Politicians: It's About Fixing Education, Not Just Teacher Appreciation

BlogHer Original Post

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, the time of year when parents are baking cookies, writing cards, and filling gift baskets for those wonderful educators who spend nine months out of the year instructing, inspiring and disciplining our youngster. There’s a phrase I hear often from many a harried mom:

It’s for the kids.

The mantra is repeated as moms and dads organize school fundraisers, volunteer to grade spelling tests, buy reams of paper for cash-strapped schools.

It’s for the kids.

Image Credit: Grace Hwang Lynch

Many public schools nowadays ask for straight up monetary contributions (up to $1000 per child, per year, in some upscale communities), parental help -- not just for jump ropes and pizza parties, but to teach “supplemental” subjects such as music and art and to tutor underperforming students — and many parents willingly accept that with budget cuts and bureaucracy, this is how it has to be.

But does it have to be like this?

Those volunteer hours are all good and certainly better than the alternative, but part of me has to wonder: are we parents spending so much time and energy on efforts on band-aid solutions that we are neglecting the root of the problem -- the policies which leave educators with budget shortfalls and hands tied by iron clad curriculum?

I admit: I’m one of those parents. Sunday night, I stayed up late baking cookies for Teacher Appreciation Week. I’m also busy on the planning committee of our school’s biggest fundraiser of the year, a charity 5K run which we’re hoping will bring in enough money to keep paying for science, music and PE teachers (note; not jump ropes and trumpets, teacher SALARIES). I am guilty of not stepping up to the podium to voice my opinion at school board meetings. I didn’t write to my state lawmakers when California was deciding whether or not to apply for a waiver from the restrictive federal No Child Left Behind regulations.

It’s time for a change.

What I don't want this election season is to hear from candidates say feel-good statements about education and then do nothing to right this sinking ship. I want to hear from candidates -– presidential, congressional, state, school board -– how they plan to fix America’s ailing public education system. Some states are still deciding whether to apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements. Other states are debating whether to adopt the federal Common Core Standards curriculum. And then, after K-12 primary education, there are many policies surrounding college. What criteria is used to decide who gets in? And how do you pay for it – now that the Senate has blocked a plan to keep student loan rates in check.

What I also want is for other parents to help keep our elected officials accountable. Many corporations and organizations, from standardized testing companies to ALEC, are actively lobbying to shape public education, why not parents?

  • Join your PTA/PTO/Home and School Club, etc. PTA memberships have been declined by one million members during the past decade. Yet the PTA does more than organize bake sales and school carnivals. The National PTA advocates in Washington D.C. on behalf of education, child health, and delinquency prevention.

  • Get to know your school board representatives. Call them with your concerns. Go and speak at the meetings where they are voting on issues such as teacher layoffs, furlough days, curriculum changes.

  • Ask questions of state and national candidates. Email their campaign offices or go to one of their stumping events and ask how they stand on key education issues. The current No Child Left Behind policies were introduced by the George W. Bush administration and approved by Congress in 2001. At the time, the plan looked like a good way to improve America’s public schools. Ten years later, I’m not so sure.

  • Read up on education policy by following sites such as K-12 News Network.

    As mom of two kids in public school, of course I care about this issue. Perhaps you don’t have children. Or your kids go to private school, or you homeschool, or your children are grown. I strongly believe it's not just a matter of what's best for my kids. Public schools educate the vast majority of youngsters, who will be adults in a decade or so. What kind of adults do we want them to be? What kind of world do we want?

    News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

  • Comments

    In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.