“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of learning. In fact, they believed that the preservation of individual liberty, and the future of our Republic, was rooted in the power that knowledge gives. James Madison once wrote that “Learned institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty and dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” Knowledge was the key to the pursuit of happiness, as an uneducated populace would not fare well in life, nor remain free for very long.
The primary purpose of our public schools is to unlock the potential of our youth by giving them the power over their own destiny, a power that can only come with the knowledge and wisdom our teachers share. This is why we spend nearly $10,000 per student in a combination of current local property taxes and state funding – we believe in the importance of learning. Yet, if we still fail in this basic primary purpose of public education, what does it matter if we have nice buildings or a good athletic program?
Last week I outlined my concerns about this second attempt to pass the proposed $4 million bond from a financial perspective. This week I want to outline my concerns from an educational perspective, in that I think our priorities on spending more money are misplaced. A large percentage of our students are not doing well in our district. Of course, we do have students that are excelling, some because they have the aptitude and others because they have very involved parents who help direct their priorities. I am here to speak for those who have neither.
Last year I shared the fact that over 30% of our students were testing below the 50th percentile, and over half of our students were testing below the 65th percentile, the latter of which is the minimum needed to attend one of our state universities. Our school is also again on the state watch list for low math proficiency this year. In addition, at the January 8th board meeting, it was shared that 19 of our high school students are failing in at least one subject (or over 9% of the high school student body). For a school our size and with a very low student to teacher ratio (13-1), that is concerning. One possible solution offered was a return to paper and pencil for these students, in order to eliminate technology distractions, which I think is an excellent idea. However, another one was to introduce different tiers of diplomas, in order to make it easier for struggling students to graduate, which I think is a poor idea, as it does nothing to actually improve their learning.
Perhaps instead of spending millions more of taxpayer dollars on buildings, we should be using funds to fulfill the primary purpose of the school, and that is to educate our children. The current internal status quo is not working for a good many of our students, so why not try something different? Perhaps we can seek help outside of the district, even outside the AEA. There are private organizations out there with proven ability in tutoring children, whom for whatever reason our teachers and other public school provided resources cannot seem to reach. Sure it would cost extra money, and it may require bussing children off campus, but aren’t our children worth it? Besides, don’t we already bus children off campus during the school day for athletic games? How would this be any different, other than instead of stretching their body, we would be stretching their mind? Let’s get creative and start thinking outside the government provided box.
As I have said before, I am not opposed to this project, I am just opposed to doing it now, especially when we are failing in our primary objective of educating a good many of our children. Our students are required to maintain a high grade standard for academic eligibility in athletics – perhaps we need to consider applying that same standard of excellence to the school district itself. In other words, refuse to allow any more taxpayer funded athletic projects until these academic issues are resolved and ALL of our children are on the road to greater learning. We cannot afford to do anything less.
 Scores are from the Spring 2013 test results provided by our school district. Both the University of Iowa and Iowa State require a minimum ACT score of 22 for freshman admittance. Drake requires an ACT score of at least 24. These equate to testing at the 64th percentile. By comparison, a score at the 50th percentile equates to an ACT score of only 18, and the 41st percentile, where Iowa schools start reporting proficiency, equates to an ACT score of 15.