Education and the Fall
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Professor, George Mason University
Ten educational issues for voters and politicians to consider in upcoming elections
The fall season brings out political campaign signs like a good nights rain
brings night crawlers to the earths surface. I dont mean to infer that any of
our candidates are biological replications of the wiggly creatures; rather that both
appear under certain conditions.
years campaign has special significance since Virginians will be voting for both a
President and a Senator. The economy is in great shape and the lack of any major foreign
conflict has brought social issues to the forefront. The social issue closest to my heart
is education, but Ill be turning 62 this year, so social security also resonates
with me. This column has only space for one topic so Ill provide my own David
Letterman-style educational top-ten list for politicians and voters to consider.
Issue Number One:
What person in his right mind would say no when asked if hes in favor of high
standards for his children? Im in favor of high standards for my elected officials,
but seldom do they meet my criteria, and thats the issue. Who determines what high
standards are and how they will be measured? Maybe we should say we strive for reasonable
standards for most people, realizing that God didnt create all of us to meet the
same expectations on items measured by other humans.
Issue Number Two:
Candidates for president from both parties spoke at the recent Veterans of Foreign
Wars convention. They pledged their support to provide the resources needed for our
fighting men and women. Who could argue with that objective? We also need to hear
candidates say they will provide education with the same needed resources. Most support
proposals fall far short of the amount needed to make significant educational gains. If we
were to evaluate our military leaders using the same accountability methods perceived for
public schools, all we would need to do is measure the kill ratio for each bullet spent.
If the ratio were unsatisfactory, our solution would be to take our soldiers to the rifle
range and draw smaller bulls-eyes for them to hit. There would be no Stealth
Issue Number Three:
Standardized Measurement Scales
I have written volumes about this issue, so I assume many who have read my column
know my position. My bulls-eye analogy speaks to the issue. Schools need more and
better resources in addition to more finite measuring systems if we are going to require
more and smaller bulls-eyes.
Issue Number Four:
My blood boils when I hear a television ad requesting patrons to
bring pencils, paper and other supplies to their place of business so all children can
have the necessary materials for learning. Maybe we should ask the National Rifle
Association to bring bullets for military units if they run short of these supplies. Sound
ridiculous? Thats the way I feel about supplying our schools with books, computers,
and other supplies using the begging method. Defense Secretary Cohen promised our military
the most up-to-date equipment to fight future battles. Lets make sure that our
teachers also have the best equipment to meet the challenge of educating all children.
Accomplishing that goal will take real political courage.
Issue Number Five:
Talk about low morale. Even with my high ego I find myself getting
down with all the negative talk about the lack of educational accomplishments. Educators
are fighting a Vietnam War with its hidden enemies, lack of clearly defined objectives
that denote winning and losing, and a public that at times doesnt understand or
support the battle. Morale is a key factor in developing a winning business enterprise,
political campaign, sports team, or educational endeavor. Lets hear more discussion
from the candidates about ideas for building higher levels of public morale and support
for our educational system. One of our greatest politicians, Abraham Lincoln, said,
"If you look for the bad in man youll surely find it." Its time for
us to look at the good in our public educational system, which far outweighs the bad.
Issue Number Six:
Supplying More Teachers and Class Size Reduction
Teacher shortages always seem to exist, so Id like to recommend a solution to
the problem. Why not build a "Teacher National Guard?" We need a better system
to ensure a constant supply of qualified teachers. More teachers will be needed if we are
going to reduce class sizes. Class size reduction is one of the keys to establishing a
better educational system. The reduction must be significant if we expect to obtain real
gains. My experience has shown that when a class size exceeds 20, adding additional
students exponentially diminishes the quality of the educational experience. We need to
measure both quantitative and qualitative data obtained with reduction in class size. The
willingness of students to properly use information already obtained is as important as
gaining additional facts.
Issue Number Seven:
So much talk over such a small issue. Like wanting high standards, who doesnt
want their children to go to the best private or public school? The issue is cost, and
spreading the same amount of butter over more slices of bread doesnt make the
sandwich taste better. We need a lot more butter if private schools are to be assisted.
Constantly comparing one against the other does nothing to improve the quality of
Issue Number Eight:
Safe Educational Environment
Parents want their children to be educated in a safe environment. What solutions
are we willing to accept? Do our political candidates have any ideas? To solve the problem
of airplane hijacking we installed metal detectors and searches. Is this what we want for
our public schools? School safety is paramount to learning.
Issue Number Nine:
Electing all Educational Representatives
If electing local school boards makes sense, why not elect the State Board of
Education? Over the past decade many political platforms contained a favorable position
supporting electing local school boards. If local board elections give the people more
input, wouldnt electing state board members increase parental involvement?
Issue Number Ten:
Fill in the Blank
Im sure most of you have your own concerns that you would like our candidates
to address, so here is your chance. Your concern wont be heard unless you vote, so
please take the time to pull the lever. Youll be teaching your children more civic
responsibility than any sterile classroom activity can accomplish.