In 1991 after 12 years in the classroom, I lost my teaching job as part of the last significant state-wide layoff of teachers. More than 10% of the New York State teaching force lost their jobs that year.
Those were tough times, obviously. There was plenty of pain to go around. But everyone knew the situation was temporary. Newly unemployed educators would be called back as others retired. The economy would improve and education funding recover. If they could just ride it out a year or two, they would be back in the workforce. Children would have their laid-off teachers and principals back. The system would recover.
Some 20 years later, we face a more intractable problem. This time around, economic recovery will not be sufficient to stabilize education financing. The simple fact is that future liabilities well exceed future revenues. The current system appears unsustainable. We face an unprecedented restructuring of our K – 12 education system.
Bill Gates makes this case in a compelling Ted Talks presentation. How severe is the funding problem? Who is to blame? What are the trade-offs? Does civic conflict loom? Will we continue to fund rising health care costs at the expense of educating our children? Will we educate our children at the expense of teachers’ pensions? Are we entering an era that pits the dreams of the young against the past promises to the old?
If you are a student, parent, educator, taxpayer or politician, you should view Gates’ short, provocative March 2 presentation at TED 2011.