"It's about that time. Back to school and besides the excitement and stress a new school year brings be it student, parent or teacher, there is this lingering question many have. What is really going on in education? Is it poor performing teachers? An outdated education system? Lack of funds? Irresponsible parents? Or some combination? "
The above quote was the opening paragraph to Pt. I of this series. As I stated then, these are but symptoms to a larger problem I outlined as the results of economic crisis, greed, and stress on the system. While people fuss and fume over trying to fix and blame these symptoms that present themselves to the every day parent as a vague cloud of smoke that seemingly can't be addressed, the real problem is the age old one--money.
I promised to go over this article in Pt. I, Why I Left Public Education Behind, published in the Washington Post and written by fellow teacher here in SE Michigan. You will notice that Keiles starts her profession revved up on the mission at hand--educating children. For her, at the beginning, it was all about her passion and not about pay or benefits. But, when she wasn't allowed to live her passion anymore because of various mandates and lack of resources to meet them on top of the lack of effectiveness of those mandates, 'the straw that breaks the camel's back' becomes things she once said she didn't care about. Do you notice the shift? Suddenly things like inadequate pay (frozen for years to be exact), benefits, hours etc., become too unbearable Many of the comments in the Washington Post from readers online chastise her because they see her living in a "posh" district and transitioning into an even more "posh" private school. Granted, where she works is largely white middle class students but that is dramatically changing too for this district. Still, what people really don't realize about the public school district she worked in that received 5.3 million dollars is that expenditures were in the 70 million range. For example, the middle school I worked in at this very same district was built in the 1950's with poor ventilation and air, congested hallways and lack of resources. Another middle school in the same district (that is now being replaced) was so old it never had air conditioning and was so confined that classes had to be held outside in the warmer months. I was there. It wasn't just warm or hot, it was suffocating hot. Meanwhile, while every staff members pay was frozen, including my own, administration still received raises, and bonuses and money was used to give schools things like flat screen TV's as if that was an urgent need. In other words, monies haven't always been used wisely.
In other words, it's greed folks. Greed so that those in the higher pay brackets can keep their lifestyle and then some admist an economic crunch. Greed to make schooling a "business" rather than a national priority. Here's what happened. When the economic crisis hit and hit again, various entities got into survivor mode. What do you do in survivor mode? You become focused on your own self, not others. For a time, we had Bush with "No Child Left Behind" and Bill and Melinda Gates trying to change education by shifting the blame onto schools themselves and teachers. The testing we used to do suddenly became inadequate. We had to do more testing and more testing. Then we had to add that if the students didn't clear all those tests, schools would lose funding. I'm still not sure whether this was part of the plan to undermine public education or not but if not, the Bushes and The Gates played right into the hands of the cause to break schools. With the Bushes and the Gates, the demands on schools got tighter, more impossible and hasn't seemed to really affect much in a positive way though you might find some good here and there. For example, there was an out cry, you may remember, about teacher tenure and all these "bad" teachers were getting their way without reproach or motivating accountabilities to do and be better. Accountability is always a good thing as well as motivators. However, this has now developed into a huge monolith that is now closing public schools and transforming those that do exist (or barely surviving) into charter like existence where parents and staff pay for their own supplies and pay for extra curricular activities and the like. In our state, for some reason, there are even state funded charter schools that are considered like "emergency" take overs for poor performing schools. They come in with their own curriculum and own teachers and still the schools are failing miserably. Yet, I still think that is yet another thing to point out to say "See, we tried to save schools but it didn't work" because the standards and the lack of resources to meet them is impossible. And, the word is, it is meant to be impossible.
Before I share with you how I know this, I want to add that along with this, Teacher Unions (along with all unions) are not being dismantled which would shock people into a revolt...instead they are being castrated and made powerless much like public schools themselves. They are yet another barrier to treating employees as not having rights to protest. Teacher unions now stand as a sort of twisted, fun house mirror reflection of what is being done to public schools--made defunct. Classrooms that were 15-20 students are now 30-40. Teachers and principals can't keep up with all the paperwork, meetings, testing as well as keeping down their level of frustrations over the lack of resources to meet the demands.
