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Let local areas handle the schools

February 23, 1998|By Donald R. Currier

Let local areas handle the schools

If one had a limited amount of funds to spend on national education improvements how and where are the best places to use them? Bill Clinton thinks that the answer to these questions must come from the federal government. He is trying to "buy" the federal government into the education system of the country by specifically targeting funds for school construction, class sizes, and teacher salaries. He is pushing his favorite quick fix via his" everyone can go to college" initiative. This latter idea is first of all a fiction and secondly a misuse of funds which could be far better applied to address a very fundamental problem of getting young children ready to learn in their earliest years.

The fiction is that there is a large body of qualified college age students out there waiting to get into colleges that can't go because of money problems. This is nonsense. There are all sorts of endowments, special grants and loan programs already available to good students who can meet college entrance requirements. The problem is not money but qualifications and an honest desire to go to college.

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A way will be found for those who really want a college education. The answer, however, is not to make college just a way to get your academic ticket punched. The only way to meet Clinton's goal in the short run is to lower academic standards so that everyone is eligible to attend college. This is not the road to national excellence. It is just another way to hand out federal funds to make the public feel good about the federal government taking care of them. It is a way to guarantee that college tuition coast will rise to new levels of unavailability. The "halls of ivy" do not need to be papered over with our greenbacks.

The real long term way to educational excellence lies not in promoting college but in fixing early year education so that eventually there will be a fine crop of intellectually competent students fully ready for college. The priority including federal funding and tax credits should be on massive improvement in kindergarten through third grade (K-3) education for all children.

The use of federal funds to pay for traditionally local school costs is appropriate only if they are block granted to local governing authority. I just can't believe that some bureaucrat in Washington is more aware of educational needs and deficiencies in a state, a county or a city than the governor, county commissioners or mayors of these entities. It is obvious that some areas need more funds than others for various reasons - more capital improvements, more teachers, more teacher training and compensation, etc. Let the local authority be required only to justify these funds are being used to meet K-3 needs.

Why concentrate on K-3 students? Teachers who deal with young children are fully aware of certain learning facts. Children in these age levels when properly instructed, are by far quicker to learn reading and language skills than older children or adults. It has long been known for example, that teaching a second language is much easier at a young age. There is no reason why teaching a first language - English - should be any different if we would concentrate our efforts on the simple precept that success is a function of language skills that condition all future learning.

Let's quit worrying about college education and concentrate all of our educational efforts on giving our children a real head start on life.

Donald R. Currier is a Smithsburg-area resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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