By Steve Hunley

All too often, it seems like many of us have lost sight of the purpose of education.  When everything else is scraped away, all that remains is getting a job and becoming a productive citizen.  The culmination of secondary education is to finish high school and go on to further one’s education or get a job.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I read Rahm Emanuel, the former intimate of Bill and Hillary Clinton and current Mayor of Chicago, has proposed no student receive a high school diploma without having a letter of acceptance from a college or university, or a valid job offer.

My surprise was only beginning.  Just a day or two later, I read where Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under President Obama, endorsed Emanuel’s idea.  In fact, Duncan called the idea both “timely and needed.”  Duncan pointed out the obvious: a high school diploma is “a stepping stone to a job, to college and to life.”  Arne Duncan also stated his belief the federal government is guilty of “disinvesting in public education and withdrawing from accountability.”

I agree with both Emanuel and Duncan.  Locally, we’ve seen the school system squirm to avoid greater accountability, which is a major gripe of the teacher’s union.  While they say they don’t mind being held accountable (through evaluations, etc.), they have collectively never supported any real form of accountability.

The era of Jim McIntyre is behind us and a new era has begun under the leadership of Bob Thomas, a veteran educator and administrator with literally decades of experience under his belt.  The Board of Education just last Wednesday adopted a budget that was reasonable and as Board member Mike McMillan pointed out, “does a lot of good” for the schools, the children, the teachers, all without overly burdening the taxpayers.  That alone is an accomplishment considering every budget under McIntyre seemed to set off some kind of mini-war.

There were few sour notes by the board and only Lauren Hopson, president of the Knox County Education Association, popped up to do her job, I guess,  and complain that teachers were receiving only a 3% raise instead of 4%.  She also took the time to lecture KCEA is not a union; the KCEA merely represents teachers.  Probably like the autoworker’s union represents autoworkers, the steel worker’s union represents steel workers, etc.  I will also point out, including step raises, teachers will have received between 12% – 13% in raises in two years’ budgets.  Teachers were conspicuously absent at that particular meeting, likely because they realized the budget approved by the board was both fair and the best they could get.

When one gives the matter a little thought, just what is the end game of graduating high school?  It’s not merely getting a diploma, but a gateway to bettering one’s self.  After all, what would be the point otherwise?  It certainly isn’t to perpetuate a school system that does nothing but become a diploma mill.  Requiring a student to have a valid job offer or an acceptance letter from an institute of higher learning is a mighty good thing.  It’s the next logical step.

The future of education is going to depend upon just what we do about the stepping stone to a good life and Mayor Emanuel’s idea merits serious discussion and thought.