Friday, August 10, 2012

Solving Our K-12 Educational Issues ... Autonomous Schools, Autonomous Communities and Autonomous Citizens

Many of our state and local governments are in deep financial trouble. That's not a secret.

Entitlements for retirement benefits are a big part of the problem. In the public sector, the lack of funding for teachers retirement benefits is causing a 'to and fro' debate about who bears respnsibility to make or amend these payments. That's not a secret either.

So let's consider a different but what I believe to be an eminently workable and satisfactory solution for all concerned. Let's simply give back the responsibility and authority to run our schools to the local communities. Implement real individual choice, accompanied by parental and local control, in other words.

Individual choice, autonomous schools and local financial responsibility for educating our young people has for far too long been missing in action. Top down government programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are recent examples of federal government's attempts to deal with our worldwide lagging performance in education.

How far we're behind can we seen in an excerpt from The Friendly Neighborhood, Internet School:

"We have big problems with our schools—and need new ideas about how to fix them. . . . We need to value a teacher's experience properly and discard the thought that idealistic college graduates with no experience make brilliant teachers automatically.

Fair enough. But we need other solutions too. We need plans that make direct use of our biggest assets: parental anger, and people's selfish but reasonable willingness to give some time to improve their own children's education now, versus someone else's in 20 years. . . .

Among 65 participating nations in the latest survey, the United States ranked 15th in reading, 23rd in science, 31st in math. In "science literacy" we were beaten by such intellectual powerhouses as Slovenia and crushed by the likes of Japan and Finland. But take heart: We beat Bulgaria!

Unfortunately, science is one of our strong subjects. "American students are less proficient in their nation's history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test," the New York Times reported last year. "Most fourth graders [were] unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure." The exam found 12% of high school seniors "proficient" in American history.
But statistics can't measure the outright grotesqueness of our failure. Earlier this year, the Huffington Post reported on "Lunch Scholars," a high-school student's video about his fellow students. "Do you know the vice president of the United States?" the filmmaker asks. One student volunteers "bin Laden." "In what war did America gain independence?" No one had the right answer without a hint."

"To and Fro" and the Subsidiarity Principle ... Illinois as an Example

Subisidiarity is a fancy word with which some of us may be unfamiliar. Unfortunately and more importantly, the application of the simplicity based subsidiary principle is largely missing in action in the U.S. system of public education.

The idea is very simple. We should do things at the lowest level of the organization as possible, assuming the competence to do so is in place. At the individual, family unit or within the neighborhood or local community, for instance.

Thus, rather than having the federal, state or even district govern our local schools, it should be done at the neighborhood and community level.

By employing the subsidiarity principle, we can fix our schools and do it with less money than we're currently spending while materially improving the education our children receive at the same time. Sound too good to be true? Well, it's not. In fact, it's eminently doable.

But first, let's look again at some more of the bad news about teachers' pensions in Illinois.  Quinn talks up pension proposal concerns the Illinois governor's current rather half-hearted attempt to address the teachers' pension affordability problem:

"PEORIA — Gov. Pat Quinn said (recently) a shift of pension costs from the state to local school districts was something he still supports, and he cited District 150 as a potential benefactor.

But the district’s comptroller said if the measure was endorsed by state lawmakers, it would produce a “triple whammy” to its budget that also will be affected by an 11 percent decrease in general state aid and less property tax revenue from a decline in equalized assessed values.

“While I understand the need for pension reform and the governor’s position, there is a need to come up with the dollar somewhere; shifting it to local taxpayers is what he’s pushing for,” said Dave Kinney, who oversees the district’s finances. . . .

My Take

By all means, let's find a workable way to give back to the local communities complete control over what they pay teachers, including retirement benefits. And keep the money to do so in the local community rather than send it to the state and national governments for partial 'recirculation' later. Try MOM and hands on caring control. It will work vastly better than OPM and government knows best elitist control. Just look at the facts.

But there's more, much more, than that to be done. Give back total control of the schools to the parents, teachers and their local communities, and get the state and federal government totally out of the way. In other words, handle things at the lowest possible competent level of authority and where MOM rules apply. That's subsidiarity.

And while we're at it, let's give each student and parent a voucher equivalent to the amount being spent by the government on each student currently. Then let them spend the money on whatever school, private or public, that they choose. How about introducing to education a little free market based competition, sports fans?

Let's allow teachers who excel to be rewarded properly with a pay for performance system of remuneration. In turn the best schools will get the most students, the best teachers will get the most money and the students at those schools will receive the best education. That's how we can catch up with Japan and Finland and forget about getting passed by the likes of Bulgaria.

Regarding costs, let's encourage volunteers from the community to teach or otherwise offer their voluntary services. (See the above referenced article The Friendly Neighborhood, Internet School for some straightforward ideas as to how to make all this work better.)

Then we'll have the money available to pay a fair and well funded, wisely invested pension benefit to our teachers. That's the "painless" solution to our currently unaffordable public sector pension funding dilemma.

Give We the People responsibility, free choice, the facts and appropriate rewards and recognition for a job well done.

Then we can sit back, watch the miracles and the big smiles appear throughout the local households, neighborhoods, individual communities, and among our many excellent teachers and high performance schools, too.

Thanks. Bob.

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