Another Educational “Reform” Proposal Misses the Mark

Left Margin

Another Educational “Reform” Proposal Misses the Mark

By Carl Bloice – BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
BC
March 29, 2012

http://www.blackcommentator.com/465/465_lm_reform.php

On the same day a national task force warned that the
country’s security and economic prosperity are at risk
if America’s schools don’t improve, California State
University system said it would shut out thousands of
mid-year applicants for spring terms starting in
January.

According to the Oakland Tribune, only eight of the
system’s 23 campuses will accept transfer students for
the spring 2013 term, and none will accept new
freshmen. “The decision will leave thousands of
community-college students with an unenviable choice:
Spend the time and money taking unnecessary community-
college classes for an extra semester or drop out and
try to make ends meet until Cal State reopens its
doors,” wrote Matt Krupnick.

“The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on
human capital,” the 30-member task force, led by former
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein, the
former chancellor of New York City’s school, declared
this week. “The failure to produce that capital will
undermine American security.” This statement came
shortly after U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
told a Howard University gathering, “President Obama
has challenged all of us to lead the world with college
graduates by 2020. But we cannot reach that goal unless
educational opportunities are extended to everyone
fairly and accurately.”

Regrettably, the contrast between what is being said
about education in our country, and what is actually
happening on the ground, serves to illustrate the
galling amount of flim-flam and hypocrisy that
characterizes today’s public discussion of the nation’s
schools from kindergarten to the university level.

Since Duncan took up his post, somewhere in the
vicinity of 270,000 teachers and other public school
employees have lost their jobs because state and local
education budgets have been slashed. “The teachers who
have not been laid off have also been deeply affected
by the economic downturn: class sizes are larger,
after-school and arts enrichment programs have been
cut, and an increasing number of their students are
relying on safety net sources for health services and
other basic needs,” observed the New York Times March
7.

In California alone, the number of full-time teachers
has decreased by 32,000 statewide over the past four
years.

It’s not Duncan’s fault or the Administration’s. The
crisis has arisen in part because of the economic
recession and the responses to it. The problem is
however lofty the proclamations are about the value of
education, the schools, teachers and students are still
getting the short end of the austerity stick.
Regrettably, the task of conducting a struggle to
improve the schools – or at least to prevent their
further decimation — has fallen largely upon the
teachers, instructors and professors, a task not made
any easier by the incessant attacks upon them.

When President Obama met with the nation’s governors
last month he said, “Too many states are making cuts
that I think are too big. Budgets are by choice, so
today I’m calling on all of you: invest more in
education, invest more in our children.”

“California public schools are in crisis – and they are
getting worse,” educator Duane Campbell wrote recently.
“This is a direct result of massive budget cuts imposed
by the legislature and the governor in the last four
years. Total per pupil expenditure is down by over
$1,000 per student. The result: massive class size
increases. Students are often in classes too large for
quality learning. Supplementary services such as
tutoring and art classes have been eliminated. Over
14,000 teachers have been dismissed, and thousands more
face layoffs this fall.”

“California schools are now 47th in the nation in per
pupil expenditure and 49th in class size,” continued
Campbell, a Professor (emeritus) of
Bilingual/Multicultural Education at CSU-Sacramento and
the area chair of the Democratic Socialists of America.
“Our low achievement scores on national tests reflect
this severe underfunding.”

I had to laugh out loud last Sunday when the New York
Times Thomas Friedman indignantly decried Egypt’s
“deficit of modern education.” “Our response should
have been to shift our aid money from military
equipment to building science-and-technology high
schools and community colleges across Egypt,” he wrote.
I’m certainly for assistance to Egyptian education, and
$1.3 billion in aid to the Egypt’s hardly-pro-democracy
military serves no useful purpose. Still, why couldn’t
some of our country’s bloated military budget be
directed toward building science-and-technology high
schools and community colleges across the U.S?

After all, Rice, Klein and their panel say it’s a
matter of national security.

