Friday, May 4, 2012

Is It The End of Public Education as We Knew It?

Ava Cooley, 9, plays her violin to a crowd of more than 500 protesters outside Upper Darby High School before a school board meeting. Cuts are expected to be made to the arts, foreign language, music, technology, and other programs
SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer

All over the USA, public education budgets are being slashed. Schools are closing; important educational programs are ending. Here in my town in PA, Art classes, music, and even gym are going bye-bye.

Why? Well, with constant cries of "we're too poor!" the schools are trying to devote what little they have to core subjects. That means Reading and Math. All. The. Time. Reading, math; reading and math; followed by--you guessed it--more reading and math!

I'm a huge fan of reading and math, although I think that the way reading is being taught lately is turning kids away from books and not toward them. Being read to, having access to books (oh--that reminds me! Library is another subject that is being cut), enjoying words and sharing stories is what gets kids wanting to read. 

Teaching reading has a new system these days. It's a nightmare. It includes endless, mind-numbing, decoding and prediction lessons. Reading classes aren't getting kids to love reading. These new, "improved" lessons are a colossal failure. But hey: now our kids will spend half their days in school doing nothing but these horrible, boring reading lessons.

If we want our kids to be better readers, the first task is to get kids enjoying stories. Then, introduce them to books. Read those great books to the kids. Make the kids want to read for themselves. Give them access to books. Give them access to all media. Show them how and why the written word is important and exciting. Make them understand that communication is the most vital skill we can have--in school or in work or the world at large.

But back to the budget slashing. Why are we having so many problems? Part of it is the crappy economy, yes. We would certainly have more money if two endless, unfunded wars hadn't been started 10 years ago, if taxes hadn't been slashed, if corporations actually paid taxes (as people do), and if the super-rich paid their fair share. These are all facts. Agree or disagree with the fundamental politics involved, but there is no arguing with the fact that taking in less revenue while racking up massive war debt means less money in the budget. It means that our kids are paying for other people's stupidity and mistakes.

Personally, I think that education is the LAST place where funding should be cut. Ever. But no, in PA, our dear governor would rather raise the prison budget 11% and cut education by 50%. This is not a sick joke; this is real.  Can we have a recall, please?? 

Our dear Governor Corbett also steadfastly refuses to tax the Marcellus Shale frackers who are raping our land...despite the fact that other states DO tax them. And it's not like they're going to go elsewhere to drill.  It's not as if the Marcellus Shale exists in Nevada. 

His argument for not taxing frackers is is the very idea of "trickle-down economics" (after 40 + years, it still hasn't worked) or the other ridiculous soundbite that "rich people are job creators." 

Um, no they aren't. They get richer and what do they do? They cut jobs. How many major corporations have been raking in record profits after massive layoffs or sending jobs overseas? The statistics are shocking. If people read more, they would know this.

Don't get me started on that. Let's get back to education. 

There will be no more Art as a "special" subject; kids will get very little music (I have already complained that the art and music classes in elementary schools have been weak and inefficient in terms of actually teaching kids to play instruments, and my youngest daughter has never brought an art project home from school. As in, not once). Kids will probably get no more gym...and with the obesity epidemic among kids, how is this possibly a good idea? 

I had gym three times a week when I was in elementary school. I had it daily in middle school and high school.

My daughters have gym once a week. They are not heavy, luckily, but a lot of kids are carrying around tons of extra weight. They need more exercise, not more time sitting at their desks doing the same practice tests over and over again.

What is burning my ass more than any of the above, however, is the new idea that our school district has to cut foreign language classes in middle school.

They say there's no time, that kids need to focus on math and reading to get test scores up. Never mind that if we don't get kids early, their brains will close off and they will be literally unable to learn a foreign language.

This all comes back to George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" madness...

Any teacher will tell you that NCLB ruined education, but it was probably meant to. The Republican machine includes the savage agenda of dismantling public education and privatizing everything in order to help some corporations make bigger profits. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it's not. It's true. People like the Koch brothers have even admitted as much. 

