Nick Hanauer is described as “founder of the public-policy incubator Civic Ventures.” His piece in The Atlantic called “Better Public Schools Won’t Fix America,” is an admission that the corporate message we’ve heard for years that schools will fix the problems of the economy and society is false. Most of us knew this.
Here is some of what Nick Hanauer says.
What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.
The article became more significant when President Obama, the Race to the Top President, weighed in to say he agreed with Hanauer. Many were pleased and irritated.
The President said:
This is worth a read: a thought-provoking reminder that education reform isn’t a cure-all. As a supporter of education reform, I agree that fixing educational inequality requires doing more to address the broader, systemic sources of economic inequality.
Hanauer’s article comes at a time when many parents have given up on public education, so his words and Obama’s agreement come a little late. What will either do about their epiphanies? Will they work with other wealthy corporate reformers to help create better, great public schools?
The title of Hanauer’s article is worrisome too because, although we know that public schools won’t fix America, public schools are critical for educating the masses. Ninety percent of America’s children attend public schools. It’s important that he adds, To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools.
If Hanauer and President Obama and other wealthy citizens who have impacted public education in a negative way through corporate reform want to right the wrongs of such reform here are some ways they can do it. They can advocate for policy changes and push to:
- Lower class sizes. Start with K-3rd grade where children learn to read. Give middle and high school students access to at least one class that is small enough for a teacher to get to know students so they can spot potential problems and provide students personal attention.
- End the quest to privatize schools. Support school boards in the decisions surrounding their local constituencies. Public school decisions should be made by the local school boards, parents, teachers, and the community closest to the students.
- End charter schools. Quit creating a system of parallel charter schools. Ensure that all charters have the oversight of local school boards. The scandals surrounding these schools and their negative impact on traditional public schools is too great to ignore.
- Address overcrowded schools. Assist local school districts that struggle to build or refurbish new schools. If philanthropists want to help fix public education, here’s where they could shine.
- Limit test taking. It’s important to administer some assessment to better understand student progress, but it shouldn’t be punish students and teachers. Use test scores to help not destroy public schools. End high-stakes testing!
- Put the arts back in school. Don’t choose a few students in schools to get Turnaround Arts. Put art in the curriculum in every school! Give every child a chance to step away from academics and be creative.
- Make sure children get music. The movie Mr. Holland’s Opus was made in 1995. The movie’s ending was a troubling but realistic sign that many schools were losing their music programs. Music, choir, band, and orchestra keep children in school. Without music, schools are cheerless.
- Quit pushing children into careers. It’s important for high school seniors to formulate some understanding of their interests for when they leave high school, but many corporations are pushing their agenda onto students earlier than ever before. Students need the chance to learn subjects that give them ideas as to what they want to do with their futures.
- Ensure that every child has access to great school libraries. Children need quality books and credentialed librarians. We know this improves learning for students.
- Fix or rebuild crumbling facilities. This problem has been around for years. It’s important that students, teachers, parents, and the community take pride in their school buildings. They should be up-to-date and safe facilities.
- Ensure that special education and ELL services are available. The learning needs of all children should be addressed. IDEA should not be ignored.
- Insist that teachers have credentials. Quit pandering to Teach for America and groups that lack training for the positions in which they’re placed. Work towards a more knowledgeable and better-prepared professional teacher and school administrator.
- Technology has its place. While technology has a place in public schools, it should not replace teachers and staff. More care should be taken as to how data is collected and used when it involves children.
- Bring students together. Charters and choice divide us. We need diverse schools that bring students together, that teach children how to be tolerant and accept the differences among us.
There are other changes that have been made to public schools that must be corrected. Nick Hanauer and President Obama are in a position to help us rewrite how public schools should be run. The question is, will they?
Let me know if you have more to add to the list.