You hear a lot of talk about educational reform these days. Wisconsin is no different. Yet with all the talk about curriculum, private vs. public education, and teacher merit pay, I’d like to propose a novel Wisconsin Vision for education: Let’s reduce vision problems in our students.Wait a second, you say. Vision problems? Surely we have bigger fish to fry. Don’t we need fundamental changes in our education system if we’re going to compete with school systems of other countries?
Maybe. But we don’t know what those changes are. In fact, a recent article that appeared in The Economist concluded that, out of all the different approaches being taken worldwide, the one surefire method of improving schools is improving the quality of teachers. And since there is probably much disagreement on how to accomplish that, I’m proposing we consider a different course.
Let’s start small. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit – a place where we can find immediate results. Vision problems. Here’s the rationale.
- It’s a huge problem. According to the American Optometric Association, 1 in 4 school-age children have an undetected vision problem that affects their ability to learn. 1 in 4. That’s a high percentage. If you reduce those vision problems, you’re likely to improve the academic performance of those students.
- A vision problem can be detected. There is a multitude of reasons why school problems occur. Problems at home. Poor teaching. Poor curriculum. Personal issues. Each student has a different story, and many will probably have a mishmash of different problems. With a vision problem, there is no grey area. You’ve either got or you don’t. Because it can be detected, we can then move quickly on a treatment program.
- It’s non-partisan. Last time I checked, there was no debate between Republicans and Democrats on vision issues. Undoubtedly, there will be some debate on how to pay for it, but this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. As we’ve seen with everything from space missions to community wide recycling, when people in this country choose to work together, big things happen.
In a nation where partisanship and gridlock mounts, and there’s frustration from sea to shining sea, wouldn’t it be exciting to achieve a unified victory? And, couldn’t this one victory lead to another, breaking the intransigence that’s holding this country back?
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first. We need to make people aware of the fact that undetected vision problems are an issue. Solving them may not entirely revamp our schools, but they are surely going to improve the performance of the 25% of students who have vision problems.
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