Education, not politics, should be schools’ priority

Priorities. I am trying to teach my grandson Jason about priorities, and even Mikayla my granddaughter, to whatever extent that concept can be grasped by a 6-year-old.

One of my favorite classroom observations comes from my friend John, a middle school Spanish teacher in Florida, who reinforces with each group of students that “My primary job is to teach you Spanish, but my secondary job is to help you organize and prioritize your life, so you can succeed.”

It was with priorities in mind that I listened to the talk radio hostess interviewing a Washington, D.C. educator. The piece of this which stuck in my mind was the part about charter schools.

“Charter schools are innovative public schools providing choices for families and greater accountability for results.” — U.S. Charter Schools website.

This thumbnail definition, while leaving lots of room for individual differences, might help you to understand why, particularly in a large urban area such as DC, parents would be anxious to place children in a charter school.

Competition is a fact of life, unless your goal is to drop out of high school and let society take care of you. Thus, it wasn’t surprising to find out that there is competition to get into the D.C. area charter schools. What was surprising was that, according to this MSNBC discussion, the decision is based on lottery.

That topic itself, the fairness of letting a lottery decide the future of one’s children, is not the scope of this column, valid though it may be.

The focus here is the follow-up comment of the interviewer: That the logical solution would be to increase the availability of quality education.

At this point, the issue of priorities enters the picture. One need not be an educator to understand that, in order for any program like that described to function, classroom size must be optimal; financial resources must be accessible, and staff must be able to utilize those resources.

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the issue of faculty pay. Let’s assume, because it is often true, that teaching is a calling and that those called to teach will do it for a decent, livable wage.

Creative education costs money. Smaller classes require more teachers. Teacher education programs would have to fill the necessary slots, where in some areas, there is already a teacher shortage.

I, for one, believe that the teacher shortage would be lessened, if teachers were working in the creative, nurturing, student success environment which is central to a charter school. But again, that becomes a side track.

Do you see where this ties in to priorities? Is education really the priority that every politician wants us to think it is? Or is it, as I fear, akin to cutting taxes- something that politicians of every stance applaud because it sounds good, with no real thought of addressing the reality?

I recently started a re-read of “Rocket Boys”, the book which inspired the movie “October Skies.” In one section, the high school principal, addressing the student body about the Sputnik I flight, exhorted the students that education would be a priority from then on.

Too often, education is not a priority; it becomes a sink or swim situation. This is in spite of, not because of, teachers and administrators, and goes directly back to the willingness to fund our future, rather than waste money in other areas.

We stand at the beginning of a new school year. Do we dare to dream of a future in which children’s chances for top education will not be decided by a toss of the dice ?