Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

   Public debate has increased recently in Indiana over the topic of education. Public discourse, as a general matter, is good. As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in perhaps his most famous dissent: "But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas---that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out." Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616, - - - , 40 S.Ct. 17 (1919). In Abrams anti-war (as in anti-World War I) protestors were prosecuted for distribution of anti-war pamphlets.

   Recently the results of the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) were released. When organizations choose acronyms, those organizations should be careful about what the acronym conveys. In 1982 at Pur due, I was on staff at the Undergraduate Library when it first opened. Campus buildings were given four-letter designations, for various bureaucratic reasons but then the most prominent was on-campus mail and communications. The formula used, until then, consisted of an abbreviation of the building in the first couple of letters with an abbreviation of its function as the last two letters. If that formula had been used, the Undergrad Library would have been "UGLY." In this instance, the assessment program invokes the image of a building that has stood, akimbo, for several hundred years. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a tourist attraction and makes for interesting conversation. For it to be part of the image of education is not particularly good, in my opinion.

   The PISA results for the United States 15-year-olds who took the tests were a disappointment. Students in sixty-five (65) economies were rated. Degrees of error account for the way in which scores were placed in ranges. In math, the United States placed between 23 and 29. In science, were were slightly better, 17-25. In reading we placed best of all, but still a mediocre 14-20.

   One suggestion for improvement of our schools is to privatize them. No country in the top ten privatizes. No country flirts with academic disaster in the form of voucher programs or charter schools. As was noted in an article in the Huffington Post, there are 11 education policies that could "transform American schools": 1) Effectively teach students how to conceptualize; 2) Make schooldays shorter; 3) Divert more government spending toward education; 4) Keep one teacher with one class more every year; 5) Pay teachers more; 6) Direct better schools to help out schools that fail; 7) Instill a strong sense of belief and determination in students; 8) Cap class sizes; 9) Make sure parents take a more constructive role in education; 10) Give students more break time; and 11) Stress engagement and positive relationships between students and staff.

   I would add, reduce monies funneled to athletics. I would eliminate reliance on the property tax as a significant means of finance for education. I would eliminate vouchers and charter schools. (Ah! Irony! These suggestions in a blog that begins with a quote about competition of ideas!) 

   In law school, I caught flak for my suggestion that first-year teachers should be paid what first-year associates at major law firms were paid, and vice-versa. A lot of my classmates were in law school because those persons wanted nice paychecks in a profession, not because they loved the law.

   I will close with this. I attended and received my high school diploma from an Indiana public school system. I attended classes at an IU regional campus while still in high school. I received my bachelor's degree from DePauw University. I briefly substitute-taught. I have been on staff at three universities---Purdue, Northwestern and I.U.P.U.I.. I have taken graduate level courses at both Purdue and Northwestern. I received my juris doctorate from Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis (please do not say "McKinney"). I taught and coached debate at I.U.P.U.I. I have attended private school. I have enjoyed the benefit of education in a public high school.


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Comment by Paul K. Ogden on December 10, 2013 at 3:14pm

Actually the average first year teacher salary is probably now higher than most law firm associates.  Of course, that's not hard given the unemployment among attorneys is so high and many new attorneys are commission only. Of course the attorneys, even if they do work, will get little or no benefits unlike teachers.

Your posting presumes a number of incorrect things.  You assume teachers are underpaid. They on average make about $55K in Indiana for a 9-10 month job.  And they have good benefits and retirement.   And please don't give me a sob story about how many extra hours they have to spend after school or how highly educated they are.   Almost all professionals put in extra hours and most are every bit as educated as teachers are.

You also assume that we are somehow shortchanging public spending on education.  K-12 spending is half the state budget and most of our property taxes.  Spending on education has gone up far above the inflation rate over the past several decades.  I haven't seen recent figures for the last 10 years or so, but I doubt that trend stopped.
I'm not wild about longer days and longer school years, but the countries with the better education system all have longer school years and longer school days.


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