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Motherly Law: Don’t be afraid to ask more of public schools

I do believe it’s still possible for a U.S. student to get a good public education, but I think there are many obstacles in many students path to becoming the best they can be.

The Spelling Test

My first year in public school was 6th grade. I have always excelled in spelling and prided myself on knowing my spelling words for each test in 6th grade. One week, during our spelling test, my teacher gave this sample sentence to help us with the word from the week’s list: “When my arm is hurt I put it in a slang.” Yes, folks, a slang… for your broken arm.

I am from Texas, as was this grandmotherly, “experienced” teacher. However, the word on the list was slang; it wasn’t sling said with a twang. She simply got it incorrect. This would not be the only time this teacher made this kind of mistake. I got the word right because I knew the spelling list, but I would have gotten it incorrect if I had followed her sentence prompt.

I immediately reported this error to my mother, and to this day we talk about putting our hurt arms in “slangs.” It’s funny now and has been for some time, but the truth of the matter is that it isn’t funny. There are many tenured teachers who slip through the system, continuing to teach year after year, despite poor performances.

The Failings of the U.S. Education System

Much is discussed in the media, in the state and federal house and senate chambers and among parents about the state of the U.S. education system. In general, U.S. students rank poorly among other students in the world, teachers complain about low pay, the government is forever trying to find a good system for testing, awarding funds and raising student rankings and many parents feel their children are getting left behind, and they are correct.

I was able to navigate my way through the seemingly meaningless tests that were in place to ensure minimum skills were being learned; I excelled in all subjects, except math; I learned with ease, except math; took tests; applied to universities and went on. My school did not have many, if any, dropouts. My parents were college educated, and dropping out or barely making the grade just was a nonissue in my home.

The Linger Effects of Dropping Out of School

It’s surprising to me to see statistics that say 68% of 8th graders can’t read at grade level and most won’t ever catch up. I am equally floored to know that 1.2 million students drop out of high school each year.

Source: http://broadeducation.org

Here are a few other sad and significant statistics from Broad Education:

  •     The poverty rate for families headed by dropouts is more than twice that of families headed by high school graduates;
  •     The health of an 18-year-old high school dropout is similar to that of a more educated person over two decades older;
  •     A dropout is more than eight times as likely to be in jail or prison as a high school graduate and nearly 20 times as     likely as a college graduate; and
  •     Each year, the U.S. spends approximately $12, 018 per student compared to $22,600 per prison inmate.

The Question of Money

Not a year goes by that teachers’ salaries are not discussed in great detail. Most of the discussion centers on how low teachers are paid and how teachers’ salaries should be higher. I will make some people angry with this statement, but it’s my opinion that teachers are not poorly paid for the most part. The average starting salary is not much less or equal to my starting salary as a state district court judicial law clerk. The average starting teacher’s salary is approximately $32,000; the average experienced teacher’s salary is approximately $55,000.

I have a higher degree; a costly degree; I spent 3 more grueling years in school, and yet the starting salary is not much different in the public sector. Yes, that was 11 years ago, but I did some research and the starting salaries for state judicial law clerks have not changed much in 11 years. Both law clerk positions and teacher positions are state employments. Most states have been suffering from tight, over-stuffed, under-funded budgets for years now. Both kinds of jobs have not seen a great increase in salary over the last decade.

The average teacher’s salary after a few years experience or with a higher degree are pretty decent, in my opinion, especially considering that most teachers do get summer break, winter break and spring break too. The stakes are high, the responsibilities higher, and the pitfalls are many, but there are a number of careers that don’t pay high salaries, but still require dedication, intelligence and fortitude, just as teaching does. And in all fairness, no one is forced to choose to be a teacher when entering college. University students are choosing to go into these careers in the education field.

I recently read an article that suggested that if the U.S. truly wants to raise the country’s student rankings, our schools needed to attract highly intelligent, highly experienced professionals to teach, which would require paying the teachers six figures. The article was not suggesting that teachers should receive six figures for the jobs they are doing now, but that we have to pay more to attract better teachers who will be able to raise the knowledge bar.

To find the starting and average salaries of teachers in your state, go to National Education Association (NEA).

Random Education System Stats

There are over 100,000 K-12 schools, including public, charter and private. Over 55 million kids are enrolled in a K-12 school. The student to teacher ratio has been declining over the recent decades and is now 15.7:1 for public schools. Public schools out spend private schools on a per pupil basis. All the public schools in the nation are spending 562.3 billion a year on running a school and educating a child each year. 47 billion or 8.5% of the funding comes from the federal government; $264.2 billion or47.6% is paid for by the state, and $244.1 billion or 43.9% is funded by local and private funding. Find these and other fascinating statistics at: http://www.edreform.com

The Scoop

I do believe it’s still possible for a U.S. student to get a good public education, but I think there are many obstacles in many students path to becoming the best they can be. I think government minimum achievement testing programs and the mediocrity among teachers are the largest of the stumbling stones. We must not focus on the minimum if we are hoping to soar to great heights. We must understand, identify, foster and nourish the minds and souls of our bright future leaders, as well. And yes, I ask a lot of the Public Education System, but why shouldn’t I? Over and out…

This post was written by Anna Berend and originally published on Motherly Law.