Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You teach a child to read and he or she will be able to pass a literacy test.

Said George Bush on February 21, 2001. So newly minted as President, and he was already showing how wrong he was going to be about how best to educate America's children.

But Bush, and his No Child Left Behind, legislation, while disastrous, are not alone in the blame for the dismal shape of our education system in the US.

We get it wrong at every level. And every last one of us bears some responsibility, parent, teacher, student, administrator, teacher unions, taxpayer, political leader.

We give great lip service to education, and its importance, but somehow we miss the fact that many of our public schools are in great trouble, and that a University education can leave a family and a graduate, reeling financially for decades.

We're about to get it wrong in Middletown, again. Town leaders have proposed closing the McDonough Elementary School to save a million dollars a year in the education, and inevitably the town budget.

How'd we get to this point? Town leaders will go double-jointed as they rush to point fingers at someone else, but it's a clear lack of foresight that got us into this mess.

Yes, we're in trouble because the state surplus somehow morphed into a severe deficit. But who are these leaders who could not have projected that an upward moving economic cycle could not, and has never, lasted forever?

Yes, we're in trouble because we build a new high school, and our town fathers awarded a contract to a contractor who could not complete the school within budget, so we have a brand new school, but we don't have the money to pay enough teachers, or to fund the programs the school was designed to offer.

Yes, the sub-prime mortgage scandal has created a flood of foreclosures, and has crippled the property-tax system we use to fund our schools. But isn't this funding scheme, which leaves individual towns on the hook, and puts pockets of students at risk, the most ridiculously backward way of guaranteeing everyone an equitable education?

So closing McDonough will save a million. And what will we have lost? A neighborhood school, albeit one with a reputation for problems, which is now on the rebound. Students who will have to be bussed miles from their neighborhoods. More students who will sit in even more crowded classrooms at the town's other elementary schools. The stability of a fragile neighborhood, which the school provides.

This situation in Middletown is a microcosm of what will be happening in the state, and across the nation.

We will continue to harp on the value and import of education to the future of our nation. While we cut the legs out from under students, teachers and families.

There is one theory, and it is one I ascribe to, that if a town makes it a goal to have the best schools in the area, it will have no problems in other areas. People will flock to the town to live. Businesses will vie to open in the town. Crime will fall as neighborhoods stabilize. Students will return home to make it a better place.

If education is so important, then we need to find other places to save. One less parking lot here; one less sponsorship of a public event there; one less tax break for an incoming business. It might add up to an education for us all.

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