The truth about American education

Teachers went on strike here in Bellevue on Sept. 2.

Teachers went on strike here in Bellevue on Sept. 2.

And no one is very happy.

Not the teachers.

Not the school district.

Certainly not the parents.

Yet, because this is Bellevue, hundreds of parents, educators, and children could turn out Wednesday night at the Sammamish High School Performing Arts Center to attend a Bellevue School Board meeting and talk about the issue.

And, also because it is Bellevue, almost everyone could discuss the issue with more light than heat.

Those who are deeply invested in the school district, and that included most in the overflow audience, know the basic truths about the district.

The teachers are some of the best in the country.

The school board is top notch.

The administrators are excellent.

Why, then, the strike?

Partly, it’s trying to improve a system that can’t be improved – at least in its present form.

And I don’t just mean Bellevue.

If you talk to educators, you’ll soon learn a troubling statistic that has held true through decades of education across the country.

In any student population, 25 percent of the students will thrive in school, gobbling up the material and sailing ahead of everyone else.

Another 50 percent of the students will muddle through, get most of what’s taught and collect their diploma.

The final 25 percent? They are the one who struggle. We say they fall through the cracks or, in today’s jargon, get left behind.

Now, mix them all in the same classrooms and you get a picture of American education.

How does this happen? Who is at fault?

Well, no one – and everyone.

Education, as we want in this country, has been underfunded to do the job. Always has. There is money for the top achievers – although they would achieve under almost any situation. The middle group, as I said, muddles along. It’s the bottom quarter that needs extra help – and doesn’t get it – because we don’t want to pay the price.

Forget the fight over teacher salaries. They aren’t overpaid. What we need is not so much better teachers as more of them. Students who struggle need more help and more time to master the material. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Just look around. Isn’t that how it is everywhere else?

But to do that takes money – probably lots of it. Struggling students probably should be in smaller classrooms with more teacher attention. They probably need extra hours of instruction and extra instructional days to master the material.

That means more teachers and a higher budget. And that means higher taxes.

And, there we are. Or, here we are, to be more precise.

Bellevue’s teacher strike will be settled. Both the teachers and the school board need to take a deep breath and admit that the battle isn’t between the two of them, but with a system that needs to be changed. Doing that requires that they work together as partners. Doing that might actually help change the system.

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