The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 21, 2013

Sometimes a strange notion

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— Aaron Osmond, nephew of entertainers Donny and Marie and one of the many Utah Osmonds, a state senator whose father Virl was not a member of The Osmonds variety act, suggested in his state senate blog that Utah put an end to mandatory public education.

Not that Utah had far to go. Comparative data found on Google ranked Utah dead last in dollars invested annually per pupil in public education at $6,212. New York City’s district led with $19,597. Pennsylvania clocked in at $13,467.

How well the dollars became smarts was hard to tell. Reliably lagging achievers Mississippi, Texas and many other southern states hovered toward the low end, below 10 grand. Nevada ($8,527) was no jackpot for school spending, either. The investment may have more to do with sunshine than academics.

True to Osmond tradition, the senator, age 43, is the father of five ranging in age from 7 to 20, and his point was more about parenting than public schools, probably because of the way those social institutions have gravitated together to the benefit of neither.

“Some parents,” he wrote, “act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system.” Schools he said are “expected to do everything from behavior counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness.”

Accepting that Utah’s trend-setting national leadership has been historically on par with Alaska ($16,674), there was, nonetheless, enough resonance in this obscure blog to punch it toward national attention.

We have at least 10 years of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) insanity in our public schools, possibly proving that any idea that Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts, $13,941) advocated and George W. Bush (Texas, $8,671) accepted had no chance of success.

The chief discovery from the debacle, which apparently can only be uttered in Utah, is that upon hearing that government won’t allow children to fail, a considerable number of mothers and fathers handed over their kids and went about making more of them as long as they came attached to assorted support checks from the social safety net.

Because of the past four or five decades of socialization, the ill-liberal and uncharitable sound of that conclusion causes many to recoil.

The concept, however, captures a seeping reality that is regularly subject to polarizing interpretations of our evident and growing dependency on government for mere survival.

Under the Obama Administration (and exacerbated, no doubt, by the destruction of the economy under the Bush administration), the number of Americans on food stamps has grown by 70 percent.

In our “No Child Left Behind” decade, food stamp spending has grown 400 percent, from $20 billion to $78 billion a year.

In the name of national survival, Osmond concludes it is time to put an end to mandatory public education. Thank you, Utah.

In the alternative, maybe we need to take a closer look at our national faith in equality.

We are provably not all created equal, genetically speaking, and not equally nurtured and parented in the early critical years of life as our brain physiologies respond to external stimuli and build the intellectual capacity that will shape our lives.

The work performed by nature and nurture in our pre-school years does more and is credited less with determining whether we will be left behind or shoot ahead than any amount dollars and donations that can be stuffed into education after age 5.

Great brain building in infancy, good parenting, internalized motivation for long studious hours and years of focused practice produce a high ratio of self-reliance and individual success. All of that happens at home. End of mystery.

What we need to achieve won’t be had for Utah’s $6,212 or New Jersey’s $15,968.

We are in a hole, measuring teacher and student performance by digging deeper and deeper into their test scores. It won’t work. We are testing the wrong people.

We need a parenthood test. We need to grade moms and dads. We need NPLA – “no parents left alone”. Until then, we are burning money and failing miserably.