I’ve read just a bit about your early life in Seattle – not enough to know how you dealt with economic downturns in those years, but enough to guess that, as one whose father was a lawyer and whose mother was on the board of a bank, it’s possible that you have not had to weather the full impact of recessions in the same way that my students have in Salem, Oregon.
The issues I have with you involve your views on testing, teaching, and the effects that large class sizes have on the education and well-being of children.
Truly, it is an amazing phenomenon to see the effects of a recession. What starts as someone you know losing a job and on statistics being reported in the news translates into ripple effects throughout society that impact our most vulnerable, our children, the greatest.
I am a special ed. teacher, and I have found the following:
During times of economic crisis,
more parents are out of work.
This puts more pressure on families, and sometimes results in separation or divorce.
More children have instability at home, regarding housing, food, emotional support, or all three.
More children are at risk for abuse or neglect.
More children are at risk for being homeless.
More children are at risk for having their parents engage in substance abuse or domestic violence.
More children have their education impacted in a negative way, because of factors outside of school.
At the same time, schools have fewer resources to deal with the above problems.
Counseling positions are cut, at a time when more students need this support at school.
Student/teacher ratios increase, at a time when more students needs individual attention.
Turnover in staff at schools increases, at a time when students need more stability.
Special education programs can’t expand quickly enough to meet the demands of kids with greater needs.
In every case, in every way, children are the losers, because they are the most vulnerable.
If a realistic picture of the present situation could be painted, it would not simply be, “We are trying to do more with less,” or “We’ll make it work, somehow.”
And, it sure as heck wouldn’t be, “Let’s raise standards! More testing! Greater accountability! More rigor!”
The picture would be the American Flag flown upside-down, a signal of distress.
It would be a child crying in the hall, because he doesn’t know if he will eat that night, or where he will sleep.
It would be the kid who says, “Daddy lost his job. He hits mommy. Mommy and I are living with grandma, for now.”
And, for too many, it will be a white flag. “I surrender.” “I do not know what to do, and there is nobody here to help me.” “Where is Miss Smith? She was here last year, but now she’s not. I miss her.”
Too many children are waving white flags right now.
Bill, you have the power to help. What you are doing, however, is using your billions to put a greater burden on those who are trying to make a positive difference in children’s lives, while they are being attacked on all sides by the ignorant and the powerful. I would, respectfully, suggest that you listen a little less to Michelle Rhee, and a lot more to Diane Ravitch. Here’s a start:
“Our schools will not improve if we expect them to act like private, profit-seeking enterprises. Schools are not businesses; they are a public good. The goal of education is not to produce higher scores, but to educate children to become responsible people with well-developed minds and good character. Schools should not be expected to turn a profit in the form of value-added scores. The unrelenting focus on data that has become commonplace in recent years is distorting the nature and quality of education.”
– Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System – How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
Powerful words, Bill. Please heed them.