Cindy O'Laughlin -The State of Education – A Call for Change

March 18, 2024

The State of Education – A Call for Change

Today we will bring an education bill to the floor of the Senate. This bill will expand ESA (education savings accounts) which are funded by private donations and allow families to send their children to alternative schools rather than the one connected to their zip code. It also will include funding for teacher raises, a new way of calculating the daily reimbursement to schools based in part on enrollment rather than attendance, and a list of other improvements needed. So there’s something for everyone here, both traditional schools and alternative schools.

I’ve written about education for the entire six years that I have been in the Senate. I’ve visited over 30 schools and have spoken with countless individuals about various suggested ways to improve education. I’ve collaborated with people of both parties to try and bring necessary change to the system. If I were to describe the shortcomings of public education and “how we got to where we are today” it would be a long list. Included would be the part played by administrators, bureaucrats, legislators, parents, and other related parties all of whom point the finger at everyone else. But I want to list here some of the things that I feel have contributed to a system that is in dire need of reform.

Years ago schools took out the teaching of skilled trades. This was a huge mistake.

Discipline has been cast aside and the predictable result is an environment where learning is nearly impossible because of disruptive students.

Tablets, tablets, tablets. The reliance on electronics has created an environment where young people do not have critical thinking skills. They expect their tablet to do the thinking for them and many teachers could be included here too. Yes tablets are a part of life but before you rely on them to such an extent you need to learn to use your own brain. Electronic media is poisoning society and tablets should be used very sparingly.

The pay scale for teachers is based on everyone being given the same raise. This of course “bakes in mediocrity” because why work to be excellent if you receive no reward for it. Please do not tell me there’s no way to measure results from teaching or measure success. This is simply not true. We are protecting mediocrity at the expense of excellence. Therefore our system is barely average and students suffer as a result.

Mental health issues of students are skyrocketing. This I believe is connected to the free fall our families are in and also directly related to #3. If we are to stabilize our education system we need to work to stabilize the family structure. This would include casting aside political activism (there’s no place in education for the indoctrination of students.) Not that long ago I suggested to an administrator in my own district that we start emphasizing how important families are. I suggested posters with families sitting together at dinner. No words, just a picture. The response was, “That’s a good way to get sued.” If posting a picture with a family sitting at the dinner table is a good way to get sued then I would suggest we have gone completely around the bend. Those who say the political activism is only present in urban areas are entirely wrong.

Universities for years didn’t teach teachers the correct way to instruct students on reading. The whole word concept (which I correctly pointed out years ago was absolutely wrong) has now turned out nearly a generation of people who cannot read at grade level. We passed a literacy bill which required schools to teach reading correctly (why in the world would we need to do this) and then DESE didn’t require schools to implement. Does this anger me? Absolutely. Dyslexia is a common reading disorder and many schools have failed to diagnose or correct it. This is a horrid disservice to a young person trying to learn to read.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been rudderless since I arrived in the senate and I correctly diagnosed the problem by saying they need new leadership. They are finally getting it but not before the entire department has been turned upside down with nonsense and methods that don’t work. We spend literally BILLIONS of dollars on education and our results have been going downhill for 10 years. This must be reversed and I believe Karla Eslinger will reverse it. She has an open mind and a focus on results. This will require a ton of work and won’t happen overnight but for now (I believe in “trust but verify”) I believe it can be done. She will need support from the legislature and I am willing to give that support as long as things move in the right direction. I consider her a friend and through countless conversations have found her to be sensible and able to “cut right to the chase.” This is no time for someone unable to make decisions and she is a decision maker. She will be pounded by the many competing interests who want the status quo and she will have to stand up to that force. She is perfectly capable of doing so.

The entire system is being rocked with retirements. 2/3 of our schools are being led by administrators who are new. Superintendents who presided over many of the issues we now have are leaving in droves. We have a system set up decades ago that allows them to retire sometimes as early as the age of 53. And they are taking advantage of this funded by your tax dollars. This system needs immediate reform.

Math Kubuki Theater. Have you seen what passes for math? Can you name two students who can do math in their head? This is a result of not teaching math in the way it was taught for decades but instead implementing Common Core math. I have railed on this for six years now and I challenge anyone, anyone, to prove me wrong.

Teachers are consumed with filling out reports, trying to herd disruptive students and responding to the newest methods of instruction. They are paid a wage which qualifies them for welfare and expected to be psychiatrists and teachers. The environment of the classroom is the reason we now cannot recruit and retain teachers. Yes the wages are dismal but the real issue is the environment. In order to get a raise they must get a Master’s degree which costs even more money. I have not found one person who can prove to me that further learning in the teacher produces better results in the students. And believe me, I’ve asked.

I recently received a message from a teacher who had decided to leave the system. I am reproducing it here for your review. They gave me permission to do so. Before ending my comments though I want to say to you we MUST take control of our families and our schools. Education is the foundation of success; we DO have some good schools and some great teachers. But we are in a critical state in our education system and immediate change is necessary. Protecting special interests needs to be thrown out the window and collaboration with seasoned educators could produce a much better system. Let’s get to it; the future of our state is at stake.

Message from a teacher:

“I saw a recent post about your frustrations with public education. I would agree. It is broken. I am saying that and I am a teacher. The quality of kids we receive declines every year and will continue to get worse. I am a middle school/high school Social Studies teacher in ______ and was at _____ before that. I have taught a total of 16 years. Public education has no accountability. We only worry about the lowest achieving students and allow our middle and upper level learners to be dragged along. I literally have students in my classroom that can barely speak, let alone read, write and comprehend. Why are they even in my classroom? However, what is the incentive for the teacher? I can come in and try my hardest, but I will make the same wage as the person who hands out a worksheet each day. I have taught for 16 years. I MAKE THE EXACT SAME TAKE HOME PAY AS I DID 16 YEARS AGO! When I started at _____ I took home $2,100 a month. Back then retirement contributions were 12.5%, then 13, then 13.5, then 14, then 14.5%. Basically it ate my raises. After year 13 my school does not think that I should get raises based on my experience. This is the case in most schools. On top of that our governor thinks he is curing the problem by saying first year teachers should make $38,000 a year. That's great. I wasn't making that, but now I am. But let's think about that. I've taught 16 years and make $38,000, but some snot nose kid straight of college gets a job here at the school and they make the exact same amount. They think that I should further my education toward a Master's. Again, this is out of my pocket. Why in the hell would a GOOD teacher wish to continue to work for this kind of money? I own 21 rental houses. In the last several years all of my applicants take home more money than I do unless they are some sort of ssi/disability case. I am meaning fast food, Casey's, etc...they all make more than myself. I am constantly told that we have the best retirement. That's coming from an older generation who only paid 6-8% of their check, but reap the full benefits of the retirement system. I have bills now. I have mouths to feed now. The state has promised time and time again on ways to fix the financial problem of schools. I'm old enough to remember the lotto promise. I'm old enough to remember the riverboat gambling promise. Each time these idiots pass a tax to better our local schools we build football fields, basketball courts etc... _____ and _________ are great examples of that. To an educator it is a slap in the face to see shiny facilities while you are driving home in a 25 year old car. Sports supersede education in our small town, small minded society. Why am I writing this? I guess to show the viewpoint of an educator. It's a dead end job. Anyone with any drive about them would not wish to stay in such a profession. The quality of educators will continue to decline. I have made the decision to get out. I have to provide for my family.”