Posted in Chicago, Public Ed

The Schools America’s Children Deserve

SOME HOPE IN CALIFORNIA?

While “reformers” throughout the country starve public schools (especially those most in need of extra services) by transferring money to private schools through vouchers or to corporate board rooms through charters*, California has a new law that takes us back to a time when we actually made an attempt to help students who needed help the most.

California to spend more to educate poor, non-English speakers

It would provide school districts with a base amount of $7,537 for each child annually – $537 more than Democratic Governor Jerry Brown had originally proposed.

On its own, that’s considerably less than many states spend per child. But under the new plan, school districts would then get more for each child who lives in poverty or does not speak English well. Still more would go to districts that have high concentrations of these students.

Money doesn’t solve all the problems by itself. It must be spent wisely. One of the things about the “increase” in school funding in a lot of places, or the “huge amount of the state budget directed at public education” in some states is that the money is being spent on testing and test prep materials. The students don’t get the full benefits of increased revenues…but the testing industry does. The new California law, however,

…also gives local school districts more control over how they spend the $55.3 billion that the state expects to allocate for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Yes, local control is coming back to California. The Reagan/Republican rallying cry throughout the 80s for local control faded away from the public education discussion, making room for the profit motive.

It’s true that some local school boards might spend their money no more wisely than the state did, but, at least in the case of elected school boards “the people” have the right to change things.

WHERE THE MONEY SHOULD GO

In the fall of 2012 the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike. The strike as publicized by the media was about three main things.

  1. The length of the school day.
  2. Teacher evaluations being tied to student test scores (frequently misnamed, “pay for performance”).
  3. Closing schools (many of which get reopened as charter schools) and job losses.

The strike was about more than that, though, which is why nearly 90% of the teachers voted in favor of the strike.

The striking teachers also wanted to call attention to a number of education issues, particularly what they defined as a broad attack on public schooling by corporate privatizers. In particular they demand a decrease in high-stakes testing for students, and an increase in music, art, and gym programs available at public schools. They also called for smaller class sizes and paid preparation time.

The CTU published a 10 part research based proposal to provide Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve (Read a summary or the complete document which includes references to research).

The ten items are a good place to start for any school system and include the following,

  1. Recognize That Class Size Matters. “Reformers” who send their children to private schools with class sizes in the teens understand that class size is important. If it’s important to the wealthy, it’s important to everyone.
  2. Educate The Whole Child. All children should have opportunities for recess, physical education, decent meals, and the arts. All schools need a library staffed by professionals.
  3. Create More Robust Wrap-around Services. Today’s schools need to have counselors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists on staff or available.
  4. Address Inequities In Our System. Like California, it’s important to recognize that not all students come to school ready to learn and that extra resources are needed. In the past, schools with high numbers of at-risk students were given less instead of more — less experienced teachers, poorer physical facilities, less materials. In Chicago, more than 150 schools had no school library.
  5. Help Students Get Off To A Good Start. All students need access to quality pre-school and early childhood education. Children don’t usually develop academic problems in third grade. Academic and social difficulties begin before students enter school.
  6. Respect And Develop The Professionals. Teachers need to be paid for the work they do and at a rate commensurate with the amount of training they receive. They need time to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. No other profession is micromanaged like teachers. 
  7. Teach All Students. Programs should be provided for students for whom English is a second language and students who have special physical or academic needs.
  8. Provide Quality School Facilities. “No more leaky roofs, asbestos-lined bathrooms, or windows that refuse to shut. Students need to be taught in facilities that are well-maintained and show respect for those who work and go to school there.”
  9. Partner With Parents: Parental involvement is important…and it should be nurtured and encouraged.
  10. Fully Fund Education: These things cost money. Using scarce economic resources for standardized tests and test prep materials is just plain wrong. “There is no excuse for denying students the essential services they deserve.”

What does it take for “reformers” to understand that changing a school’s location, administration, or staff, won’t change the effects of poverty, violence and national neglect?

Melissa Harris-Perry had this to say to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Dear Mr. Emanuel, Chicago needs a mayor fighting for them.

…let’s be honest Rahm. Your reasons for closing those 50 schools doesn’t quite hold water. You’ve said reassigning students from closed schools to higher performing schools is intended to make sure every child can get a quality school with a quality education, but the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago’s Schools research found no demonstrable improvement for students when their schools are closed. In fact, in the short term, the stress and anxiety of being displaced actually causes students to perform even worse academically.

As for the need to close that billion dollar budget deficit…funny how that need is pressing only when it comes to schools in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods and not when you’re using taxpayer dollars to build a $100 million basketball arena for DePaul University.

…the people of Chicago need a mayor who’s a fighter. But one who’s fighting for them. Not against them.

There’s no such thing as a failing public school…only a failing social and governmental environment surrounding it.

NATIONWIDE

Every student, in every public school in America deserves a fully funded, appropriate education in a well-maintained facility with well trained professional educators. We, as a nation, owe it to ourselves to do this for our children and our future. The California law providing more resources where more resources are needed is a good first step. Let’s hope California politicians, school board members, administrators and teachers read The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve instead of spending the extra money on more test prep.

For an interesting discussion about the correlation between how much is spent on public education and its effect on achievement you might be want to read…

Analysis: How Much States Spend on Their Kids Really Does Matter

Analysis shows little to no correlation between education spending and student achievement

*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.