From the New York Times today,
After several years of state and local budget cuts, thousands of school districts across the nation are gutting summer-school programs, cramming classes into four-day weeks or lopping days off the school year, even though virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time.
I see no value in adding time to school days to simply do more of what isn’t working otherwise, but I am deeply troubled that these significant shifts in policy are happening with little public deliberation. Wealthy private school students can readily fall back on private resources if their schools aren’t serving their needs. Poor children have no such fall-backs.
The comments following this article are telling.
Many commenters see the irony in the public simultaneously expecting higher performance from students and their teachers while also refusing to invest in the basic levels of support that schools need to at least keep their doors open for a regular school year.
But many others see this as yet another problem created by teachers. If teachers would only take pay concessions on their “bloated” salaries and benefits, they argue, schools could stay open. These writers seem to feel no obligation to do the basic math or to verify their assumptions (public school teachers make twice the salaries of private school teachers and retire at age 50 …).
And still others argue that private schools do better with less, that schools are too broken to repair, that poor kids won’t benefit from more schooling anyway.
In my state, there is no longer any broader conversation about core values, core social commitments, or the basic levels of funding needed to sustain basic levels of shared public life. There is only talk about taxation. By citizen initiative, all new taxes must pass by a super-majority in the Legislature or be sent directly to the voters. Even minimal taxes on junk food have been rescinded. We have no state income tax. Voters turned down an initiative to begin taxing incomes of only the very wealthiest citizens, and the argument was simply that this initiative was “the camel’s nose under the tent” and everyone’s income would soon be taxed.
I’m reminded of Ruby Payne who argues that the poor live in a present orientation and therefore can’t think strategically about building positive futures. Among the poor, we are to understand, this is dysfunctional behavior reflective of dysfunctional values.
But among the rest of us, though, saving pennies of taxes on our Big Gulps as support for poor children crumbles is understood to be be evidence of fiscal responsibility.
A friend of mine (who is going to school in the hopes of becoming a high school teacher) was trying to find a high school in the area with a summer school program so she could volunteer. What did she find? In the largest school district in the largest city in the state, one (1) high school was offering summer school classes. That’s it. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m genuinely afraid of what is happening to public schools. And considering the chatter I’ve heard about privatizing things, I’m afraid that someone is going to have the bright idea of privatizing K-12 education, which would be a catastrophe.