Dear Grandparenting: I am kind of relieved that my grandkids finally are getting back to school. I know everyone is not happy with public education. Last year I heard that more kids in America are falling behind children around the world. That did not make sense because America spends more money on high school education. Is this still true? What else are people talking about for the new school year? Mary Bennett, Carson City, Nevada
Dear Mary: Is anybody really terribly happy with America’s public school system? We could do a year’s worth of columns on the perceived problems without breaking a sweat. America is dealing with an uptick of troubling issues – the economy, jobs, health care, immigration, the deficit, an ethical/moral decline, race relations and the gap between rich and poor. But year in and year out, education is right in the mix. It’s one issue that gets the attention of every family member. The hopes and dreams of grandparents, parents and grandchildren are riding on it. They know what’s at stake – get a good education or risk getting left behind in a cruel world with a shaky safety net.
2015 promises to deliver more discontent. Since you asked about funding, we’ll begin there. Yes, critics still maintain America’s grandchildren don’t get enough bang for decades of megabuck government support. Only Norway, Luxembourg and Sweden spent more per high school pupil according to 2013 data. But the U.S. ranks in the middle of the pack or worse on international tests that compare student performance from around the world. Educators meanwhile are agitated by austerity cuts that trim or eliminate school resources.
Top down government initiatives to improve student scores, promote educational innovation and help disadvantaged schools – either mandated or incentivized by the promise of federal money for participants – haven’t impressed many. The recent rollout of Common Core State Standards, which specifies what students should know at each grade level, has not leveled the playing field for students. Critics say it’s an attempt to impose a mediocre national curriculum. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and more recent Race To the Top program were controversial from the get-go. Reasons range from clumsy overreach to producing educators who “teach to the test.”
But we’re just getting started. Here’s how it works in public education – last year’s problems become this year’s, plus some. A stressed American society leans toward making education the whipping boy. As families struggle with less, they seem to ask education to do more. Many grandchildren will spend the school year in settings that mirror the ills of society – bullying, low levels of parental involvement, crime and violence, student obesity, classroom apathy or hostility toward teachers, absenteeism and dropouts. Learning sometimes takes a back seat to coping and surviving. The one thing we can all agree on is that plenty of room remains for improvement.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Blue54 from Mount Penn, Pennsylvania says his granddaughters know “where to find my sweet spot. They can make me laugh when I don’t even feel like cracking a smile.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.