PSU students unveil plan to save America
|The members of Plymouth State University’s Students for Saving America put their fighting spirit on display during a Nov. 23 protest against cuts in federal education funding. (Brendan Berube) (click for larger version)|
December 01, 2010PLYMOUTH — In the wake of a mid-term election that saw many candidates swept into office on the strength of promises to save America, a group of students fed up with the state of affairs in their country have emerged from a classroom at Plymouth State University with a plan that they claim will do just that.
Under the guidance of their professor and advisor, Eric MacLeish, a group calling themselves Students for Saving America have spent the past few months developing a comprehensive plan to put a stop to wasteful spending, curtail the influence of lobbyists, reform entitlement programs such as Social Security, re-allocate federal funds where they are needed most, and get America back on track.
Alicia Turner, one of the group's more outspoken members, explained during a recent presentation that she and her classmates initially signed up for what they thought would be a simple exploration of the country's system of government and legislation. As the semester wore on and they began to delve deeper into the myriad problems plaguing the country, however, Turner said the group grew less and less content with merely discussing the situation and grew more inclined to take action.
One morning, she said, the class got "on a roll" about what they viewed as the lack of adequate education funding in America, and the discussion turned toward other areas in need of reform, such as the criminal justice system and federal income taxation.
At that point, she said, the conversation "kind of shifted" to the idea of working out a plan to save America.
Using their own experiences, or those of friends or family members, as a jumping-off point, the group set out to conduct interviews with people within the local community who have been faced with problems pertaining to health care, homelessness, and unemployment over the past couple of years. The students then split off into teams of two, each team tasked with formulating solutions to a specific problem, such as tax reform or health care.
While the plan developed by Students for Saving America tackles everything from entitlement programs to military spending, the issue that remains closest to their hearts is the one that started the ball rolling in the first place — education reform.
Lindsey Burke, part of the team that tackled education, explained that the lack of adequate funding devoted to education in the United States (education receives only three percent of the federal budget, while military spending accounts for more than 70 percent) bleeds over into other issues, such as unemployment, since it is impossible to supply high-paying jobs to a poorly educated, under-qualified workforce.
The power wielded by teacher's unions is another key contributor to America's failing education system, Burke said, illustrating her point with an explanation of the phenomenon known as "rubber rooms" — rooms where teachers who are appealing their termination spend their days awaiting the outcome of their cases, all the while continuing to collect their full salary; money that Burke argued could be put to better use on behalf of students.
The tenure awarded to teachers who spend the required number of years within the same school district, she said, often tends to lead to a decline in the quality of education, as well, since it makes those who receive it all but impossible to dismiss, encouraging complacency and lack of effort on their part.
The decline in the American education system, Burke said, has resulted in an alarming achievement gap, with the U.S. placing 21st among industrialized nations in Science and 25th in Math.
"You want to be in an area where you can compete with other countries," she said, adding that she was also horrified to learn that New Hampshire currently ranks 49th among the 50 U.S. states in the amount of funding it devotes to education.
"How do you expect us to go anywhere" when education places so low on the government's list of priorities? she asked.
The solutions Burke and her partner proposed to combat the declining education system included an increase in federal funding (to be compensated for by a decrease in military and entitlement spending); the implementation of merit-based pay for teachers, rather than traditional step-and-track salary schedules; the elimination of "rubber rooms"; and changes in the guidelines for awarding tenure.
As an example of what can be accomplished through education reform, Burke pointed to the efforts of Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, who she said "pretty much laid out the blueprint for public schools" with his success in raising the bar at the Children's Zone to the point where the school now touts a 99 percent graduation rate, compared to the nationwide public school average of 50 percent.
As the first step in bringing attention to their plan, the Students for Saving America took their fight for education reform to the streets of downtown Plymouth on the morning of Nov. 23 with a rousing protest of federal funding cuts.
This evening (Thursday, Dec. 2), the group plans to present its 50-page plan to local state legislators, both Democrat and Republican, in the hope that they will carry some of its recommendations back to Concord.
"We need to tackle it in small doses," Turner said, explaining that she and her classmates have worked hard and made "a lot of progress" on the plan, which she hopes will catch on.
The plan can be viewed in its entirety on the group's Web site, http://savingamericaproject.webs.com.