Last year, just before the November election, Hofstra University was fortunate enough to host a presidential debate. Prior to the debate, a variety of well-known political figures were invited to speak on the campus. I made it a point to hear former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as I was curious about what type of message he had.
Bush made a strong appeal for improvements to our educational system, with lots of ideas about how to make it better. But aside from him, there aren’t many people talking about the sad state of education and how we can improve the prospects for this and future generations of students.
To put it mildly, our schools in New York state are in a lot of trouble. With the exception of a handful of very rich school districts that are blessed with lots of tax revenue from commercial property, most of our local schools, whether in Brentwood or Brooklyn, are in a state of distress. Stories about teacher layoffs have become so common that they rarely get any attention unless you happen to live in a community that gets hit by them.
There is no doubt that in the not-too-distant future there will again be a shortage of teachers, but for now there is no rush on the part of college graduates to train to be teachers. Teachers’ unions historically protect the more senior teachers and generally ignore the need to attract young people to the profession. Ask a member of some local union to agree to an extra hour a week of classroom teaching and you’ll get a blank stare or a flat “no.”
The new state tests for lower-school students have provoked an outcry from parents who feel that the tests aren’t a measure of how well students are learning. In a number of communities throughout the state, parents have kept their children from taking the tests. The few sample questions that I’ve read in the newspapers looked like they were intended for adults seeking master’s degrees. There is a definite need for tests to measure student performance, but even with all the current exams, we still send children off to college who have to take remedial courses because they don’t read or write properly.