Obama: Education is top priority. BC leadership candidates: We’ll see.

President Obabma to Announce Cuts in 2012 Budget, but Not to Education.

Amid the financial crisis in the US president Obama continues to state that he will invest in education in an effort to “reform” the floundering US education system. Education reform has been a big issue in the US, spawning all kinds of ideas–some good, some silly, some “meh”– aimed at  improving education.

Whether you like the idea of education reform or hate it, it has propelled education into the spotlight making it a focus nationally, regionally, and locally. I just don’t think you can say that about education in Canada.

Of course, we are different nations, and you could say that the US education system is in a “crisis,” and therefore warrants the attention; but most of the issues being discussed are relevant to Canada, and we do face many of the same challenges (though less extreme-so far.)

There are lessons to be learned in all this. We need to start focusing on education before we are in a crisis.  I still haven’t heard any concrete plans from our BC leadership (NDP & Liberal) candidates on their plans to ensure our children get an exceptional education.

Where are the champions in BC?

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6 Comments

Filed under BC politics, Education

6 responses to “Obama: Education is top priority. BC leadership candidates: We’ll see.

  1. The leaders and champions of education in BC are not in politics.

    They are in the classrooms, connecting via Twitter, and will hopefully eventually move into high ranking positions so that the terrific ideas they have will have more political weight.

    • Jason Scott

      Thanks for the comment, David.

      The greatest, most important work in education goes on in classrooms, no doubt about that. But, as for systemic change (if you think that’s needed) there will have to be some policy makers on board.

      Even though I am a self-hating one, I am still a politician and I aspire to be both a leader and a champion in education. One way or the other.

      I, too, am very excited about the potential of the blogosphere and the “Twitterlution” in the sharing of ideas and bringing people–of all stripes–together.

      I feel like waiting for the right people to move into “high ranking positions” is the strategy that we’ve always used. I’m not sure it’s working.

  2. Dave Stoddart

    The Americans have some huge problems right now, the most significant being the inequality of district and state funding that results from their failure to abandon a nineteenth century funding model. In the days of the little red schoolhouse, the model worked fine: the property taxes of the propertied classes (almost everyone!) paid for a school that delivered a quality educational program for children from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Essentially, this was a profoundly socialist way of doing things, as it meant that the children of the poorer members of the community – often rural tenant farmer children – enjoyed a school experience funded disproportionately by the wealthier families in the district. And nearly all school districts had a full range of people on the socioeconomic spectrum, so this system produced extremely consistent results across the USA.

    After the end of the Second World War, Americans, like us, saw a huge geo-economic shift. With their cars, people from the middle and upper middle classes moved out to new suburbs, where new schools were built and paid for with a growing tax base. Not surprisingly, property values in the poorer areas declined, and the corresponding loss of revenue meant a decreased ability to pay for decent schools and qualified teachers.

    I have toured several high schools in a variety of US states and can testify that the differences in this regard are truly shocking. A multi-million dollar football stadium with BC Place-like scoreboard graces the palatial high school in Hinsdale, Chicago’s wealthiest suburb; just a few miles north, one finds elementary schools that look more frightening than a high security prison in a Stephen King novel. And the issue is more than economic; it has a racial element as well. In Palm Springs and Los Angeles, I walked around inner city schools for a long time, never once seeing a white child or hearing a student speak english. One teacher I spoke with said that the average reading level of a grade ten kid at his school was roughly grade four! Some classes had gone through over half a dozen teachers in less than a year. But with temporary teachers earning only $32,000 per year, this is hardly surprising. Most of the teachers had no formal degree or teaching credentials anyway, as it was nearly impossible to attract candidates with proper educational credentials to such schools. Any effort to insist on teacher qualifications had long ago been abandoned.

    In Orange County, I marvelled at the pay scales for teachers (My salary would be $127, 000 there, with considerable opportunity to earn extra dough.) and noted that teachers who coached sports teams were given reduced teaching loads in recognition for their work. Of course, it is an easy thing to fund a paragon of public education when you’ve got the second highest property values in the country, and a funding model that does not require such areas to share that wealth.

    Yes, Jason, the Americans have much bigger problems on the educational file, and I have mentioned just one area.

    But here is an interesting note: Obama was educated in Hawaii, the only state that insists that all public school children receive equal funding, just like here in BC (and pretty much every other civilized place). I realize that he attended Punahou, an elite private school, but it can at least be said that the community he grew up in had somehow retained the socialist element that had once been the hallmark of the entire American education system.

  3. Jason Scott

    Thanks Dave for the insight. I know that we have differences, but also a lot of similarities. There is probably no other public education system more like ours.

    To me the important question is, “can we (or will we) learn anything from what they are going through?”

  4. Dave Stoddart

    We are wise to steer clear of most things American with regard to education. The models to copy are those of the countries that outperform us, like Finland and Sweden, although I doubt that we have the political will to do this. Canadians seem to like the low tax environment we have at present, and this means we are likely to keep our education system underfunded.

    There are a few bits and pieces of the American education scene that do hold promise. I like KIPP, and it has produced awesome results in schools that have implemented it. But the high cost of the program makes it scarce, and like I just said, most people prefer not to invest in education.

  5. Jason Scott

    Thanks for the info, Dave.
    I’m not at all suggesting we should aspire to be more like the US system. I am saying it would be unwise to ignore the many similarities between our systems.
    Any sweeping changes in the US public education system are bound to have some effect on us.
    Maybe some successful strategies will emerge. Worth keeping an eye on.

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