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Achieving third world grades at the highest cost

Published September 18. 2010 09:00AM

We in Pennsylvania have to be very careful that we do not make the mistakes currently being made by other states with regards to education.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) recently spent $587 million on the Robert F. Kennedy public school. Built on the old site of the Ambassador Hotel, which was where this Kennedy was assassinated, the school is a monument to a failed education system. The school district had to lay off 3,000 teachers over the last two years due to funding constraints.

It is looking at a $640 million spending deficit with little hope of a balanced budget for years to come. Clearly the heads of school board members were buried in the sand when they decided to build this school. (

The LAUSD has a 50 percent dropout rate. In my opinion, a new learning edifice will not change the graduation ratio or the competency of students. I lived in the Los Angeles area prior to moving to peaceful, practical Pennsylvania. I know that the neighborhood surrounding the school has high crime, high welfare, and high unemployment and is infested with gang bangers, drug dealers and addicts. Just the cost of removing the graffiti from the marble statue will ensure that the 10 painting crews already employed by the LAUSD to remove graffiti will have permanent employment.

To make matters worse this mausoleum for a doomed education system was funded by a $20 billion bond fund that ultimately the taxpayers will have to repay. The use of the bond fund enables school officials to claim that the cost of the school does not affect the education budget.

In reality, the money has been spent and the taxpayers will pay for it. Given California's current financial dilemma, the federal government will likely have to bail them out. This means our money, from taxpayers in Pennsylvania, may need to be used to pay for these excesses in California.

The new high school in Newtonville, Mass. was a bargain at $197 million. New York City has a new campus that cost $235 million and New Brunswick, New Jersey spent a mere $185 million on their new school.

In my area, some well-educated children go to a one-room Amish schoolhouse. They may only get a grade 8 education, yet these Amish children can read, write and yes they can do arithmetic. They can also hold a conversation and speak in complete paragraphs. Their schools are built by the community and cost a mere pittance when compared to the architectural wonders of our failed education system.

I am not suggesting that we limit our children to a one-room school. What I am suggesting is that we spend our education dollars on revamping the system. Currently, the United States ranks 34th in reading abilities when compared to other countries. Korea, Finland, Canada, and New Zealand are the top four countries in this category.

Our children cannot read as well as children educated in Spain, Greece, Turkey and yes, even Mexico. American children rank 22nd in science and 27th in math, again failures by international standards. (

Clearly our system of education has created a bottom-rung-of-the ladder workforce that lacks the skills required to succeed in the modern world. The "no child left behind" philosophy has resulted in the dumbing down of America.

We cannot compete in a global marketplace with an under-educated workforce. We cannot create new inventions or innovations if our graduates are not the leaders in science, engineering and mathematics.

Investing in Taj Mahal schools cannot be justified given the high drop out rates and poor performance of our graduates when compared to other countries.

It is time to invest in good teachers rather than laying them off. A few teachers who are not capable will need to be let go. I believe that almost all teachers are competent and want to practice their chosen profession. They are hobbled by an education system that rewards mediocrity in its teachers and destroys innovation.

Many teachers know how to adapt their course syllabi to facilitate learning and retention. They just are not permitted to do so. Teachers who excel at educating our youth should be rewarded financially for their performance and encouraged to train other educators in their techniques.

The federal Department of Education has failed dismally. It should be disbanded and all of the employees terminated. There is no reference in the Constitution to the federal government being responsible for education. In a power grab, the Feds have taken this over through the allocation of funding to the states.

Not only has the Department of Education failed, it has done so at a great cost to the taxpayer. This department has also failed its own employees. In a recent study conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, the results ranked the Department of Education 27th out of 30 in job satisfaction when compared to other federal departments. Coincidentally, this is the same position as our math students rank in the industrialized world.

The Department of Education employees must know that their efforts are ineffective given their level of dissatisfaction. Shut down this department now and let the best employees find jobs at the state and local levels!

I remember some of the greatest achievements in American science and engineering. We put men on the moon. We invented computers and the plethora of electronic devices. We built some of the best highways in the world and we created one of the finest air-traffic control systems of its time.

But these are past achievements.

I do not believe that we can repeat many of these historical successes today. Our education levels are down; our skill sets have deteriorated and many of the brightest minds have been forced into early retirement through job layoffs and the recession. Is it any wonder that employers are outsourcing jobs to other countries?

In the past, I believed it was due to cheap labor, particularly in the Information systems area. Now I believe that there are better educated, highly skilled workers available at lower cost overseas. Our new graduates cannot compete intellectually with graduates in other countries.

It is time to take a stand to change our education system now, before we create another generation of underachievers. I want my grandchildren to be scientists, engineers or professors, not forced to accept employment as waiters or trash collectors to feed their families. (I know we need trash collectors. My father was one. I just want greater opportunities for my grandchildren than my father and I had).

In Pennsylvania, we pay for our schools through local school taxes. I want to keep it that way. Citizen involvement at the school board meetings ensures that our new schools are affordable, yet provide the best learning environment for our students. You will not see marble mausoleums here, but you will see clean schools, with state of the art classrooms and many fine teachers.

Local funding and community involvement is the best way to restore our education system. We need to be in the top five of educated nations so that we can offer our children the careers they deserve. We need to ensure that they can be successful for themselves and more importantly, for our country.

In the upcoming elections, make sure that the candidates know your position on education. We must provide a world-class education system for our children so that they excel when compared to other nations. We must be the best innovators, have the best doctors, teachers, and librarians.

We also have to ensure that even our trash collectors can read, write and do arithmetic.

© 2010 Gordon Smith All Rights Reserved

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