Public education and how we can fix it

Conservative Campus

A look at what Vermont’s college students are thinking in their own words

By Gerhard Meyer, Senior, St. Michael’s College

Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to the news has heard about the teacher’s strikes over the past few years. There has been a constant clash between the Teacher’s Union and the schools, usually over money. In this current recession, money has been tight for almost everyone, and I can imagine that many teachers are feeling the pinch. I believe that the discrepancy between what the teachers want and what they get is rooted in something deeper- something that we can fix.

As someone who has attended public, private, and even home school, I have been lucky to get a broad perspective. I have seen good teachers and bad ones. Early on, I learned that many good teachers made less than the bad teachers; even in the same school. It was then that I learned of the term “tenure”. Basically, a teacher can earn more not by merit, but by the length of time he or she has spent at a certain school. This has some harmful effects, as one can see.

Many teachers reach an age where they have repeated the same material enough times that it becomes tedious. I have had many teachers who have been part of the education establishment for decades, and did not seem passionate about their work. This attitude, of course, reflected on students like me, who dreaded school. This is not to say that all long- term teachers are bored with their duties; I have had some fantastic teachers who only grew wiser with age. The reward should not be for time spent, but the effect of the teacher on the students. After all, the school was established for the student.

Many new teachers, in contrast, are passionate and full of the freshest ideas to come out of the academic world. Instead of being able to have the kind of influence that they desire, they have been put on the back burner, behind the establishment. I believe that the removal of tenure is the simplest and basic way to bring up our nation’s academic progress. With a merit-based system, competition will once again lead to more productive teachers.

The Teacher’s Union is constantly demanding higher salaries for the teachers. This is not the solution, especially with the majority of taxpayers trying to afford more immediate things like food and gasoline. I like to compare the public school system to a broken gumball machine; you can put in all the quarters you want, but you’re still not going to get results. The system is broken, and needs some serious cuts, the first being tenure.

As an education major for a few semesters in college, I have seen firsthand many instances of waste. For example, I question the need for a smaller student/teacher ratio. I went into the education program assuming that a lower ratio was a logical solution, but learned that overall test scores have not responded to the increases. The reason is that many of the teachers see the extra help as something for them, and not a reason to achieve more. Right now, it is the students who need the help. Many of these teachers are just there for their tenure, and are in the way of other more capable candidates. This is a great case of quality versus quantity.

Despite the dreary news, our educational system is far from doomed. We, as its stewards, must make our voices heard about this important issue. It is an investment in the children, and in a bright future.