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Barnes Challenged on Government-Schools Position

March 11, 2002

First Mike Barnes needs to buy a newer World map. He might find that the island of Ceylon has been known as the country of Sri Lanka for over a generation. He might also find the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics no longer exists, Germany is now one country, Czechoslovakia is now two countries and Hawaii and Alaska are now states. I would also say that almost all of the people his or my age could not find Ceylon either on a map. Heck most of the people in the U.S. cannot tell you where the Rocky Mountains are.

As for his free market examples, all technology rapidly drops in price as market penetration increases (economies of scale) and, yes, his long distance bill is lower but the question is the overall quality from top to bottom better, I would say no. One should note that the average income of Americans, including teachers, has risen along with the overall cost of living over the 20 years he cites.

It is also interesting that he condemns curriculums dictated by distant politicians controlled by special interest then only really cites the unions as the problem. I would say that conservative groups have done more to try to dictate bad curriculums than other groups. More liberal administrations tend to let education professionals decide curriculums not K Street lobbyists.

On testing it would be nice to have a clear set of standards that you are testing before you start testing. We have been trying it the other way here in Maryland and it has not worked. Then assessing teacher performance on a nebulous test that changes year to year makes most of the teacher's union arguments against performance based pay very worthy.

Mr. Barnes also misleads you on the amount of money coming from the federal government for education. The federal government share of education spending in the classroom is around a paltry 5%. In Maryland the money breakdown is about 5% Federal, 40 - 45% State and the rest local. Most of the money spent on education comes from and goes to the local school districts.

As for teachers salaries lets get all the facts on the table. In countless surveys teaching rates as one of the most important jobs in the country, but teachers, along with local police officers, firefighters, and enlisted members of the military, remain at the bottom of the national pay surveys. Our part time legislators both at Winchester Hall and in Annapolis make more than most teachers in the United States.

You should note that the importance of the legislators ranks far below the importance of four public servant positions I listed. One should also know that in some districts, especially in the South, teacher salaries are at or below the national poverty level. So doubling something that is actually next to nothing is quite misleading. And people like Mr. Barnes wonder why the best and brightest are not going into teaching. Hey, even being a nameless cog pushing papers across a desk for more money is very enticing to someone with any intelligence.

Now the problem with his free market analysis and solution is that he fails to answer some major questions. The first huge question is one about space both before and after the structure he wants to impose.

Many urban and suburban schools are bursting at the seams, under his system he would rather see under-performing schools, which is more a function of community problems vs. school problems, close if they cannot improve.

My question is where are those kids going to go? Maybe to Urbana H.S. which is at 120% of capacity and growing or maybe Thomas Johnson H.S. which even after the current redistricting will only have 100 extra seats. What about schools or districts who have not had the money to renovate old and deteriorating buildings, some of which you have to turn off the lights to turn on the computer or risk blowing the circuit for the whole building?

Is he actually looking to further reduce the number of seats available to much less than the amount of children needing to be educated? Then by his system only the best, the brightest, most disciplined, and richest will be educated. Separate but unequal is already unconstitutional and his solution would take that separation about five steps further.

He also thinks that under a free market system that everyone will win. Try again. In any competition there are winners and losers. His system will not make everyone better because of over time the under privileged will be increasingly excluded.

Our market system is far from being benevolent, just look at the for-profit health care system. Schools are inherently not a money making proposition and as companies reduce the amount of children they serve the more that the government will have to step in. At that time it will cost even more to educate the ones left out of the private system.

And his system of tuition aid and private vouchers will only exist if there is tax incentives either for companies or the rich thus the tax burden will go down for the haves to be paid for by the have nots.

A similar system the Republicans keep trying to enact a similar system with little social success. After time, the rich will ask why are we paying to send our kids to school and some poor kid to school. The rich will then say that the poor should come up with their own system because we the haves are not going to pay for the have nots any more. At that time the public school system will have to be rebuilt and will be for generations a second rate system turning out hamburger turners and grass cutters because his system will have eviscerated the structure that currently exists.

Even worse there will be nothing until the masses of poorly educated people, who have been schooled in radical, most likely Christian, systems similar to the Tailban madrasahs or the Khmer, start the bloody revolution. Nice future, Mr. Barnes.

The narrow far right critics of our public school system and their solutions are far more dangerous to our country than, albeit slow but steady, changes being made within the current system. Rhetoric like his does not help the system and tends to gloss over comparative facts that put things into perspective.

Yes, some of my statements are pretty grim but to ignore their possibility ignores the higher risks that are inherent in Mr. Barnes ideas. Believe it or not our public school system is doing much better than he would lead you to believe.

Eric Percy, Frederick


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