Saturday, October 06, 2007

A progressive agenda for public schools

Presentation: The Crisis of Our Democracy. Progressive Forum 2007. Oct. 4, 2007. CSU Sacramento

We gather at a very interesting time.
We are witnessing the apparent collapse of the conservative agenda which has dominated U.S. and often California politics for the last two decades. We are witnesses to the exhaustion of Imperialism in Iraq.

A question for us:
What can we do, what can we create to move a progressive agenda.

The U.S. is one of the most capitalist nations in the world. And, we have the highest level of child poverty of modern nations. And, we are the only modern industrialized nation without a system of health care for all.

My argument is to include a Progressive Economic Agenda within the struggles of the various anti war and political movments.

There are a number of issues for a Progressive Agenda. ( handout)
In the 2: 40 PM session we will hear about health care.

Until we get our democracy back, we will be unable to improve our schools.

I am going to focus on creating a decent public education system.

Currently we have a crisis in some of our schools. K-12.

Quality public education for all is a cause well worth fighting for. We have inherited our present schools from the efforts of prior generations to provide all children with the preparation needed for economic opportunity and active citizenship.
Critics of public education repeat and repeat a message of school crisis. And there is a crisis, but some of our schools are working quite well. More and more of our citizens are completing high school and college than ever before. The percentage of high school graduates completing a core academic curriculum – including four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies – grew from 14 percent to 57 percent from 1982 to 2000. And, many students in high schools are completing for advanced math and science courses.
The percentage of high school graduates completing advanced math courses climbed from 26 percent in 1982 to 45 percent in 2000. A similar growth has occurred in the sciences. (CEP, 2005, The Condition of Education, 2004.NCES)

Schools are working reasonably well for the middle class and many schools serving the poor and ethnic minorities are in crisis (Kozol,2005). Most urban schools, and some rural schools, as currently organized and funded, are not able to offer an education which will overcome the problems of poverty in our society.
Students in low income areas often have fewer qualified teachers, fewer counselors, inadequate textbooks and teaching materials. Although teaching conditions vary from state to state and district to district, the drop out rates are high and the college attendance rates are low for African American and Latino students. With only a few exceptions, these conditions have remained the same for over thirty years.
We have a crisis in some schools- not all- and it is precisely these low income schools where there are the most openings for new teachers. Lets look into this crisis.
Inadequate funding is a major issue in the school crisis in low incom areas. Governments spent $426.6 billion on public education k-12 in 2005. The problem of funding is well illustrated in the following case from California:

Governors, Senators, and Assemblymembers , and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction have given many speeches, but as of last year they had not provided more funds for the schools. This makes for large class sizes. The results of their budget decisions are in.
The NAEP Reading Scores for California give an average score of 209; we rank right along with Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia.
The NAEP results are important because schools and teachers can drill for the state tests, but NAEP measures against a national standard of whether children can actually read (NAEP, 2007). California has remained with these poverty stricken states for the last 12 years. Remember when the ideologues all claimed that by switching to phonics reading scores were going to go up? Or, others claimed that by eliminating bilingual education would produce dramatic gains. Well- where is the data?

Scores are similarly shameful for 8th. Graders with even Alabama out scoring California.

So, what do you do if you are an elected official, responsible for providing adequate resources but failing to do so? Well, you change the subject. You talk about state tests, where teaching to the test is possible, and the “achievement gap”. Stressing the achievement gap –which is real- places the responsibility and the blame on teachers and parents and shifts the focus away from the resource gap created by inadequate budgets.

This year new money began to be sent to low performing schools. It will take several years of consistently improved funding to overcome the reading deficits imposed upon our children in the last decade.

On the national level, the reading scores are essentially stable for the last decade. That is, there was no progress produced by No Child Left Behind. (perhaps because in part it was under funded by 52 Billion). You have to read the scores carefully since the U.S. Dept. of Education has become skilled at the process of claiming great progress for a one or two point gain. But, compare the scores over the last ten years and you will find very little change.

Duane Campbell
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