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Phil Kadner: Report card should show country failing students

Updated: December 2, 2011 8:16AM

I’ve spent at least 25 years listening to people complain about the public schools and how they’re failing America’s youth.

To the best of my recollection, at least 417 candidates for public office in Illinois have campaigned claiming they would make the schools better, and 122 of them won their elections.

Three or four U.S. presidents during that period of time said they were making education a top priority of their administrations.

Teachers were blamed for failing to unleash the hidden brilliance within America’s children. Parents, especially minority parents, were criticized for failing to take an interest in the education of their offspring. School administrators were accused of doing nothing while making six-figure incomes.

There have been hundreds of studies conducted by academics, government agencies and private foundations.

Tests have been devised to determine how much students know, what they don’t know, why they don’t know what they don’t know and how they know what they do know.

Newspaper reporters have gone undercover as teachers. Books have been written on why children are failing. TV news magazines have done series after series telling us why our children don’t learn.

In a bizarre twist on an old Marine Corps slogan, our government pledged to leave no child behind. Actually, comparing pupils in failing schools to wounded soldiers on a battlefield may have some merit.

Long ago, I heard a state school superintendent explain why Illinois wasn’t spending enough money on education.

I took up the call and said the state had to pass an income tax hike to adequately fund the schools. I explained that the property tax was an inadequate source of school revenue that unfairly penalized homeowners and should be reduced.

Nothing changed.

It would be political death to support an income tax hike for education, I was told by many legislators.

However, several south suburban lawmakers promised to increase school funding and raise the income tax, but over a decade they were unsuccessful.

And then, just last year, the Legislature passed the largest income tax increase in the state’s history.

They didn’t do it for the school kids, however. And they didn’t do it to lower the property tax.

They did it to plug an $11 billion state budget hole, and the sad fact is that the revenue generated won’t even plug half of that gap.

Does anyone really care about failing public schools and the children who attend them, or do people simply feel better talking about it all the time?

In 1987, William Bennett, U.S. education secretary under Ronald Reagan, called the Chicago public schools the worst in the nation.

That was 24 years ago. Can anyone honestly say that the federal government has done anything to make the Chicago public school system better?

When terrorists killed a few thousand civilians, this country went to war against Iraq and Afghanistan to protect us from future attacks.

But when tens of thousands of young lives are destroyed by inadequate public schools for more than two decades, the entire population simply whined and whined.

People blame the folks on the front lines of the battle to educate America’s children, the teachers, instead of the people who should be arming them, equipping them for battle and supporting them in the field with intelligence data, money and leadership.

If only those teachers didn’t take summer vacations, our country’s schoolchildren would lead the world in science and math, folks said.

The finger-pointing is endless when it comes to assigning blame for the failures of public education.

Some folks claim that blowing up the system is the only real solution. They want to create a bunch of private schools to make things better.

And if they don’t? Oh, well, we can try something else.

By the way, no one is suggesting that the public school systems disappear in places such as Orland Park, Frankfort, Winnetka or any of the other places in America where parents feel their public schools are working just fine.

After 25 years, I’ve heard all the arguments for changing things and know all about the challenges teachers face in the classroom. There are no simple solutions.

I know that something certainly has to change.

But hardly a day goes by now where I don’t hear someone say something like “if we only paid teachers less and made them work harder” everything will get better.

Maybe not. But it would save money.

And isn’t that really the main objective?

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