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What Our Schools Can Do Better

Let us not rest on our laurels as we send our graduates into the future.

Millions of young adults in America mark June’s graduations and moving up ceremonies as a rite of passage.  

Experts from a range of political, business and community worlds hold forth during commencement addresses on big dreams, service to others and hard work. Students, administrators and educators smile, pack up their classrooms and drift into summer. Somewhere, tumbleweed stumbles over lonely Astroturf.

Perhaps our graduates will mull the advice of these speakers, perhaps not. But before we know it, we’ll be back to school. And since we all desire stronger schools, why not consider now how we can make next year more valuable?

  • Better financial education. Research indicates that children must learn basic money management skills early. Why not teach those skills in math class using the practical applications that adults use every day? This past year, my daughter came home with a math exercise that asked her to spend a million dollars and account for how she did it. The rub? She couldn’t spend it on assets. What a missed opportunity! While we provide the basics of sound money practices at home, wouldn’t it be nice if our schools taught kids about things like saving for retirement, how credit works and the importance of rainy day money? Let me tell you, spending a million bucks on non-assets takes a lot of effort.
  • Better vocational training. Remember whining after chemistry class, but I’m never going to use this in real life! Well, most of us don’t and it’s time we do a better job encouraging non-white-collar career choices such as plumbing, mechanics, electrical, woodworking and other hands-on jobs. Think I’m wrong? Go look at your checkbook and see what you paid your electrician to rewire your kitchen last year, or look up the invoice from when you replaced your central a/c.  Real opportunities exist outside the board room, and not everyone wants to be or should be a banker. Plus, many find working with the hands satisfying as well as mentally stimulating.
  • Better entrepreneurship skills training. took an important step in the right direction by introducing an entrepreneurship course to its high school students beginning this fall. The more we can combine professional outreach with in-school skills, the more prepared our students will be for life beyond the classroom. Our area enjoys tremendous human capital resources and putting those resources to work in the classroom may help our kids learn why and how self-employed business owners are often the most successful folks around.
  • Better community outreach. While some area communities have managed to keep their budget increases at or near zero, others have suffered large increases as a result of politically and strategically difficult-to-control administrative costs such as health insurance and postretirement benefits. Rising taxes, weak home values and high unemployment equal unhappy taxpayers – especially those who don’t currently have children in school. Including our taxpayers – especially older taxpayers – in the educational process is bound to engender mutual respect and understanding. It will also offer students and administrators alike some valuable perspective and countless teachable moments.

In our region we are fortunate to have many of the nation’s top school districts. Our communities recognize the importance of maintaining outstanding public schools and our programs are among the most innovative in the nation.

But let us not stop there. We should not think of June only as marking the end of graduates’ educational careers. Instead, let us look to the new academic year with an eye focused on practical, common sense solutions to adult problems.  

Beebee June 20, 2012 at 11:28 AM
I think this column makes a great point -- let's educate our children for the real world. Sadly, it will never be realized unless public education is forced to change by the state and federal government. Maintaining the status quo, at least in my district, is of paramount importance. The district is entrenched in its current positions, and will accept no new ideas from parents -- any well-meaning suggestions are viewed as criticisms or attacks on the teachers' union or the administration. They just circle the wagons -- admit nothing, deny everything. If something isn't working, it's the students' fault, or, of course, the parents' fault. The ideas in this column would go over like a lead balloon where Iive. They also use Albany as a shield -- "we have to prepare them for the state tests", etc. Well, I understand that pressure, but maybe they could partner with the parent community to effect some change in that area. But they project the impression that they will do what they have to do, and nothing more. And parents just get tired of hitting their heads against brick walls. So even though I am a proponent of math you can really use in life? You won't see me trying to get my district to listen. I'd either be patronized or dismissed out of hand.
Lisa Bigelow June 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Good morning, That's a shame. Unfortunately, I think many parents feel the same way. We get told, oh, it's not our fault, it's the state, or NCLB...yet I believe there must be better common sense ways to integrate these ideas into existing curricula. Thanks for reading! Lisa
Cadeyrn June 20, 2012 at 01:29 PM
We get bombarded about Big Oil and Big Pharma ... but never Big Education. And that term doesn't just apply to post-secondary schooling ... it applies to all education. First, it borders on a monopoly. Second, it's controlled by unions. Third, college costs are NEVER scrutinized ... only the loan-making issue. And that means that a steady stream of income is available (via loans) to perpetuate the rip off.
Ellen Flaks June 20, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Thanks for your article, Lisa. I agree. I spend a lot of time in school buildings as a drama enrichment teacher, Drama Club advisor at Dobbs Ferry MS & HS and as a sub in Dobbs as well. Students, teachers and administrators ALL have a lot on their plates and it's increasingly difficult to motivate every student. The brightest students will continue to challenge themselves both in and out of school. The special needs students will continue to get the help they need. It's the "middle of the road" students who often get left behind. I grew up in Scarsdale...I can tell you that I learned how to read and write very well, but there are definite gaps in my education! World Geography? Ha! Accounting/Budgeting/Taxes/Investing? Never! We should absolutely start teaching practical "life skills" in the classroom.
resident June 21, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Well written. Just a suggestion in regards to the community outreach. Harrison (current school board) has a history of not hiring teachers that live in the district. What a waste of a community resource. Keep the tax dollars in Harrison

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