How can education be saved? 10-17-2002 Letter to the Times

October 17, 2002


To: Letters to the Editor: The NY Times


Can Education Be saved In America?


The problem of how to preserve the future of education in America can be solved by any community. It must first start with the firm belief and iron clad will to make definitive changes. Currently in Westchester County almost all of our communities are paying between $12,000 and $16,000 per student per year. How does one determine that number? Just divide the number of students into the yearly school budget. In other words to educate a school population of 5000 over 12 years, at $16,000 per student, will cost a community approximately $1 billion. Are we getting our money’s worth? Most would say no. Is the fault of the teachers, the administrators, the students, the parents or the curriculum? In most cases each element of the educational equation is at fault. My suggestion is that at this pace our system will go bankrupt long before any solution is found. So basically we are saddled with a very inefficient and expensive day care system.


Therefore what is the solution? I will try to elaborate in a very general way of how our communities can save the schools, improve education and bring forth a better citizen through the process.


a)      Our first step: sell off the local schools from grades K-8 to a private entity called the town/city Academy. The sale of the buildings and property could be to a private company and those proceeds could be a well-needed windfall to the town/city. Or, the buildings and property could be sold to a semi-private entity not unlike urban renewal for a nominal fee. Under that scenario, if the Academy failed completely, the buildings and property could revert to the town/city. The new entity would have total authority over management and personnel. Assuming the local schools have a student population of 6000 students, costing $16,000 per student, the 4000 students in the Academy primary school would represent a cost of $64,000,000 in expenses. The town/city would use the money from the sale, to guarantee the Academy the tuition for 4000 students, whether they attend or not .By paying the Academy $10,000 per student or $40,000,000 in tuition the city would immediately save $24,000,000. The Academy would also have to pay real estate taxes to the town/city. The town/city could use that money in ways it deems appropriate


b)      For example; lower property taxes or modernize the high school. If students leave for other competing private schools, the town/city would give the parents a voucher for their use in that other private or competing school. In fact, the city could give $5,000 vouchers for every student who leaves the system. If after five years the school population continues to decline, because the Academy is not competitive, lower the guarantee from 4000 students to a newly negotiated level. If the school population increases because of natural population growth, the siphoning affect of the vouchers, for use at those other private or parochial schools, could work to maintain the school population at a constant figure. Or if the whole lower grades eventually disappear into the private sector because of a voucher system, the town/city would lower its costs from the current $64,000,000 amount to $20,000,000 or the cost of subsidizing 4000 students at $5,000 per student. Any students needing additional funds for tuition would be granted monies from a trust fund created from the proceeds earned from the sale of the buildings and property. Also needy students could have scholarship benefits from the considerable savings from a much smaller educational budget.

c)      If the Academy does succeed, by raising student test scores, improving graduation rates, and other academic standards, the Academy could reward its teachers on a merit basis through funds generated by property tax relief, awarded by the town/city.

d)      On the public high school level, grades 9 through 12, many classes should be consolidated into large lecture halls. (Positions could be eliminated by attrition, buyouts or the elimination of certain subjects.) Teaching assistants from graduate schools would be recruited from the local college programs and paid a per diem fee ($100) and awarded credits towards degree completion. These graduate assistants would take attendance, monitor exams, run labs, monitor study halls and lunch rooms, and mark papers. Higher salaries would be provided for the remaining merit-based teachers. Teachers would be paid to teach, not do non-teaching activities. In fact, teachers could teach more with the elimination of their previous responsibilities.

e)      In the high school many courses could be eliminated and or consolidated. As for example, all students not wishing to take advanced physics or chemistry could take an advanced general science course, not unlike what is offered in college. That course would combine the basic elements of biology, chemistry and physics. Only advanced students would take higher-level courses in physics and chemistry. The same consolidations could apply in the mathematics field. It is obvious that only an elite small percentage of all the students take advanced physics, chemistry, of calculus. One could qualify for those advance courses through a combination of recommendation and aptitude testing.


f)        In regards to language study, I would recommend that ESL in the Academy   should be eliminated or that Spanish should be mandatory course for all students. In other words we must eliminate all the societal pitfalls of a two-language culture or except the inevitability of a large percentage of our population speaking Spanish, and therefore prepare all non-Hispanics to learn that language. Any other language study is of marginal importance for most Americans. Most would agree that a vast and overwhelming percentage of all high school and liberal arts college students have no use or memory of their language studies in their post educational lives. In fact the second language of the whole world is English and that trend is continuing.

g)      I would stress courses in history, citizenship, law, English, and practical living. Practical living could encompass anything from understanding how to operate a checking account to insurance, to operating a car safely, to investing, or running a home or a small business, or understanding health care. I would also emphasize physical fitness. Every student should have to pass rigorous physical fitness requirements to graduate. A more physically fit population is a healthier one and less costly to society.

h)      One of the benefits of large lecture classrooms would be for the use of satellite based audio-visual and closed circuit television broadcasts. As businesses constantly use live television feeds for conference calls. Schools systems could by package lectures series from the top teachers in America. It would certainly be worthwhile to pay thousands for the best teaching program in America as opposed to paying scores of thousands for average or below average teaching.

i)        What happens to students who cannot compete or function in the conventional academic public school environment? The answer is to provide a vocational alternative in the same way that BOCES provides.


The money saved by privatizing the lower grades could be applied to a stronger high school educational environment. The average student coming back to the public high school would be better ethically prepared from either a private or parochial school’s emphasis on values. Also the town/city could provide its public high school with the most advanced audio/visual satellite based equipment. Every student could have a fully loaded up-to-date computer system.


There is an erroneous assumption that this types of school system will not provide for the dysfunctional, the uninterested, the physically challenged or any other special needs child. I believe that with the vast savings, the small percentage of special needs children would easily be absorbed into the newer cost structure. Also the state government would be saving large amounts of money that used to go to individual districts. This money could go directly to special needs individuals. In regards to the dysfunctional and or disruptive child, the state would also have extra funds to provide for their care. Frankly disruptive students should not be tolerated, should be trained in areas that do not bore them and should not bring the system down to its lowest common denominator. Also by becoming much more efficient schools systems there will be other ancillary savings.



For example:

a)      Less administrators

b)      Less classrooms to maintain and service

c)      A simpler curriculum to maintain



These are some of the ways that dramatic change can alter and reverse the direction of our bloated moribund system. No one can say that every change has to be made. But for sure all that I have proposed could be instituted gradually.


In other words the system needs to change or our students will continue to be victims of an inadequate, expensive and antiquated institution. We need better value for our tax dollars. We need a better-prepared citizenry. We need a more relevant curriculum and we need change.



p.s. This is by no means a panacea, but it is a new perspective. At this present time the alliance of real estate, politicians and unions have stultified education, hamstrung funding and created an uneven playing field for most of the under-funded districts in are area of the country.  rjg

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