Educators, politicians singin’ them ol’ ‘More Money Blues’
By Michael Coulter
This is right up your alley, Ralph, and a subject dear to your heart. As you are aware, I am sure, we have a Democratic gubernatorial challenger to Republican Gov.
Asa Hutchinson, who going around the state promising teachers he wants them to be the highest paid educators in the entire nation.
As in every election cycle we always hear candidates, such as this darling of the Democratic Party Jared Henderson, say education is their priority, which I certainly can’t argue the point.
Now then, let me make it clear that those dedicated individuals who chose education as their career do so knowing the awesome responsibility they are about to undertake. As we both know, Ralph, our children our are biggest asset and providing them with quality education is a priority.
Let me say that this gubernatorial hopeful coming out making such promises as paying Arkansas teachers salaries higher than anywhere in the country is a bit extreme don’t you think, Ralph? Come on now, you know as well as I this is a political stunt simply to garner votes and a promise I very seriously doubt he can pull off.
Nevertheless, let me get to get to the main point of our debate and that is about education in Arkansas on two different aspects. Let me emphasize once again that the majority of those individuals within our state’s education system, particularly those teachers in Crittenden County, do a superior job and deserve recognition for the challenges they face on a daily basis.
But, with that said, making sure our education system producing successful students can be very difficult as it was interesting to learn the other day that an estimated 300,000 Arkansans currently do not have a high school diploma, a statistic, Ralph, even you should be shocked to learn.
Tell me Ralph, how is it that 10 percent of our state’s 3 million inhabitants don’t even have a high school diploma? Bear in mind also that 260,000 Arkansans among us are dependent upon some type of government subsidy, which tells both of us Arkansas has a problem that is costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
Let me point out another alarming statistic related to our state’s education system. I read the other day a new report that shows about a third of Arkansas third graders are unable to read at their grade level. This study also found that only about half of the state’s kindergartners are prepared for the classroom. This is not good news whatsoever.
There is a clear correlation between these adults who don’t have a high school diploma, probably are unemployed and these young children who can’t read at grade level. The problem lies not altogether with our excellent schools and dedicated teachers but rather serious parental issues. It is a known fact that students that young who are unable to keep pace with their classmates will wind up being among the same statistics as those among us without high school diplomas.
And, there is also a direct correlation between these factors and reasons why communities such as ours are dealing with young adults involved in illegal drugs, gangs, and gun violence. It all ties in together, don’t you see?
Solving these problems goes well beyond just our schools and it is unfair to dump all the responsibility on our techers in light of the fact that they are not babysitters.
Let’s both recognize that besides the state Department of Human Services education is the second biggest budget and still we hear these politicians signing the “More Money Blues”.
I guess Pink Floyd was right: ‘We don’t need no education?’
By Ralph Hardin
All right, Michael, what exactly do you want me to argue here? Do you want me to debate you on the importance of getting an education? I don’t think I’m going to take the bait on that one!
Now, we’ve already agreed that governor wannabe Jared Henderson’s “more money for teachers” is a great idea in theory but completely impossible in reality (we did differ on what a better alternative would be, but clearly I won that argument, right).
You keep talking about how awesome teachers are but you never want to get more money for them. This time around, you say these “dedicated individuals who chose education as their career” have a massive responsibility, but you don’t want to get behind Henderson’s plan? So, you want them to do more work for the same money?
You want them to do a better job with no incentive to produce more positive results? You say “our children our are biggest asset and providing them with quality education is a priority,” but we (and by “we” I mean politicians) have done everything imaginable to handcuff teachers and take away their ability to properly educate.
So, while it’d be great to put more money in teachers’ pockets and pour more funds in to education, there is no amount of dollars that will fix education in Arkansas.
There is, at least in my experience, an extreme deemphasis, de-prioritization, and disinterest among certain population pools in this state on taking advantage of education opportunities they have right in front of them. I did a little digging, and I found that the U.S.
“attainment” level (that’s the percentage of adults with a high school diploma or higher) is 92 percent. In Arkansas, it’s 89 percent. Now while that means, as you say, an estimated 300,000 Arkansans lack a high school education, it’s really not that far below the national average.
Now having said that, and this may not be a popular stance, but I think the problem runs even deeper than that. I say that because these days, getting a piece of paper after 13 years in the public education system that says “high school diploma” on it doesn’t mean as much as it should. Because of regulations and pressure from politicians and parents (most of whom have never spent day one in front of a classroom), it’s almost impossible to NOT graduate from high school. In fact, if you drop out of high school these days it’s simply because you are too lazy or too much of a criminal or too uninterested to just show up. Schools will bend over backward to help you get your credits, regardless of your family problems, unexpected pregnancy, brush with the law, lack of money, etc. If you don’t get a high school education these days, it’s because you don’t want one.
And that’s how you end up with a quarter-million Arkansans dependent upon some type of government subsidy.
I’ll tell you, Michael, where you absolutely hit the nail on the head, though. Reading.
Basic literacy is the key to learning and the key to success as a thriving, tax-paying, contributing-to-society adult. It shouldn’t be necessary to say, but if a child can’t read on a sixth-grade level… they shouldn’t be in the sixth grade! Why keep bumping them up as they get more and more frustrated as it gets harder and harder to comprehend material. We’ve attached a label of shame to being held back a grade. We’ve made it where it’s impossible to really do what’s best for a struggling child.
No wonder so many of them drop out.