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American School Wars (1)

March 16, 2017
Plain English Version

Photo credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Where America is Now.

Kids go to school to learn how to succeed in life. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the basic skills they need. That is the easy part to describe.

The background. For many years, the states oversaw schools. That is because the states had revenue from taxes to pay for schools. There were many school districts. The districts used revenue from local taxes to pay their share.

The job of teaching was that of local schools and school districts. Setting the standards was the job of the state.

After World War II, things began to change. Service people returned home, got married and had children. The public schools became crowded. In many regions, teachers formed trade unions. They fought for higher teacher pay and better working conditions. The cost of schools went up.

There was not much of a role for the federal government. There was no federal Department of Education until 1980. Republican presidents soon began to call for closing the new department down. The said it was the job of the states.

President George W. Bush had a better idea. He proposed a “No Child Left Behind” bill. The force behind the bill was to use testing results to measure how well schools was teaching their pupils. The bill became law. School districts that did well got more money. Some schools did not do well.They had chances to improve. There were other incentives to reward improving schools.

All this led to an emphasis on tests. Schools began ‘teaching to the test.’ Parents complained that this was not the goal of education. Parents and interested parties began looking at the skills of the teachers. A teacher’s abilities to “instruct” became more important.

Teacher unions had become more powerful. It became more difficult to remove poor teachers.  There was unhappiness with public schools. This led to the “voucher movement.” Vouchers are money given to parents to help pay for private schools.  Discontent also created “charter schools.” Charter schools would innovate. They would show the best ways to teach. Both programs use taxpayer funds.

Public schools have defenders. They say vouchers and charter schools are robbing the public schools of needed funds.

President Obama had a new bill that became law. It is the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” It puts less emphasis on tests. It has some new rules for schools. Some educators and some politicians said the new rules were too strict. The Republicans and some Democrats want to set aside the new rules.

Everyone agrees that the goal is to make schools work better. Tomorrow, how we got here.

Resource: The New York Times March 9, 2017

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