Monday, August 22, 2005

Public Education the Next Social Security?

Last week, I posted a question over at Watchblog asking whether or not public education is becoming the Social Security of the 21st Century. For several reasons I believe there to be a very strong correlation.

For decades, we ignored the signs of decay or potential decay in both systems, surmising, incorrectly that there were enough funds to correct any problems. The difficulty in our head-in-the-sand approach is that we as a society have ignored the warning signs.

In the Social Security example, any actuary or demographer worth the paper their degree was written on could figure out in the mid-1960's when life expectancies were increasing that we would face a crisis in Social Security funding. Once can argue at what time the crisis would come, but the warning signs were there, yet we ignored them.

In the school context, we have long believed that if we just spent more money or embraced faddish idea X, that we would find the magic bullet that would suddenly yield a better educated class of children. Yet, we have for at least 20 years ignored the warning signs that merely spending more money on education did not yield the results being sought. Even now, with tentative toe-dipping in the water of school choice, we still ignore the the signs--that the method by which we provide education to our children no longer meets with accepted goals or prepares our children for the world of today.

What further strikes me as troubling is that the fact that one each of these issues, the politicians tasked with finding a solution (whether they should have that task is a different subject altogether), tend to be focused on side issues, such as how much should be diverted into private accounts for Social Security, or what is the proper teacher/student ratio or pay level for teachers. But in all the partisan hew and cry are people at risk. In a society that prides itself on its individualism, has our acceptance, even reliance, on public programs like Social Security and public education doomed us to a two sided, partisan debate on minor issues while at the same time ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the room?

Each of these programs, Social Security and public education need significant structural reform, yet we dance around the big issue. For public education, the big issue is school management. Let's face it, one can look at the revolving door in local superintendent's offices to see to the manner in which our schools are managed is haphazard at best and subject to bureaucratic capture at worst, making the latest superintendent to be hired a relative non-entity.

It has taken the better part of a decade to get Democrats to admit a problem exists in Social Security. Will it take a decade or more to convince ardent supporters of public education that our method of providing public schooling is in serious need to a re-think? Will we produce yet another generation of students whose academic and thinking skills are worse than their parents' generation?

For how long will public education be the new third rail of American politics?

Cross-Posted at the OTB Traffic Jam

No comments: