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Viewpoint: No investment in education means no return

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By Silvia Zsoldos

Christina School District’s referendum for a modest tax hike did not pass. In February, Indian River School District’s Referendum bid also “bit the dust.”

Next step: Reduction of teachers, of course. It does not matter that we do not have an adequate number of regular teachers. We do not have enough substitutes either, and many of them could earn more in the fast-food industry.

A look at the latest Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results is disheartening. As a whole, American students rank below half of the countries tested. The USA report shows significant variations owing to the widespread geographical disbursement and socio-economic status of its students.

However, as a third-generation educator with a Ph.D. in American history, I can attest that, regardless of these variations, the great majority of its citizens have next to no knowledge or understanding of its history. The same goes for no real comprehension of our Constitution or the democratic system. Where should they have learned?

Does anyone care?

Why education? Originally, it was for the “Three R’s: Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic,” now compressed in to “Language Arts” among Science, Mathematics and Technology. Thinking skills development fares no better and future employers complain that even college graduates lack “higher-order thinking skills.” But they did not contribute to the “per capita” expenditures of the upcoming youngsters and now pay the price of training for needed adults who lack adequate foundation.

Almost 30 years ago, in response to President Bush’s call for AMERICA 2000, the U.S. Department of Labor released an in-depth, multi-year study of “What Work Requires of Schools: The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills” (SCANS), published in 1991.

The SCANS Report assessed basic skills, thinking skills and personal qualities, and estimated that “less than half of all young adults have reached reading and writing minimums, even fewer can handle the mathematics; and, schools today only indirectly address listening and speaking skills.”

The Report laid out strategies for achievement. They were mostly ignored. Thirty years later, with our children’s ears glued to their mobile phones and chats with their BFFs, we need to think anew.

Delaware ranks low even among the 50 states and demonstrates no effort to address our dire situation. As a third-generation educator and mother and grandmother of fourth- and fifth-generation educators, I feel qualified to make a few suggestions:

  • Find the courage to reduce the number of districts. I realize that the number of unemployed administrators would be substantial, but we could buckle down and help them shift to other positions in the state or decide to do something different. Get more teachers into schools instead.
  • Involve all levels in education in finding new and better ways to move forward.
  • Specifically, bring in the teachers at all levels. Unlike in other high-achieving countries, the profession is not honored. That must change. Do not leave the custodial force out. You’d be surprised at what and how much these individuals see and know.
  • Take Gov. Carney’s published educational aims and develop them into down-to-earth, specific, actionable “how-to” goals.
  • Cut down on the interminable, time-wasting testing. There are other ways to determine how a student performs.
  • Look at ALL aspects of the system

You say: “No money!. We can do it TOGETHER, THE DELAWARE WAY. There are many free or very low-cost tools and means that we can access. We may borrow ideas from Singapore, Estonia, or Rhode Island. We can develop our own.

Many years ago, when my daughter started in January as a replacement eighth-grade science teacher in an
inner-city school, she came home the first day, thoroughly upset. “They have textbooks that they cannot read.
They have workbooks that do not help them. There is no time to recover half a year’s curriculum. They lack pencils and paper. What am I going to do?”

After several agitated moments, she looked up and said: “I’m gonna teach them what I know.” With the help of other excellent teachers and a highly supportive principal, that is exactly what she did. She involved the students and their parents successfully in a learning experience. She changed lives. It can be done but not without support and belief.

Let’s pay our teachers and support our students. Let’s make an investment that will yield returns in the future. Since Delaware was the first state to sign the Constitution, let’s make Delaware the First State in Education.

Alexander Hamilton wrote, “A nation that can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master and deserves one.”

Let’s learn from Alexander Hamilton and work our way out of disgrace.

Dr. Silvia Zsoldos of Newark is a business educator, consultant, author, and self-described solutioneer. She is the president and CEO of Success Programs Inc.

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