What determines most whether we have, or will ever have, a respectable public education system here in Idaho--or anywhere else for that matter?
Surely, the good people in the Albertson Foundation would agree this is what we're all after here--that one thing that would remedy our problems, vis á vis packing our childrens' duffel bags for that long trip into the future with a fighting chance for decent careers, fulfilling lives, intelligent decision making, informed citizenship, etc., etc.
Who could not agree with them--with their vague "Don't Fail Idaho" campaign--that getting more students to complete the entire K-12 marathon and go on to higher levels of education would be a satisfactory outcome? But that would be a symptom of success, not a cure for what's stopping it from happening now.
Getting every classroom in Idaho wired up with the latest technology would be nice, too. But again, that would be only a milestone on the road from where we are today to where we'd like to be tomorrow. It doesn't address the question of why we need to plop kids down in front of a computer to get them interested in learning something.
Turning every public school in Idaho into a virtual charter, and hooking every student up to a network so that data flows into their little noggins from online corporate brain-feeding tubes, might produce a more thoroughly trained working herd, which would certainly make the local economic outlook brighter. But is accomplishing that really for the kids' sakes?... or for those who benefit the most from bright economic outlooks?
Portraying public schools as hellholes that squash eager young minds like bugs, accusing unionized teachers of being the acid eating away the foundations of society, extolling the market place as the only hope for Western Civilization--e.g., the "Students Come First" blitz so enthusiastically supported by, among others, the Albertson Foundation--might work for some of the simpler people. But then, when you realize that all of those states and nations sitting on the upper rungs of the education ladder--the same one Idaho squats on the bottom of--have solid public school systems, strong teachers' unions and relatively little of this privatization being plotted among their political and business leaders, you have to wonder what the real motive is for such an assault on the public school system, an institution that has served Western Civilization pretty damn well for a good long time.
No, as I prepared to finish up this series on why the Albertson Foundation is throwing so much prime-the-pump money into such an extensive television presence, I went Googling about in the oceans of data showing which states (and nations) rank on top academically, which states (and nations) pay the most in teachers' salaries, which states (and nations) pay the most per student. I found, of course, what I expected to find: The best states for education--in every sense, from pre-K schooling availability to academic achievement to the rate of high-school graduation and percentages of higher degrees--far more often than not pay the most to their teachers and show the strongest support for their pubic schools.
The conclusions are inescapable: 1) in the broad view, you get what you pay for; and 2) in states (and nations) that treasure their public schools, those schools are doing a hell of a lot better than those in states where the general attitude is that the public school system is an enemy.
Idaho is one of those states. There are no rankings for which the state's elected officials top the list for treating professional educators like shit, for denying the truths taught in science classrooms, for sneering most openly at the entire panorama of intellectual achievement--but Idaho has to be in the running. We're on the short list of everything else you wouldn't want on an education report card, so doesn't it follow we'd also be a leader in contempt for both education and educators? After all, where else would a man with zero experience as either an educator or an education be elected the superintendent of public instruction?
So back to that question I asked up front: What determines most whether we have, or will ever have, a respectable public education system here in Idaho?
Some respect, that's what. Respect for the men and women who struggle to make it work--in spite of being among the worst paid and most unappreciated teachers in America. Respect for the potential of our youth--which being second-from-the-last in per student expenditures is not. Respect for the concept that all youngsters deserve an equal shot at becoming educated citizens, no matter their access to some fly-by-night charter school. And respect for the necessity, the integrity and the transcendence of true intellectual achievement, something our state leaders could use a great deal more of.
So, you good people in the Albertson Foundation, think about what all those millions of yours could do if you used them to persuade our officials to strengthen what we've always had, and to elect people who put public education ahead of personal gain. And you needn't take my word for anything. Read Diane Ravitch's latest book, Reign of Error, on the schemes to sell this most vital of society's functions off to forces who may have a lot less concern for your childrens' futures than they do for their own stock portfolios.