This past week President Obama sat down to a lovely salmon dinner with a few teachers with inspirational stories, to discuss his new program to get excellent teachers for children in poor school districts.
The problem of poor children in school is critical. Educational Week reported last fall that almost half the students in America are now disadvantaged.
The President and Arne Duncan are devising a new “technical assistance network,” for states and local school districts, to implement new plans. Arne is quick to say they are not sure of the penalties for noncompliance, but they want transparency.
That they have to already mention penalties makes me uncomfortable. And frankly, I’d like a little transparency from them too. The goals Duncan addresses in his letter, and the generalized education speak, provide little clarity as to what they are looking for from the states. But I can guess.
Furthermore, despite Duncan’s letter, it appears that their myopic outlook focuses primarily on teaching and data again and not on a host of other serious issues confronting children in poor schools today. Here are examples:
1. Scathing reports have recently come out in the Detroit Free Press and by The Florida League of Women’s Voters, and there are many others, that should trouble the president about charter school corruption. Most of these schools are segregated and provide little if any accountability to the public. America is bleeding dollars to these schools, and there is no sign of an emergency transfusion to real public schools any time soon.
2. When they talk about getting quality teachers with classroom experience, why should we trust them? They haven’t stood by current experienced teachers. Duncan supported Vergara, which will deny due process to teachers, and the President’s right hand man Robert Gibbs will be working with former CNN anchor Campbell Brown to pull off another Vergara in New York. This administration needs to serve more than a salmon dinner to indicate they sincerely want to support good teachers for disadvantaged students.
3. Where are the ed. schools? A while back there was policy talk about the need to work with these schools. Here is the prime opportunity to do so. I see the need for strong coursework and applicable experience dealing with the problems of poor children. I’m afraid this administration is really talking about the fast-track Teach for America types that provide little stability to children in these schools. Or, are they planning a total conversion to online charter schools? Yes. I am that paranoid.
4. Duncan often says that there is “no single solution” to the problems for poor children in school, but academically they are pushing the same “one-size-fits-all” Common Core State Standards. How long are they going to be able to ignore the differences in children? Or are they trying to ignore special education and get rid of the services?
5. Here is a new question for the administration to hash over. They always discuss disadvantaged children like they all have low abilities. Well what about disadvantaged children that are gifted and talented? How will they be served by Common Core State Standards? Who’s even bothering to identify these kids?
6. Along with no. 5, we know that all children, including disadvantaged children, flourish in the arts. The arts include music, art, drama, and dance and they should be included in every public school. Sadly, many poor children miss out on the arts, because they are prepping for high-stakes tests. And blending the arts into the academics isn’t necessarily bad, but currently this is being used as a substitute for real art programs. Children deserve the arts and real credentialed art teachers!
7. Speaking of high-stakes testing–parents, and the students, across the country are sick of them. They are detrimental to the well-being of all children, especially the disadvantaged.
8. If you want to do something for poor children, lower their class sizes, especially in K-3rd grade, and quit the flunking. There is a huge amount of research on both these issues.
9. Where are the wrap-around services for children in the early years, and quality preschool programs that are based on sound child developmental research?
10. A safe and healthy environment was mentioned. Many schools in this country, especially in urban and rural areas, do not fit that description. A comprehensive facility assessment of schools, considering up-to-date building codes is warranted. There are many schools across the nation that are old and need repairs and renovations. Special consideration should be taken when it comes to schools that could be dangerous in tornadoes and earthquakes.
11. Disadvantaged children need counselors, social workers and school nurses to help them rise above their conditions, which sometimes can include homelessness, and they need access to good health care and assistance getting it. Every child in this country should have access to medical and dental care!
12. The community itself, whether parents have jobs, and whether they have access to a living wage, will affect how a child does in school.
This is a list of what should be done to assist poor children and help create quality schools for the disadvantaged.
Teachers are only a part of the puzzle.
Sparks, Sarah D. 2013. “Poor Children Are Now a Majority in 17 States’ Public Schools.” Education Week. 33 (9): p.6.