Friday, January 19, 2007

Politicians haven't got a clue!

Tim Pawlenty is the governor of Minnesota, and I kind of like him. That might not sound stunning, but Pawlenty is a Republican, and let's face it--Republicans do not tend to be very friendly to public education. But Pawlenty is a talented politician. He has an easy-going manner, and this year he managed to be re-elected in a Democratic state in a Democratic year--no small feat. He has even been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate in 2008. In the elections last year, I voted a straight Democratic ticket except for governor. I voted for Pawlenty partially because I find him likeable, but also because I had heard very bad things about his opponent from someone who worked for him.

This week Pawlenty gave his State of the State address, and education--specifically high school education--was a centerpiece of his speech. I am beginning to wonder if I made a big mistake. When you hear politicians talk about public education, the are two things you can usually count on:

1. The politician speaking will present himself or herself as an expert.

2. The politician doesn't actually have a clue.

When you hear a Republican politician talking about public education, you can add a third:

3. The politician will bash the job that public schools are doing.

Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota lived up to all three of these qualities in his State of the State address. Pawlenty is proposing reform for the state's high schools (Yippee! Another reform program!), and he calls his program the "3Rs".

Calling Minnesota high schools "obsolete," Gov Tim Pawlenty Wednesday laid out a plan to transform some high schools into rigorous academies.

Students in such schools -- called "3Rs" for "rigor, relevance and results" -- would have to complete the equivalent of a full year of college before getting their high school diplomas.

First of all, if there is going to be any reform program, it seems like it would be a good idea to get the people who will actually have to carry out that program--the people who actually work in high schools--on your side. As one of those people, I can say that being called "obsolete" doesn't exactly win me over. I have argued in a number of posts that American public schools are doing a much better job than we are given credit for, so I'm not going to rehash that here, but I will point out that Minnesota has graduation and college entrance rates that are among the highest in the nation. I understand that it is expedient for politicians, especially Republicans, to bemoan the state of public education, but I am sick and tired of listening to them come up with the most insulting terms they can think of to describe the job we are doing.

I have to admit that as soon as I read the first sentence of that article it was almost impossible for me to be open-minded about Pawlenty's proposals. But if that wasn't enough to convince me that our governor has no idea what working with public high school students is like, Pawlenty finished the job with his proposal that all the students in a high school should have to complete one full year of college before getting their high school diplomas.

I think kids having a desire to go to college is a wonderful thing, and I have to admit that I'd have been disappointed if any of my own kids hadn't wanted to do that. But that's my kids and my family. As a teacher, especially, I would have to be an idiot to think that college is for everyone. I know a lot of people who never went to college but developed skills in various trades, and I have nothing but admiration and envy for the skills they possess. Completing a year of college courses before graduating from high school is a reasonable idea for many high school students, but for all of them??? I only wish Pawlenty could spend a day or two with my Basic American History class.

Pawlenty did say something that I agree with:

Too many of our high school students today are engaged in academic loitering for much of their high-school career," Pawlenty told a joint House-Senate assembly. "In too many cases our high school students are bored, checked-out, coasting, not even vaguely aware of their post-high school plans, if they have any, and are just marking time."

But then rather than asking the students themselves or their parents to take some responsibility for this, he puts the blame squarely on the schools. Let's face it, it's a lot easier for a politician to blame schools and teachers than to say that we have too many lazy students or--perish the thought!--too many parents who aren't doing their jobs.

Pawlenty does have ideas that many educators are going to like. For example, he says he wants to put more money into schools. Heck, even I like that. I mean money helps; there's no question about it. I'd sure rather see schools have more of it than less. But money is definitely not the only answer to our desire to improve public schools. In fact, there are things we could do that could improve public schools more than anything Pawlenty proposes that would cost little if any money at all. But how could we possibly expect a politician to be aware of those things? After all, when it comes to what actually happens in public schools, they haven't got a clue.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look on the bright side, Dennis: you're in Minnesota. You could be in Texas (otherwise known as Thank-Gawd-for-Mississippi, when it comes to education stats.

1/19/2007 4:59 PM  
Blogger DanitaRussell said...

Wow - are you sure you aren't in North Carolina with me? It amazes me that politicians claim to have all the answers to the educational system. Gee, I'd LOVE to have one of them in my classroom sometime. As for the one year college degree, yea right. That won't happen. Imagine all those kids who are doing their best to get by in high school. There's no way they could make a year of college. I agree not everyone is destined for college. Has he heard the term differentiation?

Danita ~ Random Ramblings

1/19/2007 7:14 PM  
Anonymous steven said...


You're the one defending PUBLIC education. PUBLIC education means that politicians and bureaucrats are going to have their input into your job. Do you really expect them to just sit back let people like you run the show?

I just couldn't resist.

1/20/2007 6:32 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Amerloc and Danita, thank you for your comments. Steven, it's after January 2nd. You're supposed to be busy now. GET BACK TO WORK!! (I was thinking that you must absolutely love your job. Helping people to pay as little as possible in taxes must really warm your heart!) Seriously, I hope you're not getting too stressed out, yet, and thanks for taking time-out to comment. And I'm not terribly surprised that you "just couldn't resist".

1/20/2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger Deb S. said...

Hey, Dennis, St. Louis Public Schools could always use a passionate teacher. How about relocating? ;-)

1/21/2007 12:01 AM  
Anonymous Rose said...

I always wonder who will do the plumbing, construction etc. when everyone goes to college to become part of the great mass of college grads in high tec. jobs that everyone seems to envision as the only future for the American student. Probably it will be all those Illegal Aliens who will earn more than the rest of the drudges since their skills will be in high demand and the educated masses will be a dime a dozen if the business leaders have their way.

1/22/2007 3:07 PM  

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