By Eleanor Ransburg
So says author Steven Brill, whose new book, “Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools,” details the seriousness of the crisis and chronicles several efforts around the nation to turn the disastrous trends around.
Here’s my question: Why did SAT scores drop over 50 points in the verbal section and nearly 40 points in the math section between 1963 and 1980? Why?
Today our nation continues to pour billions into public education. We now spend twice as much money per pupil than we did 40 years ago, but sadly, test scores remain in the cellar.
The news is so bleak that you really kind of wonder why anyone would still choose teaching as a profession.
All of this has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. As a matter of fact, I have been seriously considering a new career myself. After nearly three decades of working in the newspaper industry, I am weighing the pros and cons of leaving it … and becoming a teacher.
But the present, sorry state of government schools is really giving me pause. If I do enter the teaching profession, it is very important to me to become a part of the SOLUTION, not add to the problem.
Why would I choose teaching?
Actually, teaching is the first profession I chose for myself when I was a child. I loved to read and write and sew, but I also loved “playing school.” I would set up my little blackboard, do lectures, create tests and grade papers for imaginary students all the time. (Of course, I would fill out all of the tests myself before I graded them, but hey, that was part of the fun of it.)
Once I reached junior high school, I eventually left my imaginary classroom behind. I found myself drawn more and more to history, English literature and creative writing. An astute counselor in my senior year placed me in a journalism class … and the rest is history. I fell in love with newspaper reporting, graduated as valedictorian, went on to earn a journalism degree in college and have spent nearly 30 years as a writer, editor and page designer.
My beloved industry, however, is undergoing massive changes. The national downturn in the economy, coupled with the competitive pressure from online news websites and 24-hour cable news channels, have adversely affected the bottom line at newspapers nationwide. Work furloughs, buyouts and layoffs are commonplace in many newsrooms. More than a dozen metropolitan dailies have closed since 2007.
I have another 15 or 20 good years of work left in these bones, but it would be the height of foolishness to pretend that all of that time will be spent in the same job I have now. No one is “indispensable,” especially in this recession, and after witnessing so many buyouts and furloughs in my own newsroom, it’s time for me to get serious about what’s next.
It might be wise to leave newspapers now and try my hand at something else.
The truth is, I still love to teach. Over the years, I’ve led copy editing, design and management workshops at various newspapers, colleges and conferences. For nearly two years now, I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday school class. I also love working with children. I’ve worked in a church nursery and led a couple of Girl Scout troops. So I do not doubt my ability to embrace a new profession and prepare myself for it. I feel confident that I can devote myself 110 percent to the task.
But changing careers is a MAJOR decision, especially when you’re leaving one field that seems to be dying to enter another one that is severely dysfunctional.
I’ve been wrestling with this for a while, and you wouldn’t believe the advice I’ve been getting.
Some tell me to just forget public schools and simply secure a position at a private school, where the pay and benefits aren’t as good but the test scores (and parental involvement) are usually much better.
Others say there is no greater challenge and reward for a good teacher than to work in a tough, inner-city public school. The odds are stacked against you every day, and many kids have no one else in their lives who listens to them, believes in them and loves them — except their teachers.
I actually attended public school myself. I was a third-grader when black and white schools in Shreveport, La., were integrated. I had incredibly devoted, caring teachers all throughout my years growing up who did far more than teach me how to read, write and spell. They inspired me and invested in me. I still communicate with a handful of them, to this day.
I really have tremendous respect for the job teachers do. But the test scores don’t lie. Nor does the dropout rate, which averages about 25 percent nationwide but is well over 50 percent in some cities. In Detroit, less than a quarter of ninth-graders graduate in four years.
There’s no denying that something has gone terribly, horribly wrong and MUST be fixed, or we will be dooming ourselves, our children and our nation to nothing but failure.
What is it that must change? Is it the parents, the teachers or the students? Is it the curriculum or the tests? Or the greedy unions and gutless politicians?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s all of the above.
Do we, as a nation, have the mettle to tackle it? Or will we all continue to just sit back on our blessed assurance and complain? All the while spending more and more of our tax dollars to fund more of the same?
What kind of people blindly finance their own failure!?
What it really comes down to is this: How much do we really love our children and care about the state of the nation we are bequeathing to them?
If we really care, we will fix this.
If we don’t, then we won’t.
Unfortunately, right now, today, it really could go either way.
And to me, that really is the saddest fact of all.
Sources: Loyd Eskildson, newspaperdeathwatch.com, newspaperlayoffs.com (Paper Cuts), American Journalism Review, bridges4kids.org and foxnews.com.