Sunday, December 22, 2013

Imagining the Schools We Need

Wondering why American students are not performing at their best? Or why we struggle to solve the problems of children getting adequate resources so they can compete in the global race for knowledge, opportunity and equity?

No need. The answer's right here and it doesn't take much to figure it out. We've made education a commodity to be traded, cut, neglected and manipulated for the better part of the economic downturn, and even before, and the policy is catching up to us. School districts all over the country had to cut back on teachers, other staff, educational resources and worse, a commitment to enable all children to take part in what should be the world's premier public school system.

It shouldn't have worked out that way.

The corporate know-nothings who have wheedled their way into the public policy debate and, worse, have been elected to offices where they've had direct experience slashing budgets, blaming public employees and pulling money out of the system because they think it spends too much. Now we've reached the crisis point where schools are packing in too many students into classrooms without proper staffing and educational materials. The results are disappointing at best.

But they point to something that's been underreported, and that is that America's public school teachers are doing a fabulous job keeping the system afloat and educating our students to the best of their abilities. The shame is imagining just how much better the country would be if we committed to funding and supporting the people who do one of the most important paid jobs in the economy.

Imagine what we could do with class sizes that allow for debate, discussion and hands-on learning in every class. Imagine having enough staff to enable struggling students and those with classifiable learning problems to get the support they both need and are entitled to by law. Imagine having enough money to take students on more than one outside academic trip per year so that they could apply their knowledge to real-world situations.

Imagine a teaching staff that is respected, emboldened and confident that the culture supported its efforts. Imagine governors making full pension payments so the system doesn't become a political battleground and an excuse to blame teachers and other public employees from being blamed for shortfalls. Remember that the only people making reliable pension contributions are the teachers; every paycheck. Imagine a system where teachers have input into curricular implementation, and where tests are not the end result of every learning task. Imagine a collaborative, supportive environment where veteran educators are respected for their knowledge, not blamed for being too expensive.

If you can imagine such a system, then we have our work cut out for us because if we keep going as we have for the past 10 years, then we will sink further behind countries that don't need to imagine those school systems--they already have them.

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