By Grace Kane ’15, PAC College Republicans Liaison
In July, President Obama announced a plan, titled ConnectED, during a trip to North Carolina, that would bring high-speed Internet to our public schools in an effort to better the quality of US public education. This is based on the case study of Mooresville, North Carolina. In the text of the ConnectED initiative, it states, “In the classroom, students now collaborate in small groups rather than listening to lectures. They are using individualized software that functions like a personal tutor, adapting to their pace of learning. Teachers receive immediate feedback on students’ progress and can better direct their lessons and their teaching to meet each student’s needs. There has been strong evidence of success in Mooresville. The district’s graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008. On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago. Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student, but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates.
This sounds like an effective plan, yet unlike Benghazi, the Proposition 8 decision or the Zimmerman trial, it didn’t make the front page, or even my News Feed. Why?
For a very simple reason: the same day, the Edward Snowden story broke about the NSA tapping Americans’ phones. The invasion of our privacy easily eclipsed Obama’s initiative.
In an August 14th Washington Post article, it states that “the effort would cost billions of dollars, and Obama wants to pay for it by raising fees for mobile-phone users.” He’s looking to the Federal Communications Commission, a federal telecommunications regulation agency, for these funds. Due to the “Gore Law” passed in 1996, the FCC has the power to create these fees and provide the funds for ConnectED. Convenient enough for Obama, he doesn’t have to get it past the opposition (mainly Republicans) in Congress.
Though, admittedly, this Congress has passed very little legislation, it’s still essential for laws to go through the House and Senate. We elect congressmen to write laws and the President to enforce them. Additionally, if we have billions of dollars from the FCC (no matter how it’s attained), is it the wisest decision to throw it into better Internet for public schools?
Not when the graduation rates in urban areas of Detroit, Baltimore, New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland, L.A., Miami, Dallas, Denver and Houston are less than 50%. Not when public schools are closed due to massive deficits in cities like Chicago where 61 school buildings were closed in March. This leaves neighborhoods and communities hurting without ANY easy access to public schools.
President Obama has voiced that he wants to compete with South Korea, where 100% of schools have the advanced technology he’s pushing. While it’s true that South Korea has surpassed the US in education, this is due to many factors other than superior technology. South Korea invests more of the federal budget into education. In addition, as a tiny nation without many natural resources, South Korea is dependent upon human resources, spurring a cultural shift. As a percentage of the economy, South Korean families spend 3 times more on education than Americans. The value of education is not instilled by merely the government, but by parents and families. It is not uncommon for South Korean students to go to school for 8 hours, then use the rest of their time to study or work with private, after-school tutors. It’s societal pressure and support, from parents and government alike, and not education’s digitized nature that makes South Korea superior.
Further, Obama stated that 99% of our schools would benefit from ConnectED over the 5 year time-frame. The trouble is the 1% that would not be aided, the 1% of deteriorating urban public schools that need the most attention and aid. When good teachers are scarce, schools are closing and children leave textbooks at school and have to bring toilet paper from home, broader access to Internet doesn’t seem like a productive use of our money.
Still unconvinced? Here’s a personal example. I come from a public school district of 986 students, K- 12. Though the middle and high schools have computer labs that have been updated in the last 5 years, this summer our district bought MacBook Airs for all the middle and high school students. Meanwhile, I learned from one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Dutcher, that she didn’t have time to be the Student Council staff advisor this year because she was teaching extra history classes. Mrs. Dutcher’s responsible for classes regularly taught by another great former teacher, Ms. Jones, who’s being moved to the Middle School.
This is just one of many adjustments our district has made instead of hiring new staff. The geometry teacher began teaching physical education because the district didn’t replace a retired instructor. There was discussion of ending French classes due to understaffing, leaving our school with only one language option, Spanish. Money that could have gone to paying new instructors has been funneled into personal computers that will likely be obsolete technology in the coming years… if they aren’t ruined by hordes of teenagers before then.
The history teacher that moved to middle school, Ms. Jones, taught me more by far than the Internet has. She’s one of the wonderful people that kept me interested in politics and, as the high school advisor for the newspaper, she’s also the reason I can write on the PoliticOle. Though the Internet may have answers more readily available, it is educators like Ms. Jones that taught me how to think critically and to identify my passions and interests. It’s the human element that we need to fund. Though on the surface it seems technology is the answer, South Korea proves this is not the only necessary investment.
So where’s the outrage? Edward Snowden is infamous for leaking government secrets (though some consider him a hero and a whistle blower) but President Obama takes taxpayer money for a billion dollar plan that wouldn’t address the true issues, abusing his power – and no one bats an eyelid.
Do we need more advanced tools for teachers if, in urban public schools, they can’t even teach due to the conditions?
Do we need another billion dollar initiative when we still can’t seem to balance the budget?
Do we need Obama passing legislation without the in-put of our congressmen?
I don’t have the answers, but it’s important food for thought.
Grace Kane ’15 is a Political Science major from Harbor Springs, Michigan. Grace is PAC’s liaison to the St. Olaf College Republicans this year. Contact her at email@example.com.