the law as they do on trying to do as little as possible for these special needs kids and still be legal. One of the big events at this summer’s Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education [T-CASE] was a cocktail reception hosted by a law firm specializing in representing school districts. The invitation to this reception promised they would be providing both FAPE’s and IEP’s — “firewater, alcoholic potions and elixirs,” and “individual edible portions.”

    I agree with you that a “free, high-quality education” sounds like a good idea; however, in reality, I don’t think a statutory mandate would make a difference. What is the solution?


  11. I thank you for this input. I am an student at Emory & Henry College, studying to become an art teacher. I am using your entry as a reading for my Foundations of Education classes. I like what I read and am grateful for it. I agree entirely with you.

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