The Public Education Predicament

If someone were to come up and tell you that the education provided in the United States is one of the best in the world, you would most likely nod in agreement because this is after all the United States of America we are speaking of, a country which can afford to give its students the latest technological innovations to aid them with their education and some of the best and the brightest minds to educate their younger generations. But the truth is often very different from what we can imagine.

If you are residing in the United States and are one of the lucky few who can actually afford Private schooling, there is a very higher chance for your child to complete his/her education in a timely fashion, but if you fall amongst the other majority who have to opt for Public schooling, your child will have to face a system where teachers are not mandated to provide the right education and where students have to be accepted regardless of their behavior.

The problem – public schools are complicated, underfunded operations greatly influenced by political whims. Financed through federal, state, and local taxes, public schools are part of a larger school system, which functions as a part of the government and must follow the rules and regulations set by politicians. And if that wasn’t enough, the Teachers Union also enjoys considerable control over the regulations set on public school.

The core belief of the Teacher’s Union is that all teachers are equal and that is reflected in the collective bargaining agreement. There is absolutely no incentive for innovation or hard work, and this leads to a culture where teachers can get away without feeling a need to educate the students, to put it simply “They don’t have to, and no one can say anything!” because the Teachers Union are there to protect their interests only.

Three things to consider when choosing between a Private and Public Education – environment, education and enhancement:

Environment – Public schools are by law required to accept every child and if there is a student with a behavioral issue that is disruptive, a private school is able to seek out a solution for the greater good, whereas public schools are made responsible for that child, the disruptive behavior of one student can affect the educational environment of all the other students.

Education – Because private schools don’t have to follow the teacher certification rules of public schools, they can have their own diverse faculty of various educational backgrounds and also are not required to adhere to the recruitment and dismissal guidelines set up by the Teachers Union, thus the teachers are made responsible to provide the right education.

Enhancement – This implies the position of influence that the teachers maintain on students, it is an understood fact that teachers have a significant influence on the mental development of his/her students; the teacher takes the position of an ideal role model. While good teachers will always result in the students being more attentive and hardworking, the opposite can have some serious adverse effects. Whereas private schools have the liberty to hire or dismiss a teacher based on the influence he/she plays, public schools on the other hand have their hands tied because of Teachers Union rules.

Why the CAHSEE is Bad For Public Education

After a heated debate throughout the state, the California Department of Education(CDE) implemented the California High School Exit Exam(CAHSEE) as a graduation requirement for all public high school students. The law first went into effect with the 2006 graduating class and has been used as a hard graduation requirement for every class since. While there are many differing opinions on the CAHSEE, on thing is clear, it appears to be here to stay.

The purpose of the CAHSEE is to provide a standard way of measuring student performance in public high schools all across the state. Since the CAHSEE is essentially a test of state academic content standards, and theoretically all public schools across the state should be teaching from the state content standards, the CAHSEE should be a great way to measure students from one school against students from other schools. This logic all sounds plausible until you start to take a look at the impact the exam is having on public education, particularly in traditionally low-performing schools.

Since scores on the CAHSEE impact everything from school funding to teacher and administrator job security, it is easy to see why it has had such a profound impact on how schools run. Teachers and counselors now place a huge emphasis on preparing students for the CAHSEE, often at the expense of time that could be spent preparing students to excel in college and beyond. The CAHSEE only tests state standards from grades 6-10, so the vast majority of the material covered on the exam is at a middle school level. Now of course it is important to have a strong foundation in the fundamentals of mathematics and English but not all students in high school need the level of review that they are being given. For many students the entire review process is unnecessary and robs them of valuable time they could be spending doing work that will actually prepare them for college.

This is especially the case for students at low-performing schools. Since many of their classmates struggle with these foundational areas the entire class must spend time reviewing this material. Not only are these students at a disadvantage by attending a low-performing high school in the first place, but the problem is now exacerbated by the fact that the administration in effect is allowing their peers to further hinder their progress. This creates the common problem that even the best students from poor schools are unprepared to succeed that the highest level in college and beyond. Does the CAHSEE really benefit our educational system when it inadvertently stifles the development of some of our brightest minds?

While the California High School Exit Exam certainly has its supporters who are quick to cite its positive benefits, overall, and especially for students in low-performing schools, it hurts education. This point is underscored by the fact that even the best students from under-performing schools often struggle when placed in more challenging and competitive academic environments. While doing away with the CAHSEE won’t necessarily solve this problem by itself, it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Function of the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives

The Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives comes from the work of Dr. Scott Cowen, the man who served as the University President at Tulane University during and after Hurricane Katrina. As New Orleans struggled to come back after the storm, Dr. Cowen realized the city’s schools were vital to its survival as well as the survival of his University in the future. He headed the Educational Committee for the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, which focused on positive changes to the city’s school system. This committee laid the foundation for the Institute.

It soon became obvious that all of the ideas Dr. Cowen brought to the table simply could not be implemented directly by the public school districts as they reeled from the impact of the storm. In 2006, the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives was founded to carry on the work begun by the committee. The Institute’s primary goal is to allow Tulane University to have an impact on reform efforts for the public school system throughout New Orleans by advocating success in urban schools.

Through the guidance of the Institute, New Orleans public schools are making a comeback. After Katrina, 90 percent of the schools in the city were declared to be failing by the state government. This allowed them to turn the city into a Recovery School District, breaking the control that the teacher’s union had and firing all of the school system employees. By rehiring the good teachers and bringing in veteran teachers and education entrepreneurs from around the country, the school district has begun to revive again, offering a quality educational system to its students.

Most of the new schools opened as charter schools. Parents are now given choices for the schools their children can attend, and the Institute is working to educate parents as to the best ways to implement those choices. The district has much ground to regain after the devastation of the hurricane and in response to the poor education it provided prior to Katrina, but it is making progress.

The Cowen Institute has played a vital role in these changes. First, it has focused on applied research, researching systems of public schools that work, performance measurement techniques, and ways these facts can be applied to the situation in New Orleans. These are functions the struggling district and state government simply could not perform, and are vital to the future success of the changing district.

The Institute also plays a vital role in forming public policy. It advocates legislation and funding initiatives that best benefit local schools and ensure equal funding and safe facilities for all children.

The University is also working on its own campus to further public schooling throughout New Orleans. They are constantly developing and running support programs that involve the University faculty and students in supporting the local public schools.

Finally, the Cowen Institute is working hard to ensure that kids in New Orleans are getting sufficient education to prepare them for college. This involves creating, launching, and supporting math and science programs that will make kids more able to function in the college environment. With these programs, the institute hopes more kids will further their schooling and attend Tulane, thus bettering the entire community of New Orleans.