September 2011: Featured Post
On a monthly basis, lifeseek.org will be featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age. Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.
So we come to the final entry of this discussion/dialogue regarding the shift in education. In the original article, The Schoolhouse Rocks (Aug 2010), we briefly discussed No Child Left Behind, it’s implications for American education, both positive and negative. We ended that article by acknowledging a need to return to the basics; that is an understanding of education and its core intent, which is to pull out of children what is already innately there. In The Schoolhouse Rocks (The Graduate Level: February 2011), we examine some of the current government trends regarding education. Specifically, we touched on No Child Left Behind’s flaws regarding testing and then President Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative. We also looked at some brutal facts regarding American education, specifically in the black community. Some of these glaring facts put in perspective how FAR we have to go to close achievement gaps and provide a truly FAIR education for ALL children. In this final entry we will examine the money factor and address the issue that many point to when we see that schools are failing our children.
“Mo Money, Mo Money, Mo Money”
As an educatior in the state of Pennsylvania one of my primary concerns (as it was for many) was the budget situation
that all states were faced with this spring. Many states made drastic cuts to their funding and for several states the most aggressive cuts effected school districts. What’s even worse is that many of the larger inner city districts were effected the most . . . The issue is money, right? . . . Now, some will argue that “money” does not guarantee a better education or a more successful system. I would venture to agree to a certain extent. Money is not the “Be All” in determining how successful students will be in school but one cannot deny its impact on public education, particularly the success of minority students. Students are byproducts of their social, psychological, physical, and emotional environments. They bring ALL of this to school each day and teachers are charged with the job of opening their minds, exposing them to new concepts, and inspiring them to think critically and creatively about various processes. Where does the money factor fit in, though? The average teacher CAN’T go into the profession for financial reasons, because most teachers are not paid for the amount of work they put in. I would venture to say that money is one factor in how successful our schools will be, but it is not the most pertinent.
“Mo Money, Mo Problems”
Let’s take a look at three suburban districts in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. All three districts serve a majority Caucasian population, however, they all serve minority students as well. Abington School District services approximately 7,500 students of which roughly 23% of the student population is African American. Upper Dublin School District services approximately 4,265 students with roughly 12% of their population being African-American. Finally, Lower Merion School District service 6,943 with roughly 10% of their population being African-American. I highlight the African-American population because in many school districts they represent the largest “minority” population and the achievement gap, in many cases effects them the most. Each district has a fiscal spending responsibility for each student . . . therefore, based on the “Mo Money” concept, the district spending the most money should have the “greatest” impact on student achievement, but is that the case?
Upper Dublin School District spent approximately $15,148 per student in 2008-2009, while Abington School District spend about $15,871 per student, and Lower Merion spend about $25,714 per student. Now, in order to determine the district who has the greatest efficacy we will examine the standardized test scores required by No Child Left Behind to determine whether or not students are attaining what the state has called, “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP). These scores are representative of each district for both reading and mathematics for grades 3-8, and grade 11.
In 2009-2010 Upper Dublin School District’s (UDSD) students performed at 87% proficiency in reading (this represents ALL students), while their African American students scored at a proficiency level of 63%. This state required in 2010 for all students to be at LEAST 63% proficient in reading in 2010 (this target increases by at least 9% until it reaches 100% in 2014). UDSD performed at 89% proficiency in math (All students) while the African-American students performed at 65% proficiency. The state requirement for math was 56% for all students.
Abington School District’s students performed at 84% proficiency in reading (all students) while their African-American students performed at a level of 70% proficient. The Math scores for all students was 88% proficient in reading with 75% of the African-American population scoring proficient.
Lower Merion School District’s (LMSD) students were 91% proficient in reading with 61% of their African American students scoring proficient. In Math, LMSD students scored 84% proficient with 34% of their African Americans students hitting the proficient mark.
I don’t highlight these numbers to attack Lower Merion, but I point to them because I believe that the issues go far deeper then the district(s) pockets. I believe the issue stems from a gradual change in the societal perceptions of teachers and public education in general. In the olden days (60’s – 80’s) teachers were looked at as pillars in the community, moral guides, and respected professionals. However, over time, as the media, lawmakers, & politics have played more of a role in educational decisions, therefore our perceptions and priorities regarding education have changed.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T . . . Just a LITTLE bit . .
