Wednesday, September 26, 2012

California needs to invest in its schools

      California public schools are in crisis- and they are getting worse. This is a consequence  of massive budget cuts imposed on the schools by the legislature and the governor in the last four years.  Total per pupil expenditure is down over $1,000 per student. The result is significant  class size increases.   Students are in often classes too large for learning.  Supplementary services such as tutoring, art, and drop out prevention  classes have been eliminated.  Over 14,000 teachers have been dismissed due to the budget emergencies.
         Over 48% of the children in California public schools are Chicano/Latino or descendents of  Mexican/Latino parents.  ( See link, Demographics).  The Chicano drop out rate has not significantly changed in 30 years.   ( See Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education, and Chicana/o Educational Pipeline ) All children need a good education to participate in our democracy and prepare for  life in the rapidly changing economy.
     We need to invest in urban 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. At the same time the largest, most succesful teacher preparation program for Chicano/Latino children has been closed down at Sacramento State-  We must insist on equal opportunity to learn, without  compromise.  When we do these things, we will begin to protect the freedom to learn for our children and our grandchildren, and to build a more just and  democratic society.
       California schools are now 47th. in the nation in per pupil expenditure and 49th in class size. Low achievement scores on national tests  in reading and math reflect this severe underfunding. California teachers have been subject to demoralizing  budget cuts that often prevent good teaching. 
     Instead of working with teachers to restore budgets, or to limit budget cuts, a group that claims to be school “reformers” argue that the important issue is teacher accountability.
      This group of “reformers” includes so called   Democrats for Education Reform  led by former State Senator  Gloria Romero and  by Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools. See.

       The so called “reformers” disrespect teachers.  They prefer schools with principals as managers – and that does not work.  They seek to  reduce teachers to interchangeable cogs in a corporate machine with few rights and little independence.   They have reduced teachers’ job security and professional self respect  in the classroom.
         There are some school districts that are failing for many of their children.  Los Angeles Unified is one of these as is Oakland.  But, look at the reality.  District failure is almost never the result of  teachers, it is a failure to adequately  fund, administrate and lead.  Why do some districts succeed while others fail while using the same teacher evaluation systems?
         These “reformers” have not improved our  schools, however they have been effective in gaining a voice in  the state legislature.
         These groups, and their leaders, like to meet and to write reports about what teachers should do differently.  They assert that they know how to improve teaching and schools.  Where is the evidence ?  Show me where they have improved school achievement.    They do not assist teachers. We have had decades of such reports.  They have not supported teacher growth nor professionalism, only their own consultant fees.  And, so far   they have improved is the flavor of coffee at their fund raising events.
The legislature could best  improve the schools by doing their job –that is to adequately fund the schools.  As California cuts over $5 billion from the schools conditions and learning in these schools deteriorate.  Instead of doing their job and providing the resources some legislators respond to the  “reformers”  call for a new system of teacher evaluation.
           Note  that the California legislature has a 13% support rate from the voting public.  Teachers are one of the most valued professions we have in educating future generations. 

      The Chicago   strike represents the first open rebellion of teachers nationwide over political  efforts ignore the funding crises in the schools and substitute efforts  to evaluate, punish and reward teachers  based on their students’ scores on standardized tests of low-level basic skills in math and reading.  This is only the beginning.  If  California legislative leaders follow the direction of the so called “Democrats for Education Reform”, more strikes will follow.
There is little substantive evidence that the use of test scores to evaluate teachers improves student achievement.  See the post below by Richard Rothstein on Teacher Accountability .

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