Here in PA, we can surmise that Governor Corbett is down with this agenda. Keeping the masses stupid is another way for the powers-that-be to keep themselves in control. After all, if people don't read the newspaper and if they don't understand how the system works, they can hardly complain about it or change it, can they?

With NCLB punishing schools by cutting their funding when they don't make "progress" with test scores, schools' very existence is tied to testing. 

Another thing people don't realize is that the NCLB plan will NEVER WORK. Kids with intellectual disabilities have been "mainstreamed" in public schools; they have to take the state standardized tests. They get no special dispensation. Kids who don't speak English have to take the tests, too. In English. No one excludes the non-English-speaking kids!

Yet, according to NCLB, 100% of kids in school must score Proficient or Advanced in state tests by 2014 in order for the schools not to have their budgets slashed even more, or the schools to be closed down and replaced by for-profit charters.

It's the ultimate Catch-22. And people voted for this! They obviously didn't know what they were voting for.

But now they do. Vote these fools out. Maybe it's not too late for us to save public education.

I hate to even think about what a hellish mess school has been for my own kids. How are they ever going to succeed in the global marketplace without foreign language? How will they ever be well rounded, creative people without arts?

What should I do? I am thisclose to homeschooling my kids. But then, I'd still have to pay school taxes...

People around here have been heading to the school board meetings and silently protesting, or putting up lawn signs. Protesting at meetings is a nice idea, but I can tell you from my experience as a news reporter that it won't work. No matter how many angry parents show up, things aren't going to change.  The district has already decided they are cutting arts, gym and library. And Language. It's a done deal (unless some major infusion of cash comes some miracle). Nothing we say to them will change that. Sad but true. 

What we can do is take the argument back to the governor who started this mess. We can protest NCLB and try to get PA exempt from its absurdities. We can vote in politicians who actually care about public education as a noble and vital public service.

Excellent public schools are the best and indeed only way I know to create a smart and strong future society.

With people suffering from ever greater economic disparities, private schools are not the answer. Sure, if you can afford private school, go for it. What about the majority of kids, however? What about their futures?

Do you want them in Corbett's new prisons, or in good public schools?

The choice is clear. Fight for public education. Fight to help our children.


  1. When I ran over this I thought to put it into the Library Week post, but this one was good too.

  2. Library classes are where kids learn how to do research. Librarians are some of my favorite people.

  3. Well said! This is a twisted, convoluted mess, or mass, of problems. It all comes down to keeping the masses stupid, though. Sad.

  4. True. There is so much going on, so much perverted history to trace. It's almost easier not to try to think about it at all. At least, it's happier that way.



  5. Yes, we have to fight! I've been protesting the budget cuts, unfunded mandates, and high stakes testing, and I try to inform parents by writing a blog. We lost our arts, PE and library a year ago. I've written letters, attended parent forums, joined groups on Facebook (there is a national movement) see DumpDuncan, Parents Across America, Testing Hurts Kids, I've signed petitions. I am opting my son out of testing next year for sure. The only way to end test mania is for parents to opt their children out. Parents have that right. Without test score "data" the testing will have to stop. Parents can do this, but need to get informed, and not be afraid. Corporate media will not cover even big stories, like what's happening in Philadelphia school district. 40 schools will be closing, charters will be opening. It's now the education business as schools become privatized. Education Secretary Arne Duncan must be removed. He has no background in education. His Race to the Top means even more testing, and adoption of a national common core curriculum- which means new textbooks, new tests, more unfunded mandates and standards, no time or money for teacher training, teacher evaluation based on bogus test scores- and more PROFIT for Pearson and other companies. It's all about profit, not kids. And it sets kids and teachers up for failure. It's cruel and it's child abuse. All this testing and narrowing of curriculum is harmful, and developmentally inappropriate for young children. I see it firsthand. Parents, speak up!

  6. Thank you, Angie. I did not realize all this (precisely) happened in your area, too. I guess everyone has to worry. It's coming for you next...

    Thanks for the group names. I will definitely join some of those.

    And yes, this year, I am pulling my kids out of testing. Problem is, there is so much testing, they will miss a month of school, if not more, if I pulled them out for every week-long testing cycle. (note the irony)