How Is Our Public School System Doing?
Apparently, things haven’t changed much since this appeared in the Tri City News in 2010.
Editor’s note: This is the last of three back-to-school columns written by retired teacher and principal Jim Nelson, and it’s about our school system.
Why wouldn’t we?
Up until now, our children have had universal access and our schools across the province have had generally equality of opportunity and funding. In addition, B.C. public schools are not insular but outward-looking in perspective.
Educational experts and researchers pretty much agree that Finland has the best school system in the world, followed by South Korea and Canada. B.C. schools are routinely considered as among the top in Canada. In short, the B.C. school system is among the best in the world.
But it’s not our fault , we’re trying to screw it up.
In B.C., we spend less on education each year. “Increases” touted annually do not meet inflation. Fixed costs rise twice as quickly as the modest annual funding increases. The downloading of costs from government to local districts has been staggering in the past few years. Per-pupil funding “increases” are just enough to allow the latest education minister to feign government support for public education.
If public schools are important, we need to fund them adequately — and we’re not.
Teachers’ salaries are too low — at least 20% too low. We need to value the teaching profession and respect them as professionals; doing one of the most important jobs in our country.
We need scientists and computer specialists and brilliant mathematicians to be able to go into our schools and teach our kids rather than not even considering teaching as an option.
If we treat and pay teachers like clerks, they will feel and perform like clerks.
After six years of university, we pay beginning teachers $40,000 or so annually to start. After 11 years experience and another two years of education, a top salary is about $80,000.
That’s not enough for what they give our children.
Teachers don’t like to focus on salary but they should, and we should help them. We should ensure that our public school teachers are well trained, supported, and compensated.
If anything will negatively affect our schools, it is the paltry salaries we offer these important people. There are some jurisdictions in the U.S. that are finally realizing this,and offering big salaries designed to bring in strong teachers to save their schools. It’s probably too late for the U.S public school system, but it isn’t for ours.
But apparently, we Canadians haven’t learned from the U.S., which ruined its public schools in 25 years with chronic underfunding and cuts, depressed salaries ,and “accountability” – standardized testing.
It went something like this:
• Failing funding referenda were rationalized by using “test scores” to “prove” public school failure.
• Poor test scores were used to rationalize low teacher salaries.
• Low teacher salaries resulted in the most talented leaving or avoiding the profession.
• Poorly paid and poorly motivated teachers allowed test scores to go even lower, which rationalized even lower salaries.
• The American public could be counted on to defeat local education funding referenda, which allowed governments to avoid the blame for the serial underfunding of American schools.
• Because the public schools’ test scores were so low, private schools were encouraged. Charter schools, voucher systems and merit pay became buzzwords of the day. (This is where we, in B.C. show signs of going.)
The aggregate effect of its dependence on test scores as a measure of school effectiveness, is that the American school system is now one of the worst in the Western world.
And we have learned nothing from the U.S.public school experience. Instead we, in B.C., we are copying the strategy. We are educational lemmings approaching the American accountability cliff.
There is no test that will accurately assess your local school’s effectiveness. It cannot be done and should not be attempted. We need to get over it. There is no test to measure the “aha ” moment when Shakespeare is first appreciated, or when helping another student makes a kid feel worthwhile.
There are too many variables involved in our children’s school experience. These variables can only be assessed by you, your child and your child’s teacher — the ones who work with your child daily. We should not accept any number that someone else gives us to describe our children or their school.
The B.C. school system is doing well. Our children are still well served and educators are still working hard for our children. Other than chronic underfunding, low teacher salaries and a misguided , dangerous preoccupation with American-style “accountability,” things are just peachy for our public school students and teachers.
We should support our local, public school system. We should insist on immediate increased funding; and that public education is an investment , not an expense.
There is no better investment a government can make than that which goes to improving our public schools.
Although we’re trying hard to screw them up, they’re still among the best schools in the world.