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Monday, July 28, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 9/25/2004

The next U.S. president must promise America good schools

BY GEORGE WOOD
Wood Wood
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WITH the Democratic and Republican Conventions now behind us it is clear that this will not be the year of the "education president." While past campaigns have brought us promises that one party or the other better offers the electorate good schools, this year's campaigns seem to put education rather low on the policy list.

The reasons for this are multiple. There is the ongoing debate over national defense, and the budgetary commitments to this seem to suck up dollars that might have gone to schools and other social programs.

The public's attention seems not to be on schools, with the polls that preoccupy so much of the candidates' attention telling us that education comes in somewhere in the second tier of issues driving voters.

As the father of a soldier (my foster son serves proudly in the U. S. Navy) I do not begrudge the interest in making sure the choices we make this fall do not unduly put our military in harm's way.

And I certainly want to make sure that veterans (including my father-in-law, a World War II vet) are well taken care of.

But as a high school principal, husband and son of teachers, and father, I will be looking for an education president again this year.

Let me admit right away that I have been very disappointed in the current administration's approach to schools.

Actually, I am disappointed in both parties and the bipartisan support that has given us No Child Left Behind, the current federal educational program.

NCLB was based on dubious achievements, modeled after the "Texas Miracle" which has turned out to be the "Texas Tragedy" with thousands of Texas children pushed out of schools and given a weak curriculum.

Now we all give more tests, focus what children learn on preparation for these tests, and try to figure out ways to inch up scores to keep our schools off of failure lists.

But little has happened in terms of the real reforms our schools need, and even less has been done about the conditions that often lead to school failure - including poverty, homelessness, and inadequate health care.

So here is what I am looking for in an education president this year:

● A president who will commit to a federal budget that makes education a priority. Currently our federal government contributes less than 5 percent of the total educational budget in this country.

Recent cuts have closed Head Start programs and eliminated class-size reduction initiatives that put more teachers in classrooms around the country (one of the most popular school reform programs with parents). And drafts of future education budgets from the current administration suggest that more cuts are coming.

To claim to be an educated nation when our federal government commits so little to our schools is a sham.

● A president who understands that it is not just about demanding children do better in school. To help kids achieve means giving them all the tools they need to achieve.

Too many of our children live in poverty, too many do not have adequate health care (including dental care), and too many of them do not return to the same bed every night.

As the richest nation in the world, we should be able to make sure every child comes to school ready to learn - healthy, well fed, and secure.

● Finally, a president who understands that the role of our national government is to set high standards, support them, and let communities choose their own path to meeting those same standards.

Bureaucrats in Washington are not best positioned to decide what test scores, curriculum, or teaching methods should be used in our local schools. An over-reaching federal bureaucracy has taken too much control of our schools. It is time to rebalance the control equation.

If we are for national security we must be for a system of strong public schools. They are the backbone of democracy, a system that relies on a well-educated populace that makes good choices about our future.

It was Thomas Jefferson's dream that Americans would be self-governing because of their public system of education. It is a dream that we can afford and one that we ignore at our peril.

Hopefully our next president will be committed to the strong public schools and communities that a strong democracy needs and deserves.

George Wood is principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, and director of the Forum for Education and Democracy.



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