A shorter version of this letter was published in the Las Vegas Sun on Saturday, October 28, 2006. It got universally positive feedback, including a hand written note of thanks from the superintendent. Near the end, I say that my idea is tongue-in-cheek because it’s impractical: no doubt the law of unintended consequences would turn this into a circus of manipulation, intimidation, and blame. Too bad. In a better world, this idea would work just fine.
As the first quarter of the school year goes out not with a bang but a whimper, this frustrated educator wonders why. Indeed, teachers scrutinize and reform their methods far more often than you may realize.
We beat our heads against the wall trying to discover that magic detail that will turn our students into scholars. Is it curriculum? Scheduling? But these and a thousand others have been endlessly honed! Only one thing has remained constant—apathetic parents.
It’s an old observation in teachers’ lounges across America that as society has grown less disciplined, children’s academic achievement has followed a parallel path.
Barring a wholesale overhaul of cultural mores, what are we to do to stem this tide of parents who model incompetence and get nothing else from their offspring? How could we actually work within the bloated, entitlement-minded bureaucracy that Joe Sixpack has abdicated his autonomy to and get his attention?
Here’s how: let’s give tax breaks and penalties based on children’s performance in school.
It’s easy: If your child gets an A one semester, you get a $100 tax credit. Perfect attendance, $50. And what about the cost for someone who has ten kids who always get straight A’s and never ditch school? God bless them. They’ve earned every dollar they get. They’re producing the kind of citizens this Republic needs to flourish.
But your kid failed two classes? Ooh, that’ll cost you $50. Skipped class ten times? Cough up a Franklin or two. Got suspended? Goodbye refund.
How is that fair? Think of it this way—why does public education exist? It’s to ensure the future of the nation. And what better indicator is there that someone will be a benefit or burden to society in the future (via welfare, lost productivity, and crime) than performance in school?
Finally, parents who are doing their part could get some overdue recognition, and those who neglect to actually provide parenting might get a red flag to help them see their kids’ lives already going down the toilet. Or at least they’ll pay for the mistakes they’re letting their children prepare to make in a needlessly wasted future.
Of course, this is all tongue-in-cheek. The courts would choke on the glut of petty lawsuits from parents who want to sue their way out of having to pay for their children’s mistakes. (And they would win—another reason why our schools are so weak: they’ve been neutered by such lawsuits.)
Even more distressing is that we even have these ideas. Nobody wants schools checking up on parents! But that leaves us where we are now—helplessly tweaking mundane details of education while the real power players, the parents, sit back and do nothing.