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viewpoint

Our failing schools

| Thursday, January 28, 2016

When I came to Notre Dame five semesters ago, I don’t think I would’ve considered it. Even now, I’m not sure I will when I’m done getting my education.

But I want to teach high school.

Given one requirement though: That I’m doing so in a student-oriented environment. Unfortunately at most places in this country, both in public and private education, that simply isn’t the case. And that’s an issue.

I’m an Indiana native, so I’ve seen firsthand how backward policies from our statehouse do irreparable damage to the education system. From budget cuts to open enrollment and vouchers through the introduction of more money into the charter school system, and out of the public one, it’s been one blow after another to education — and it’s piled up as schools across Indiana are facing teacher shortages.

Of course, this isn’t anything new. When the United States overemphasized standardized testing as part of “No Child Left Behind,” a policy geared more toward public policy and evaluation rather than inward toward students, it started a nasty trend that’s spiraled out of control. In many classrooms, our teachers are forced to teach their students how to do well on the year-end assessment, not the content that’s actually vital to make academic progress. And in enough of them, even if teachers wanted to do the latter, they couldn’t, as too-large class sizes prohibit educators from properly educating each individual student.

And it goes beyond standardized testing. Take open enrollment, a policy in Indiana in which students can attend schools that “open their doors” outside their home district. It’s a great theory from education reform buffs: If a school isn’t performing well, perhaps another will be, taking the students from the former school. It increases school choice for families who may live in a poor school system. What’s not to love?

My response? Why don’t we focus on making every school in the state a quality one for students to attend, rather than furthering a gap between rich and poor?

The same goes for charter schools, which primarily serve to line the pockets of the political donors — sorry, businessmen — that run them, not the students. In Indianapolis, plenty of charter schools fail to outperform their traditional public counterparts; and those that do see large enrollment drops from year to year after kids can’t handle the work and are run off from the school.

Our state prioritized loaning money to charter schools over public ones in the last cycle, allowing charters to “borrow” tens of millions just two years after the state paid off $90 million in charter school loans.

And none of it gets into the damage open enrollment, vouchers and charter schools do to local communities, deemphasizing the role of schools as being at the center of a community’s spirit.

Education needs a bigger reform than 500 words allows for. But at the core, let’s start down a different path:

Doing what’s best for the students we’re supposed to serve. Not administrators, legislators or their campaign donors.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.”At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer.A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa.When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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