So how do I know this. I encourage you to read this small report at the following link Economic Crisis and Educational Decline. To sum the article up, countries across the board have a huge decline in the amount of monies they are allocating to public education (The United States among some of the worst) while demanding more out of teachers and the system without the resources. The question is why? As much as people want to say folks in Washington are idiots, they may be out of touch with the reality most of the common folk live in, but they aren't idiots with stopping or pushing measures they want through the congress. This is no oversight or miscalculation around education.
So what's really going on here? The reality: the US government in particular wants to get out of the business of funding education. Period. The government doesn't want the public school system to work because they need to cut programs in order to make up for the national debt. So why not cut the thing our future needs most? The education of our children? How God awful. As I said earlier, all the symptoms and naming and blaming are smoke and mirrors while public schools are closing and consolidating to survive left and right. Why? Because school can be big business (and isn't that what you want to send your child to?) and take the weight off of the government. In a business sense, this does make sense. It is not really getting rid of schools if charters replace them, right? But at what cost, when you have business tycoons running schools? Do you want a Donald Trump as principal? I don't. I interviewed at one charter school, and it was a horror to behold not only the disconnect of the charter school principal called a CEO, but also his lack of ability to even speak the English language.
Just this last year, out of total happen-stance, I sat down with a soon-to-be retired captain in the Navy who was visiting a local school I was in. In no uncertain terms, he told me that the buzz in government circles he was in is (which was pretty high up though I won't names name here), despite the public face on resurrecting public education into some ideal glory day fantasy, the real goal was to kill it. It is a wind that escapes out of Washington every now and again that I hear; dismantle public education. Most teachers, especially those now unemployed, know that the charter schools is what our state in particular is aiming for with this particular Governor. But, this is something going on in many states. All you have to do is look around to see the evidence of lesser public schools in existence (we have a city right near me that now has no public middle or high schools) and the rise of charter and online k-12 schools. Instead of being honest about this transition, a cloud of smoke and mirrors is causing a lot of confusion, frustration, and hurting those teachers in the field as well as the students under them. Why not just be honest? Charter and online schools aren't without some merit so why don't we have a discussion? I'm sure those that see funding education as something to kill fear the outcry and that the public might have but do they have the right then to manipulate us because they don't have control over our right to vote? I must say, it is a rather complex, clever little monster that has been created to motivate the public by crumbling the system like the Two Towers on 9/11. We will look around in panic...what is happening? what will replace our schools...oh, lookie..we already got charter schools ready to replace it...isn't that special?
A question many of us ask of government is why does government cut the most desperately needed programs like education and social services? We all know it's because none of those things serve the upper class who already have their education and don't need many social services. I was watching the news just the other night and a reporter talked about asking a congress woman about what she thought about the gas problem. The Congress woman replied, "There's a problem?". She had a driver who took care of all that.
Will charter and online schools be a terrible replacement? I have my own feelings about it and I think you can guess what that might be. I don't think it will be the end of the world as we know it so don't misunderstand me. I think there are good and even great charter schools out there, but not enough. It just may be our government may need to learn the hard way. Their intent to totally dismantle public education may not work completely. Maybe it will be a good lesson for the country. Ready class? Let's begin. The problem that bothers me is the greed and the mess apparently created to get us to "want" to agree to de-fund public education and go to charter like schools. It is sort of like breaking up with someone over a 10 year period when it could be done in one day just because of fear of backlash. If the government could prove in the beginning that we have no choice, then fine. But the fact is, more than likely, there was a choice. Other things could be done to decrease our debt without all this nonsense, destroying careers, education, and putting children under stress. At the very least, the Gates should ask for a refund for the time and money they spent on a system our government was determined to fail.