You’ve heard the phrase, “those who can’t do, teach,” right? Of course you have . . . many fail to realize how offensive this is to teachers. It stems from a systemic lack of respect and understanding for both the ART and Science of teaching. This summer we heard a heated debate regarding the NFL season which involved the Player Associations “bout” with NFL owners over how to split up roughly $6 Billion Dollars. This debate caught lots of media attention and people wanted their football seasons to start on-time! Why? Because they like the sport. They respect what these athletes do. I know I do and I look forward to watching the Philadelphia Eagles win a Super Bowl this year (shameless plug, I know); however, teachers don’t get this same level of respect. See, education is NOT a priority for America . . . we’d rather be entertained by our televisions, video games, and sports . . . but teachers have a daunting task before them day in and day out . . . and I don’t say this because I’m an educator. I say this because I work in an environment with 40 of the hardest working humans I’ve ever met and everyday watch them pour their hearts into their life’s work . . . teaching. But for years, teachers have been viewed by many as simply, glorified babysitters. Yes, they have your kids for 6 or more hours per day and very few people have taken the time to consider what they do on a daily basis. We respect doctors, their work, the insurance rates they pay, the years of education . . . the internships and residencies and etc. We respect lawyers, the amount of reading they do, the years of law school, and late night hours preparing statements and documents. But when it comes to teachers, those who shape the minds of our future doctors, lawyers, and politicians, we quickly forget that they too had to do internships, student teaching, induction programs, that they have to prepare comprehensive lesson plans that account not only for the learning that will take place but anticipate the questions of students while planning back-up lessons in case the first one doesn’t work. How they endure reading pages of students work, write responses, while taking care not to crush the spirit of children who are experimenting with new skills. How they write individualized education plans for special education students and plan to assist those with learning disabilities to reach the very same goals as everyone else. How they spend endless nights grading tests, analyzing data and adapting their instruction to meet the needs of EACH individual students. They serve on committees, often time without extra pay, to plan for programs that will improve their schools, they are unofficial parents, guardians, brothers, sisters , psychologists, psychiatrists, confidants, advocates, safety nets, friends, and for some, the only representation of real love for a child . . . all this while navigating a system that has been inundated with lawsuits, attacks from the media and political red tape that threaten to undermine the integrity of American education. You see, teachers are in a sense, doctors in the classroom; they diagnose educational issues, prescribe the right curricular medication, and applying it until a student shows growth. They are lawyers because they KNOW the law (curriculum) and they work tirelessly to find out how to make that curriculum (law) FIT each student so that they get the MOST of the experience. They are architects of the classrooms, constructing lessons that will require scaffolding of information to take students from one level to the next . . . They’re not glorified babysitters, or lazy people who stand in front of classrooms; they’re professionals, whose jobs require the type of patience, love, and mental capacity that many people could not dream of on a regular basis.
Back to the Future . . .
It’s time for the public to get behind our schools, to support our children, and to apply pressure to our politicians whose salaries are 2 – 4 times that of teachers, but whose impact on kids is often minuscule at best. The purpose is to let our governments know that our kids are worth more than a few test scores given one time per year, that our teachers deserve to be treated as the professionals they are and that we begin see and understand the value of public education. Yes, the test scores have some merit, but teachers and districts cannot be judge ultimately on them until WE, the parents, guardians, and the general public begin to care more about our kids than we do our sports. The old adage that it takes a “Village to Raise a Child” is still true today . . . the village has lost its way. We’ve allowed television, video games, and music to raise our kids. We need parents to show up to report card conferences, and communities to support school initiatives, we need local businesses to sponsor our children and show them that they care . . . there’s so much that can be done so that those 40 African-American students in Lower Merion understand that they’re worth more than a test score . . . so that the 7500 students in Abington know that we, as a community and country believe in them for what they can achieve. See, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart . . . our hearts have grown cold towards our children, their future, and their potential. I know our children can achieve, even beyond the test scores . . . if WE simply believe in them . . . support our schools, and accept nothing less than excellence from our politicians.
The school house rocks . . . and it’s time for the rocks to cry out.
Question 1: What is your opinion of teachers? Do you think they deserve the same level of respect as other professionals?
Question 2: Do you think Education can be salvaged in its current state? What changes need to be made immediately?
Question 3: Will more money solve some of the prevailing problems in education today?
1) National center for educational statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sdds/ed/index.asp?st=PA
3) Report card on the schools. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.philly.com/philly/education/report_card/
4) Pennsylvania department of education. (2011). Retrieved from http://pa.gov/portal/server.pt/community/pennsylvania_accountability_system_(pas)/8752/faq/510193
5) Pennsylvania department of education academic achievement report. (2011). Retrieved from http://paayp.emetric.net/