Ills and Frills: how to save money while reassessing the frills and ‘ills’ of education

      It is hard to imagine how much time students spend—waste—each day in school. Many schools, unable to fill up student schedules with meaningful classes or activities, place them in ‘study halls,’ which are really holding pens with an academic sounding name. This foolishness is not the fault of the schools or students necessarily, but of tight budgets and a cadre of unimaginative administrators, forced to act more like assembly line managers than thoughtful educators.

Tight budgets, often the result of unsupported mandates made by well-meaning ‘experts’ place burdens on school districts. These mandates are ‘people intensive’ in that they require large numbers of teacher aids and teachers who work with small numbers of students. In special education most of the teachers and teacher aids do little more than tutoring. The name that this tutoring is given is ‘services.’ Districts have to provide services. There is reluctance, even fear, to examine the premises under which these special education programs operate and this drives budgets up. But it should strike one as odd that services are not provided to students studying physics, foreign language and other subjects.

Because of these mandates and the lack of thought for other solutions, schools have cut music and art programs and other subjects—the frills—not considered related to the ‘core.’ Included in those areas being cut is physical education. It is sad.

As everyone with a phone and a connection to the Internet now knows, the other mandate is testing. Ben Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Were he alive today, he would certainly say: “Death, taxes and testing!” Testing, like special education, is a major industry. Each takes away, in its own way, from those things that can make school meaningful and even fun for many students, what many now consider the frills.

There are now tests administered in kindergarten that tell us what any sane person already knows: kindergartners can’t read and many are unprepared. Testing kindergartners reminds me of some funded research in psychology where the grant recipients received money to study the influence of alcohol on rat behavior. The conclusion: the more alcohol the rats were given, the more difficult it was for them to negotiate a maze. Hmmm, really?

Special education has a free pass to spend money. It is one of the few areas where those who benefit the most take part in the ‘classification’ of students. This classification is questionable at best. If you think I’m making this up, check out the science behind classification. The classification process is similar to what would happen if those who managed and worked in prisons also served on the jury deciding guilt or innocence. But parents have also been misled to believe that there is something wrong with their children. Anyone who dares question special education is accused of not supporting, or worse, not liking children.

It is high time that those in education begin examining other solutions to what they consider problems. Technology can clearly solve some of these issues that are otherwise labor intensive. There is research to suggest that students can be more engaged in their learning while online, than in traditional classrooms, where there are many distractions. We can address many of the issues in special education and other areas through digital technology and in the process save money and improve other enriching areas of education. In other words, costs can be reduced and students can learn just as much. Then students can have more possibilities in school and fewer study halls!