Food For Thought

Education and the Fall Elections
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
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 night’s rain brings night crawlers to the earth’s surface. I don’t mean to infer that any of our candidates are biological replications of the wiggly creatures; rather that both appear under certain conditions.

Food For ThoughtThis year’s 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 I’ll be turning 62 this year, so social security also resonates with me. This column has only space for one topic so I’ll provide my own David Letterman-style educational top-ten list for politicians and voters to consider.

Issue Number One:
High Standards

What person in his right mind would say no when asked if he’s in favor of high standards for his children? I’m in favor of high standards for my elected officials, but seldom do they meet my criteria, and that’s 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 didn’t create all of us to meet the same expectations on items measured by other humans.

Issue Number Two:
Accountability

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 bull’s-eyes for them to hit. There would be no Stealth Bombers.

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 bull’s-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 bull’s-eyes.

Issue Number Four:
Classroom Resources

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? That’s 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. Let’s 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:
Teacher Support

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 doesn’t understand or support the battle. Morale is a key factor in developing a winning business enterprise, political campaign, sports team, or educational endeavor. Let’s 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 you’ll surely find it." It’s 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 I’d 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.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: jbonfadi@gmu.edu, or send written responses to the editor  or to John Bonfadini, 7500 Forrester Lane, Manassas, VA 20109.

Issue Number Seven:
School Choice

So much talk over such a small issue. Like wanting high standards, who doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 education.

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, wouldn’t electing state board members increase parental involvement?

Issue Number Ten:
Fill in the Blank

I’m sure most of you have your own concerns that you would like our candidates to address, so here is your chance. Your concern won’t be heard unless you vote, so please take the time to pull the lever. You’ll be teaching your children more civic responsibility than any sterile classroom activity can accomplish.

 

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