Education may be the most overlooked issue in American politics, even more than climate change. When it's mentioned it's nothing more than a tag line. "School choice!" "Save our kids!"
Obama was bad on education, and every president before him was bad, too. Turmp [sic] will top them all on that front, I predict.
Our public schools were never perfect, since nothing humans do ever is. There are many great ideas for ways to change them to work better for kids who are left behind, some of which I've written about over the years and many of which are covered in the magazine Rethinking Schools or books by Nikhil Goyal (Schools on Trial) and Diane Ravitch (Reign of Error).
Unfortunately, instead we went down the No Child Left Without a Test path and adopted a misbegotten form of the charter school idea, and jointly, those two decisions are completely wrecking the joint.
Today's Star Tribune contained a commentary by Stephen Schroeder-Davis of Elk River, Minnesota, a retired teacher and university professor. It's one of the best short pieces I've read on education lately and I feel compelled to quote it in its entirety:
Of the 1,433 words in President Trump’s distressingly dystopian inaugural address, these 17 especially stood out to me: “an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.” This indictment was followed 24 words later with: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”Schroeder-Davis only addresses funding levels, but that's a start, and he does it with an accessible and clear message that comes from an inarguable base of personal knowledge. Thanks for writing.
In just 17 words, our new president disparaged more than 3 million public school teachers, made victims of 50 million public school students, and closely linked the words education and carnage. Synonyms for carnage include killing, bloodshed, slaughter, massacre, bloodbath and butchery.
The president’s words failed to capture my experience during my 42 years in education and the thousands of enjoyable, affirming, tender and ennobling interactions I witnessed between teachers and the students we worked so hard to educate, nurture, protect, and, far too frequently, clothe and feed.
Is our education system “flush with cash”? Sadly, that depends almost entirely on where a school is located. The federal government supplies about 10 percent of school funding. Sources for the remaining funds for school operation are approximately evenly divided between state support, which fell dramatically during the recession of 2008 and have not fully recovered, and local resources, which are based almost entirely on property values and which also have diminished since 2008. One consequence of the recession is that nationally, we have lost almost 300,000 school staff while gaining about 800,000 students. Another consequence is that the gap between affluent and poor neighborhoods — and therefore schools — has widened yet again.
Cruel, overgeneralized and unfair condemnation of our schools will not improve student or teacher dispositions or performance. If President Trump wants to ensure that “our young and beautiful students [are no longer] deprived of knowledge,” here are three suggestions:
1) Greatly increase funding for quality day care and preschool programs, as impoverished students begin school already behind their more affluent peers.
2) Increase school nutritional programs — feeding students will close the achievement gap faster than testing, vouchers or privatization ever could.
3) Reflect on how it is that a mere one-hour drive can take one from a school that has computers, atriums, plush carpeting, and athletic, artistic and performing art centers to a school that keeps emergency clothing for students who sleep in cars, teachers who have to teach third-graders how to hold a book, and staff members who consistently, quietly spend their own money to feed their students.
American schools are neither “flush with cash,” nor guilty of participating in “carnage,” and asserting that they are reveals a profound misapprehension of the current state of education in this country.