One of the most obvious outcomes of the recent recall election is the lack of the political left to put forward any type of plan to address the needs of the state. The Democrats didn’t seem to understand that if they wanted to get control of the statehouse, they needed to present something for the voter to support and not just vote the governor out because he had overreached in passing his reforms.
In this piece, I will begin a series on addressing needs, suggesting new objectives, reforms and restructuring of how we accomplish the task of moving the state forward and remaining consistent with progressive principles.
Nothing is more contentious than the present state of public education. Clearly the political right and left have drawn distinctive lines in the sand. The political left wants to hold onto a system that doesn’t seem to be working universally and the right wants to push much of education into the private service providers.
The system and model of education was developed for a different time and different set of conditions. When public education became mandatory in 1894, it was closely modeled to support the needs of the industrialized north and the transformation of an agrarian society to that of a manufacturing and service society. That model successfully stood the test of time for the next 80 years, but with the end of the Industrial Age and the beginning of the Information Age, our system has become obsolete and is costing the taxpayers more than what they are receiving in return. I know that is a brash statement, but few if any students graduating from our public schools can immediately step into a vocation and begin working without additional post-secondary training. Some companies have identified the problem and have implemented internship programs for high school students to be able to begin full-time work within the company as soon as they have graduated. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. It is the failure on our part that companies must train our graduates before they can be productive and this represents a burden to business and interferes with their ability to be productive and efficient.
It is no secret that our current model turns out a large number of people who are ready, for the most part, to begin pursuing four-year, traditional college and university degree programs. The only problem is that the vast majority of vocations don’t require four-year degrees and we now have an overabundance of bachelor level-degreed people who are unable to find work in their degree areas. Pushing people through post-secondary education programs is creating a huge education debt load that is building to the point where it is becoming a problem of national proportion and may represent the next bubble to burst.
Keeping with progressive principles, it is time to overhaul the public education system and return it to a meaningful place within the current and future needs of society. As the transition takes place and the current control that the political right is exercising in privatizing education; the political left should work to mediate the positives and resist the negatives of such a system. There are several areas that the political left must insist on.
- All teachers participating in education that receive state and/or local public funds must be state certified teachers.
- All teachers participating in education that receive state and/or local public funds must complete ongoing training to remain current with their licensing requirements.
- All private institutions participating in education that receive state and/or local funds must be not-for-profit organizations.
- All private institutions participating in education that receive state and/or local funds must be accredited by a third-party agency of the state’s choosing.
- All students that are educated by private institutions participating in education that receive state and/or local funds must pass a state exam attesting to their level of competency before receiving a graduation certificate.
- Religious institutions participating in education that receive state and/or local public funds must separate religious and secular instruction leaving participation in religious instruction strictly voluntary based on the parent’s wishes.
- All private institutions participating in education that receive state and/or local funds must provide services to special needs, learning delayed or physically disabled.
The public education system that I am proposing would use the northern European model of education. All students would receive a standard education from kindergarten through the first eight years. One thing that I would require is that every student should be required to take two years of Spanish instruction during this period of time.
Upon successful completion of eight years of general education; the students would be tested and assigned to one of two tracks for further education. The first track would be the vocational arts track. The second track would be the academic arts track.
The vocational arts track would prepare students to enter the workforce upon completion of their formal secondary education. Instruction would be geared to learning the skills and competency of a number of vocations; from agricultural arts to technical and industrial arts to business and medical arts. These programs would be directed to include not only hands on preparation but also internships with participating member businesses. It would require the establishment of vocational arts facilities and staffing with the appropriate instructional staff. Existing businesses would directly participate in the setting of curriculum and setting of standards.
The academic arts track would prepare students to enter into colleges and universities. There would be an emphasis on liberal arts, mathematics and sciences. In addition to current academic preparation requirements, students would be required to take and pass one year of Latin, one year of Greek and two years of a foreign language. Most existing public secondary institutions would require little if any adaptation to the facilities to accommodate the academics arts track.
Extracurricular programs, such as music and sports could continue with students from both tracts meeting at central locations to train and participate.
Rather than duplicate instructional programs, for students that need to take courses offered by a track that they are not in; there would be transit provided from one campus to another it the two tracks are separated by location.
In the State of Wisconsin, the program would have to be phased in. The beginning location should be at Milwaukee Public Schools. It is the area of most need. Once the program is up and operating it will have two primary impacts; 1) vocational preparation and 2) make Milwaukee attractive for the establishment and expansion of businesses.
Studies need to be conducted to establish the costs and revenue requirements for such a program. In all, I think this is something that the political left can get behind and solve some long-term nagging problems.