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Kadner: Patches aren’t helping education

Chicago Teachers  March Rally outside Chicago Public Schools Headquarters.  Wednesday March 27 2013  I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers March and Rally outside Chicago Public Schools Headquarters. Wednesday, March 27, 2013 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 1, 2013 3:17PM



Many years ago, a school superintendent told me, “When it comes to public education, people have to decide if they want a Chevy or a Cadillac.”

Actually, too many children end up in a junker of a school system that’s always in the repair shop, where education mechanics use chewing gum to keep the thing running another year. Students don’t realize their futures are at risk, and too many adults don’t care.

The point that old school chief was trying to make was this: There’s no plan for education. Not on the national level. Not on the state level.

And sometimes not even in the local school systems where people in the community try to cope with state funding cuts, new mandates, teacher union demands and every social problem that plagues society.

I thought of that conversation with the school superintendent as I watched the growing public uproar over school closings in Chicago.

And he came to mind again as I interviewed suburban candidates in the upcoming April municipal elections and heard them repeatedly tell me that taxes are too high.

What taxes? Property taxes. The primary cause of property tax hikes are the costs of local school districts.

So what’s the plan? There isn’t any. At least there’s no comprehensive, thoughtful approach — just Band-Aids and Duct Tape.

And an awful lot of complaining by everyone that the education engine isn’t purring along.

How can public education survive as the nation and the state face increasing financial problems?

“Make parents more responsible for their kids’ education,” many people say.

They hardly ever explain how they would do that. They seem to believe that just saying the words, “Be good parents” will do the job.

Actually, I believe they’re simply looking for an excuse to do nothing.

There’s a growing contingent of people who want to bust the teacher unions by creating more charter schools. Lower the cost of education, put teachers on merit pay and things will get it better.

It’s strange how no one ever makes a similar argument about police and firefighters. Wouldn’t they be better employees if we cut their salaries and put them on a merit pay system?

While there’s a small sample to cite as proof that charter schools can help, there are also cases where the charter schools didn’t make things better.

No one knows what would happen if we tried to replace the entire public school system with publicly financed charter schools or privately run education programs.

The argument for charter schools is often made specifically for failing school systems in large urban areas.

Let’s experiment on those kids and see what happens, seems to be the attitude. It can’t be any worse than the schools they have now.

People in Orland Park, Frankfort and Oak Lawn and most Chicago suburbs aren’t clamoring for charter schools.

The fact is that most people in this country love their public school systems.

People buy their homes because of the quality of public schools in the community. And then they complain about the high property tax, often after their children have graduated.

As for high-ranking elected officials who make speeches about making public education better for the little people, they often send their children to private schools.

They have all the answers for public education, but oddly enough never got their hands dirty by sitting on a local school board.

As for the teacher unions, they seem to believe there’s a bottomless well of public money from which taxpayers will draw for the sake of their children. They simply ignore the economic realities. The cash is starting to dry up.

So what’s the plan for the future? There isn’t one.

Actually, education isn’t much different than any other problem confronting the country.

You have the people who just want to cut taxes and the people who want to believe the money will keep coming.

There’s a third group, the folks trying to plug the leaks and bail water to keep the education lifeboat afloat for another day.

It’s astonishing given the number of top-notch universities in Illinois, the number of Fortune 500 companies here and the level of educational excellence in many school districts, that people haven’t been brought together to formulate a long-term plan for improving public education.

But wait a second ... they have.

Decades ago, three different blue-ribbon panels made up of just those sorts of experts recommended increasing state funding for education.

That was long before the economic recession, before the state faced a financial crisis that has it teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

And the recommendations of each of those panels, by the way, was ignored,

The solution today is: Let the local school districts deal with it. They’re at ground zero.

So patches keep getting applied as problems increase.

There’s going to be a wreck. Everyone just hopes it’s someone else’s children who are involved and not their own.

Some communities, those with a lot of money, will continue to purchase a Cadillac education for their kids. Others must be content with a Chevy.

Some will spend more than they can afford, believing their children deserve it.

And there will be some communities that simply don’t pay much attention as long as their kids have a safe place to sit during the day and a warm meal at lunch.

I was taught growing up that it was society’s responsibility to make sure that every child received a quality education.

I went to a public school. So that might have just been propaganda.



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