Up until last week, there was probably only one thing President Obama and I agreed upon:  we both oppose same-sex marriage.

But last week, during an interview about the Today Show’s initiative “Education Nation,”  President Obama talked with Matt Lauer and acknowledged that the amount of money spent on schools has gone up but the positive results from all that spending has gone down.  “Money without reform will not solve the problem,” he said and then went on to talk about his new federal program “Race to the Top.”  (Translation:  new federal program = more spending, of course.)

This country already spends over $10,000 per student per year.  So, I agree with him that money won’t solve the problem.

Having worked in the area of child abuse and neglect for over twenty years, I’ve seen thousands of children who’ve absolutely no hope in life because of their chaotic surroundings.  Their homes are not conducive to learning.  Period.  When you see children at Wal-mart at 11 o’clock at night, something is wrong.  There is a lot of big-screen TVs in the homes but no books.  There is no dinner time, there is no homework time, there is no bed time.  There is no structure whatsoever.  So many children in the inner city, where school dropout rates are astronomical, just don’t have a chance.

President Obama suggested a longer school year.  I like that idea.  He said too many children forget what they’ve learned over the summer and too many of those children don’t have the discipline/wherewithal/structure in their homes to continue their education during the summer months.  He’s absolutely right.

He did acknowledge that parents, in addition to teachers, should be accountable for their children’s education.  He’s absolutely right again, but he didn’t take a strong enough position, in my opinion, during this interview to stress the importance of parents creating a home environment which encourages children to learn.

While he and Mrs. Obama limit the amount of time their daughters spend in front of the television, President Obama didn’t emphasis enough the discipline necessary for parents to set aside time, even during the summer months, every few days for a child to read, write, or review their school materials.  He mentioned that so many kids don’t have books in their homes but never mentioned that it’s up to the parents to take their children to the library – where books are free.

He didn’t mention that so many of these children who are doing so poorly in school come from broken homes, homes without fathers, homes without parents reading bedtime stories and homes without structure and organization.

The President didn’t address the huge amounts of money paid to administrators.  For example, Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Edwin Diaz earns $230,600 annual salary, the highest in the San Gabriel Valley in California.  The average salary for top school administrators in the Pasadena area is $200,000 while superintendents in neighboring counties including Los Angeles make $175,000 on average – huge amounts of money.

A family member in Los Angeles who is a LA Unified School District teacher has repeatedly expressed concerns with the union and the District’s top-heavy administration.  It’s inconceivable to me why teachers have to buy their own school supplies while the fat-cat administrators sit pretty with their car allowances, tax sheltered annuities and lengthy contracts.  It’s an abomination.

President Obama also didn’t address the obscene amounts of money spent by school districts.  For example, I was stunned when I heard about the new Robert F. Kennedy complex built on the site of the Ambassador Hotel where then-Senator Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.  The school just opened this September with 4,200 students attending this brand-new $578 million complex.  I’m not surprised this is called the “Taj Mahal” of schools being the nation’s most expensive public school.  Ben Austin, Executive Director of Parent Revolution who sits on the California Board of Education, isn’t that impressed.  “New buildings are nice, but when they’re run by the same people who’ve given us a 50 percent dropout rate, they’re a big waste of taxpayer money.”  I’d like to take a look at this complex in six months to see how much graffiti adorns its walls.  Will it be called “art?”

Another debacle was the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles.  Construction started in 1988 but it wasn’t until 1999 when someone figured out there was soil contamination and the project was halted.  Later in 2002, an earthquake fault was detected which temporarily suspended this ill-conceived project.  Bottom line, twenty years later, after $202 million was spent, the school opened in 2008.

President Obama failed to address the issue of school vouchers.  Early in his campaign for the Presidency, he was in favor of school vouchers.  But, by June of 2008, he flip-flopped and took a position against vouchers.  I guess the teachers’ union got to him.

But, to his credit, President Obama did say last week that poorly-performing teachers should get out.  Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.  During the last decade, the LA Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to fire seven of its 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance.  After about five years of legal maneuverings per teacher, only four were fired.  Two of three others were paid large settlements and one was reinstated.  Unbelievable.

Finally, President Obama didn’t address the Department of Education’s earmarks totaling $2.3 billion, which include monies for the Philadelphia Zoo, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and any number of other programs which will bear the names of the lawmakers who secured them.

There’s no doubt that government waste is a factor in all this and throwing good money after bad isn’t going to resolve the problems.  But, I believe that until the root causes for the chaotic surroundings so many children are born into are addressed, no amount of money or “reform” of the educational system is ever going to create a home environment conducive for society’s children to learn.

I don’t get it, but, if you do, God bless you.


Tags: , , ,