A wholesome future for public schooling
Recently, Democratic Governor Kate Brown signed the Oregon SB 744, which completes the qualification requirements for graduation. Sad but true. Now the Beaver State sanctions high school graduates who cannot read, write, or do arithmetic. This is in line with nationwide stupefying movements. Some schools have done away with college prep, honor programs, and suicide notes. Gifted students with special talents receive less than 1% of the funding compared to students with other special needs.
As a lifelong educator and former NEA member, I am with those who are very concerned about the direction that public education is continuing to take. Our education spending has never been higher, despite fewer students and falling standardized test scores. Public education has never been underestimated. What happened?
Much of the answer relates to the politicization and unionization of public education. While these trends are nothing new, the COVID pandemic has shed a bright light on the dangerous long-term impact of the educational institution’s focus on supporting teacher unions as opposed to communities, families and student achievement.
While parish and private schools remained open for face-to-face learning throughout the past year, public schools switched to part-time or hybrid learning models. Many schools in places like Nashua closed their doors for over a year, to the great frustration of parents and to the detriment of young learners. Too many school doors stayed closed. It was scandalous, tragic and unnecessary. No wonder so many parents asked to choose a school.
Many of us remember heroic and inspiring teachers who helped shape our path in life. Those teachers are still out there. They share privately that they wanted to return to their classrooms, but did not want to deal with the grief of organized clubs. Such is the pernicious influence of unions, who raise huge sums of money to support democratic candidates who join the union line at the expense of students, families and learning.
Federal tax documents from three years ago show New Hampshire teachers donated $ 7 million to the New Hampshire section of the National Education Association. According to the NH Journal, $ 5.2 million went to union salaries and benefits. The NEA-NH president “earned” $ 215,000, or three and a half times the average teacher in New Hampshire. The manager made even more, $ 218,000. Several attorneys took home over $ 200,000.
And the high-paid lobbyists of the school board, local authority and school administration associations can also rely on the educational institution at the expense of students, families and learning. Taxpayers indirectly pay for these people to lobby against what most taxpayers want.
And yet the educational institution demands more and more. Our previous term, which was controlled by Democrats who received “mucho dinero” from union members, allocated half a million dollars to an in-house “study commission” to fund schools in order to pave the way for further legislation that would give money to the allies the trade unions and their concerns forward under the guise of “justice”. The stacked commission of 18 consisted of educational institution types. Of the six MPs, only one was Republican, and he bravely cast the solitary vote against the flawed commission report.
But the pesky Granite State voters threw a wrench into work by turning the radical Democratic legislature into a Republican body for the current term, the only legislature in the country flipped during the last election.
The democratic positions on the reform measures of the GOP in the most recent legislative period are exemplary.
HB 320 urged Granite State students to pass the naturalization test new citizens need to study. This 128-question assessment would give all students a solid foundation in the basics of citizenship while reassuring parents who are concerned about the activist nature of some civics classes that focus on climate change or critical racial theory as opposed to the constitution. Some polls showed 80% support for the civic claim, which has proven very successful in other states. Of course, the Democrats vehemently oppose bills that emphasize accountability, evaluation and transparency.
HB 321 merely asked schools to tell our Department of Education what, if anything, they were doing to identify and support talented students. With research showing that New Hampshire ranks roughly 50th nationwide for talented student initiatives, it seemed like a simple and overdue move. With no spending or policy requirements, HB 321 would create a Best Practices folder for good ideas to be shared.
And HB 69 was a simple bill protecting schools that might try to display our state or national mottos. The Democrats were apoplectic. The bottom line argument of a Democratic speaker on June 10th against HB 69 is a classic example of skewed and bleak arguments to vilify our mottos, which unfortunately embody the current progressive mindset that has brought public education to its present pared-back state.
So what’s next? Lessons can be learned from recent trends and events. Union organizing and politicization of public education needs to be addressed. A new paradigm is urgently needed to reverse the downward trend in public support for public schools. Courageous teachers need to stand up and speak up. Educators motivated by the intrinsic rewards of teaching, not just the financial rewards. And we need school board candidates who are committed to student, family, assessment, accountability, performance and transparency rather than overly focusing on school funding and union performance.
Renowned American educational reformer John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience … we learn from thinking about experiences.” But we need to do more than just reflect. We have to take action. A healthy future for public education – and our American society – requires action. The current legislature has taken some nice first steps. We now need courageous teachers and new school board candidates to go with us. Let’s move on.
(Mike Moffett is an NH State representative who lives in Loudon. A former school board member, serves on the House of Representatives Education Committee.)