Media reports on the Rice-Klein panel’s conclusions
have emphasized its recommendations having to do with
the usual litany of educational “reforms,” including
school choice and vouchers – “so many students aren’t
stuck in underperforming schools.”

According to the Associated Press, the report does,
however, add a new element to the debate, a “national
security readiness audit” that “can be used to judge
whether schools are meeting national expectations in
education” especially as regards a “common core
initiative to include skill sets critical to national
security such as science, technology and foreign
languages.”

Evidently, some people think that it’s a good idea to
posit education as a national security imperative
rather than what it should be – an indispensible
element of a functioning democratic society. It sounds
a lot like a desire to produce graduates fit for
military service rather than scientifically, culturally
and technologically equipped citizens.

“I don’t think people have really thought about the
national security implications and the inability to
have people who speak the requisite languages who can
staff a volunteer military, the kind of morale and
human conviction you need to hold a country together. I
don’t think people have thought about it in those
terms,” Klein told AP.

There will probably be a measure on the California
ballot in November that would provide new funding for
the schools and somewhat lessen the impact of the
current crisis. If it fails, as many as 25,000
qualified applicants could to be turned away by the CSU
system next year.

“The California economy needs to invest in roads,
bridges, telephone lines, communications systems, clean
energy and quality education,” writes Campbell. “These
are the down payments that make prosperity possible.”
Conservative opposition to any new tax ignores the
undeniable, historic fact that prosperity depends upon
having a viable educational system and a well
functioning infrastructure. Rather than invest in
something that pays itself back many times over, the
Republicans have led the effort to starve public
education of desperately needed revenue.”

“The good news is polling consistently shows that the
California voters are willing to pay for a quality
public education system. The hurdle to putting these
poll numbers to the test has been getting such a
historic choice and opportunity onto the ballot. It
appears that this November Californians just may
finally have a chance to make their voices heard.”

“The American people are right to be concerned about
our education system,” writes Diana Epstein, senior
education policy analyst at the Center for American
Progress. “The United States suffers from persistent
achievement gaps between groups of students defined by
race or family income. And our students also rank well
behind those in economically competitive countries on
international academic-achievement tests. Racial and
income achievement gaps run counter to America’s
founding ideals of an equal and just society. Further,
lower levels of achievement are also associated with
poorer health, lower earnings, and higher levels of
incarceration.”

Noting that federal education spending is projected to
be reduced by 8 percent or 9 percent next year, Epstein
writes, “Cuts of this magnitude will make it far more
difficult for schools to provide the education that our
students need in order to grow our economy and rebuild
the middle class. Deeper cuts would put our students
even further behind where they need to be.”

Taking aim at the education cuts contained in the
budget proposals of the Republicans in the House of
Representatives, Epstein continues: the cuts “are
shortsighted and harmful for a number of reasons. First
of all, continued investment in education is critical
in order to put our economy on the path to sustained
growth. Second, a reduction in federal support would
take resources away from critically important programs
at a time when states are also making significant cuts
to education. Third, federal education programs provide
more equitable resources for students who need it most
– without federal support, many hard-fought gains would
erode for children living in poverty.”

“To achieve desired levels of economic growth and live
up to our founding ideals, the United States must
increase the overall level of achievement of students
in the K-12 education system and close both
international achievement gaps and the persistent
achievement gaps between groups of American children
defined by ethnicity or family income. Simply put, the
House budget plan is a huge step in the wrong
direction.”

What are needed now are big steps in the right
direction, something missing from the much discussed
proposals emanating from either the conservative or the
liberal reformers.

What the Rice-Klein panel’s recommendations do not
include is adequate warning about the harm being
currently inflicted on the nation’s schools, or the
crying need to call a halt to the funding cutbacks and
teacher layoffs. Thus it avoids what I think is the
question at the heart of the situation: why do there
have to be “underperforming schools” and why is it that
the richest and most powerful country on the planet
appears to be unwilling or unable to afford to
adequately educate its younger generations?
_____________

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice
is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly
worked for a healthcare union.

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