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Guns for grizzlies and schools for profit

Betsy DeVos is President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education.

She once said that school teachers may sometimes need guns in school because of grizzly bears. Of course, throwing books at a grizzly is probably not effective, but is there really a grizzly problem in our schools?

DeVos also is convinced that a core problem with our public school system is public school. DeVos, who has never attended a public school, thinks that the idea of public school for all, an idea that once propelled the U.S. to the best educational system on the planet, is not as good as public funding for private and charter and religious schools.

DeVos is convinced that the path to excellence in education lies at the doorstep of competition. If we just had more schools competing for survival, for scraps of funding, for teachers and students, then everyone would benefit. Well, not everyone, not the public schools, who would be asked to pay their competition with funds once allocated to support our oft-underfunded school system. Yes, DeVos is certain that, if we pay for-profit schools with money from public schools, public schools will improve.

Indeed, how could less money for public school not be a great idea combined with more money allocated in the for-profit schools?

After all, why invest in frivolous expenses like textbooks, computer labs and new school buildings, when the for-profit schools can set up and operate overnight, and if there is no profit can close just as quickly and easily?

The problem for DeVos is that she may know more about grizzlies than she does about education, and she is by no means a grizzly scholar.

One of the most successful public school models comes from Finland. In Finland, there are no private schools, so students rich and poor, recent immigrants and sixth generation heirs, boys and girls, genius and average, all go to the same schools.

Finland’s schools are operated by educators, not businesspeople, not politicians, and the educators are selected for their college success, where the top 10 percent of graduates are offered the opportunity to study for a Master’s degree in education to prepare for a teaching career.

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours in the classroom, but more hours managing curriculum and assessing student progress than in the U.S. There are no standardized tests in Finland, there is minimal homework and increased playtime for the students.

Finnish teachers have powerful flexibility in teaching methods, lend individual support to 30 percent of their students, and are trusted to make learning decisions in the classroom. Most importantly, the key learning outcome is, “We prepare children to learn how to learn.”

The results in Finland? Top five outcomes among 57 nations in reading math and science.

South Korea has also had great success in educating their children. In South Korea teachers are paid 25 percent more than in the U.S. and they are among the most respected professionals in the country. National educational spending, as a portion of GDP, is considerably higher than in the U.S.

What Betsy DeVos seems not to know is that in the U.S., we underfund our schools, underpay our teachers, lack trust in teacher innovation and undermine teachers because they have formed unions to protect their freedoms.

We need for-profit schools as much as we need grizzly bear traps in our schools. What we do need is a Secretary of Education who has at least been in a troubled school.

Betsy needs to go back to school.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.