Tuesday, May 27, 2008

California School crisis and the economy

The school reforms initiated in the 1980s and currently in vogue in California suppress the ideological issue of equality of opportunity. Conservative school reform advocates portrayed bilingual and multicultural education as divisive and as a “distraction” from important issues (Bloom, 1987; Hirsch, 1987). Not surprisingly, the important equity goals embodied in the reforms of the 1960s and 1970s were ignored. Neo liberal efforts focused more on school management than on the actual dynamics of teaching and learning in classrooms. Moreover, few conservative reform efforts attended specifically to schools that were failing to meet the needs of poor and cultural minority students.
The ideology of neo liberalism in school reform remained dominant until late 2008 , but it is weakening. It lost dominance because it did not produce the results promised, a well functioning education system for all. And, the problems of neo-liberalism, an over reliance on tests, increasing drop out rates, fraud and corruption in accountability, and the persistent failure of achievement in low income schools, became more visible. The promises of neo-liberal reforms did not materialize.
The problems of neo-liberal reforms were not only those of the U.S. education system. Between 1980 and 2008, free market capitalism, or free trade, or neo-liberalism, produced wealth for the wealthy and economic stagnation for the great majority in the U.S. and destitution for vast millions in the world. Life did not get better for the average U.S. citizen. Education – long the hope of the majority of working people - did not produce advantages in the global economy. The U.S. economy stagnated while newly industrializing countries of China, Brazil, India, and to a lesser extent, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, and others grew – and inequality grew in these countries.

Schooling for Working-Class and Marginalized Students
Bob Chase, then president of the National Education Association, notes that “the richest nation in the world has yet to muster the political willpower to provide every child with a decent chance at quality education. At least 15 million children in America attend substandard schools…. That’s why the states must level up funding for the poorest public schools, especially inner city and rural schools” (Chase, 1997, p. 2). He says further, “To set high academic standards for all students nationally, without providing the resources to meet them, would be a cruel joke. As cruel a joke as promising to treat each child equally and never living up to that promise” (p. 2).
We spend less per student than 16 other modern industrialized countries (Slavin, 1998). Moreover, of these, we are the only country that does not actively promote equality of educational opportunity. In the Netherlands, for example, schools receive 25 percent more funding for each lower-income child and 90 percent more funding for each minority child than in the United States (Slavin, 1998). Clearly, schools serving working-class students and cultural minorities fail in large part because our nation refuses to invest in its children.
While we have now spent trillion dollars on a war in Iraq, the nation could have invested that money in South Central Los Angeles, or the south side of Chicago, in jobs and infrastructure and hospitals and schools. It is a political and economic question of great importance of why we can quickly find money for war after war, even when the U.S. is not attacked, but we can not find money for schools and teachers. ( Overthrow, 2006)

Our economy needs well-educated workers. We cannot permit schools to continue to fail. When schools succeed for the middle class and fail for working-class students and students of color, schools contribute to a crippling division along economic and racial lines in our society. Schools, as public institutions, must find ways to offer all children equal educational opportunity. Yet reformed schools are more exceptions than the common pattern, particularly in our urban areas.
Let us be clear about the reality of schools in our nation. Some middle-class schools could benefit from reform, but most middle-class schools work. Most schools in urban areas, however, are unable to provide the equal educational opportunity called for by our national ideals and by constitutional law. There will be no significant change in the quality of urban education without substantial new funds allocated to these schools. As the NEA’s Chase has noted, children in these schools need and deserve the same quality of buildings, teachers, materials, and resources as do students from affluent neighborhoods. Recently, legislation in the state of Maryland was introduced to bring all schools up to “adequate” levels of funding. This is a significant step toward equitable funding across districts ( Montgomery 2002) Important adequacy of funding decisions have been made in courts serving New Jersey (Abbot), California (Williams) and New York. Only in New Jersey has even modest efforts been made to respond to the constitutionally required equal protection of the students. (Karp, 2007) If even state constitution and courts can not or will not order adequate funding, what more can we expect? For example California is regularly noted as the richest state in the nation- and yet it ranks 47th in per pupil expenditures, California’s students rank 48th. out of the states in 4th. grade reading, 47th. in 4th. grade math, and 43rd. in 4th. grade science. California ranks 48th. in 8th. grade reading, 45th. in 8th. grade math, and 42nd in 8th. grade science. (Students First, 2007). California regularly scores at the lowest levels in the nation while expecting to retain its dynamic, growth oriented economic prosperity.
While major neo liberal organizations regularly issue reports claiming that reform of public education is necessary for economic progress, these groups are opposed to the one reform most likely to work; adequate funding of schools in low income areas. (Karp,2007)
The U.S. and most states need a substantive change to provide excellent schools for all children- and the political leadership of both parties refuses to provide the money for such change, instead they propose tests, standards, and blaming the teachers. This is the current status in California dealing with the budget. We can only conclude that legislative and political leadership, perhaps as a consequence of lack of democracy, wants to keep on talking and talking and do not wish to improve the schools to provide democratic opportunity.
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