Should We Just Blow up Public Education and Start Over? – Opinion

I’m a little over halfway through my ninth year of teaching. I’ve taught English, Social Studies, career education, and computer science, and I have coached many student-athletes during that time, as well.

RedState was my first teaching job. I became a RedState contributor around that time. I’ve been writing columns here ever since, and it’s given me a pretty good platform to discuss important issues.

Through both of these lenses (as an educator and as a conservative writer), I’ve watched both conservative activists in education and conservatives in general and their treatment of the issue of public education. Slowly, it’s become more and more obvious that conservatives want to just burn the system down and start over rather than keep working to fix it.

I can’t say I don’t understand the sentiment. Many stories are written about the problems in some systems, and the fact that students may be at disadvantage because of certain bad actors. This headline caught my attention. National Review and I can’t help but think there’s a better way.

In a piece titled “Destroy the Public-School Systems,” senior writer at NRODavid Harsanyi highlights the absurdity of a high-school having 77 percent reading at elementary level. To Harsanyi’s credit, the headline and the subject of the column don’t quite line up. His point, as he noted on Twitter, is more about destroying public school systems’ monopoly on education, which I certainly can agree with (I am assuming that there is a specific headline editor who wrote the headline for maximum SEO, but I could be wrong).

Harsanyi’s closing paragraphs really spell out the correct take.

In-city public schools have been the most damaging to minorities in 40 years. Americans from the middle class and wealthy already have choices in school options. They are able to move. People who live in neighborhoods with strong systems tend to have higher home values. Teachers’ unions use tax dollars, often through compelled dues, to help elect politicians who preserve the status quo — which, functionally, is the racial segregation of schools.

A popular argument for school choice is that giving parents more freedom to select better schools will only make the existing ones less desirable. Well, imagine making this argument about any other area of life: “Hey, you can’t leave this supermarket because we’re going to suck even more.” No one would accept that logic. Yet they do for their kids’ education. Maybe when 77 percent of high-school graduates can’t make it through Good night MoonIf you ask someone, they will act. We’re not that far off.

But the headline accompanying the piece doesn’t just appear in a vacuum. Many people in the conservative movement believe that this is the right way forward. And I can’t help but continue to think that it’s possible to save rather than essentially take my ball and go home. Nothing I’m about to say is anything I haven’t said before. It’s just that, once again, we find ourselves staring down arguably the biggest civil rights issue of the modern era and conservatives’ response is to just destroy a system they don’t like and move on.

Conservatism can be involved to fix the education system in a number of ways. It is possible to be disruptive and not burn it down.

Often, “school choice” is cited as the reform that will fix things, but there is no single silver bullet. You will need patience and active participation to make this work.

While school choice can be a good start, it does nothing to pull out students from poor schools. However, not all kids can afford to attend these schools. Many students face major challenges with transportation and technology access, especially for those who live in low-income households. Some kids aren’t able to get to a school across town, nor are they able to access the digital platforms that are available to push students further ahead. Conservatives would then say “Shut the school down” and force kids elsewhere, but the fundamental barriers to education would still exist.

Although school choice is an excellent start, what can we do to fix those schools? The schools some kids can’t leave?

It is clear that we are short of teachers, and rarely do they have the funding available to provide them with what they merit. A larger-than-necessary chunk of education spending goes to bloated administrative costs and salaries, as though people stuck in a district’s central office are the people we need fixing the problems in our classrooms. Conservative lawmakers must take measures to raise teacher salaries to ensure that teachers are better paid and to limit the amount of money available to school administrators.

Conservatives need to be better at running at school board elections. Many of the policies and curricula being implemented by schools are not working as intended. Only progressives with a strong support for these initiatives can pass them.

But school boards aren’t just the elected officials. These are the people who run the daily operations in any school district. And the district isn’t just the central office, but the principals in the front office of every school and the teachers in every classroom. Conservatives should go into schools and classrooms to change the way education in society is perceived.

And it’s not like you have to go in and wage a culture war from the classroom. That’s what we accuse progressive and union activists of doing. The job is all you have to do. You don’t have to be a role model for your students. Teaching isn’t preaching, though a lot of teachers seem to think that is their duty. Simply be a teacher.

It’s not impossible to fix our schools, but for one side of the political aisle to want to just blow it up and start over doesn’t actually help the problem.

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