Wednesday, June 08, 2005

School reform by those who care

Most parents and most teachers care about their kids. And, the parents in urban areas are increasingly angered, offended, and frustrated when public officials refuse of offer a decent opporutnity for their children. Some see a racial conspiracy, some blame teachers' unions. Many have given up on democracy and public life and turn to cynicism or dispair.
The California Governor’s spin on school reform and the issue of “merit” pay distorts the issues rather than offering solutions. He proposes a small increase in pay for teachers working in difficult to staff schools.
But the real issue is why are these schools so difficult? The failure of this Governor and prior governors to improve schools in our low income neighborhoods creates the problem. These schools often have miserable working conditions. In Los Angeles, Jefferson High has over 150% occupancy- and racial riots. That makes it a rather difficult school. High schools throughout the state are over crowded. And, elementary schools in low income areas has a much as 40% of their teachers new and inexperienced.
What political leaders could do would be to improve the working conditions in these schools. Make smaller, safer schools. Provide enough counselors and librarians. (California ranks 49th. out of 50 states in Counselors and Librarians, and books). Provide quality stable school leadership rather than the current revolving door system. And, provide support and time for new teachers to learn from more experienced teachers. Practical steps to reduce the new teacher attrition rate in difficult schools will do more than merit pay to improve teaching conditions.
These are things that can be done in this years budget. They do not require a 70 million dollar special election. In fact, you could use the $70 million to improve the schools rather than to hold another election.
These things could be achieved with political leadership. Instead the Governor chooses to pick a fight with the unions and to impose a $70 million election on us. This decision reveals political spin- not leadership.
The Governor said he was going to keep funding the schools. He has not. He said he supported Prop. 98, he now seeks to change it with a constitutional amendment.

Schools do not exist in a vacuum. They are not isolated from their neighborhoods and communities. Inequality in schooling is a product of inequality in society.
A progressive movement exists among teachers. The excellent journal Rethinking Our Schools, (circulation over 40,000) and the web site (www.rethinkingschools.org) created by some teachers in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin, engages, stimulates, validates, and inspires teachers who recognize the central role of urban schools to the anti racism struggle in our nation, and who choose resistance to the anti teacher, Republican, corporate agenda in schools. ( See Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? (This blog)

While schools should be a site for building democracy and equal opportunity, this opportunity can only be created with significant new investment in schools in low income areas. Investment requires a political decision. Our elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans have refused to make this decision each year in most local, state, and federal budgets. As state after state faces the current budget crisis, they are cutting education funding rather than improving funding.
WE need to invest in our schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. The settlement of the Williams case in California is a small start in the right direction.
Rather than invest money in reform, governor Schwarzenegger and his Republican allies have followed the lead of the Business Roundtable, Ravitch, and conservative foundations and the Clinton and Bush administrations and increased emphasis on testing to improve scores. This is the heart of school reform advocated by Ravitch, passed by the Bush regime in PL 107-110 , the misnamed, No Child Left Behind Act.
(See other posts on this law. )
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