Our Nation and Education

By Joya Cooper

“Detroit is closing more than 40 schools, Kansas City wants to close more than 40 Percent of its school buildings. Other cities have been closing schools over the last decade.”

1 “Today, there are some 1,039[+] independent school districts in Texas.”2 Schools all over Texas, as well as all over the country have been shutting down. Lately, due to the $2 billion cut from Texas education, schools have had to shut down at an even more astounding rate. If there are over 1,000 independent school districts in Texas, I can’t even imagine how many of our Texas public schools have had to close and how many of our precious teachers have had to find other work. At the same time, due to the recent Recession, parents of public school students all over the country have lost their jobs and have been forced to take lower paying jobs as well as multiple jobs just to stay afloat. It is pretty obvious that the cut in the Texas education budget and our Recession has a lot to do with our current education problems, but it is so much more complicated than that.

Many of our students are not going to school, whether due to lack of help and motivation at home, lack of self esteem due to peer pressure, or one of scores of reasons students skip and drop out of public schools. “American families generally do not sufficiently value education and students often lack initiative and concentration.”3 When parents are working 2-3+ jobs to get the bills paid, little time is left after dinner is made and the house is cleaned up to help the children with their homework or talk to them about their day. With simple changes such as a study-buddy system or cheap school uniforms, our public school students can get through this Recession without adding many more duties to their parents’ to-do list. A study-buddy system would help the students that don’t have a parent or mentor to help them with school work. Students with absent parents can call or visit a classmate or peer and get assistance with their work, and even have a way to vent if they’ve had a tough day. School uniforms that are cheap (a black polo or collared shirt, navy slacks, and plain black sneakers) make all students equal in appearance, so that apparel style is not an issue. Also, the low income parents can apply to get reduced cost or free uniforms. This would boost self esteem in the children that have very few clothing and feel “unfashionable” or feel that they don’t fit in. These are just two of an infinite number of simple changes that can create a tremendous impact on the performance of a student. When the student doesn’t have other things weighing on their mind, they can simply be a student, and reach their potential. As stated by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), “In 1990-91, one out of every four public school teacher cited lack of parent involvement as a serious problem in their schools.”4 That’s 25.5% according to their studies, and when surveying school principals, 14.5% said lack of parent involvement is a serious problem as well as 14.9% saying poverty is a serious problem. These two problems are very closely related. This survey was done 20 years ago; now that our country is at crisis level, millions of children living in poverty, these numbers are larger than ever. My senior year, in 2001, we started the year with approximately 600 students. When the year ended, my graduating class was a little over half that number. Now adolescents are having to leave school early to help their families with the bills and rent, as well as many other reasons for recent public school drop-outs.

Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford University, team member of President Barack Obama’s education transition team, and author of the 2009 book “The Flat World and Education” stated “I don’t think necessarily that public education is dead, but certain parts of it are dying. The programs of the 1960s and 1970s that helped make education more equitable were mostly eliminated in the 1980s and never put back. We’re disinvesting in a significant way. With the huge decline in America of manual labor jobs that are being off-shored or digitalized, the vast majority of job are knowledge based. If we do not invest that way, we really can’t survive as a nation.”5 The job market of tomorrow will be nothing like the job market of our past, and our children need to be prepared for this. We need to revamp our school system so that it changes with our changing America. We speak of the downfall of our educational system as if it used to be amazing or superior, when we have always struggled to be a top country in education. “American public education is best thought of, historically, as mediocre. It was a serviceable system for preparing students for an agrarian or assembly-line world in which only an elite pursued higher education.”6 Believe it or not, our system was made so that people would “fall through the cracks” on purpose. There are hundreds of thousands of manual labor jobs, and somebody will have to fill those positions. That’s the sort of statement that really makes you think. Do we want to let that be our future, or do we want change? Darling-Hammond “cites the example of Korea, which ‘in the space of one generation… moved from a nation that educated less than a quarter of its citizens through high school to one that now ranks third in college-educated adults…In Singapore, where 80 percent of families live in public housing, was tops in the world in fourth-grade and eighth-grade math assessments in 2003. When children leave the tiny apartments they occupy in high-rises throughout the city, they arrive at colorful, airy school buildings where student artwork, papers, projects, and awards are displayed throughout, libraries and classrooms are well-stocked, instructional technology is plentiful, and teachers are well trained. [In America], the last serious education president is considered to be Lyndon Johnson.’… Johnson once said you cannot ‘take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others.’”7 We need education to be viewed as a positive, but today more and more of our youth see school as a waste of time. When children don’t get positive reinforcement, they will not feel proud of their accomplishments. Too often our youth are punished more frequently than praised, and it shows.

So far, parents, communities, teachers, schools and students have been discussed. What about the government? “We have also failed to hold the entire government-controlled school system accountable for its performance…”8 “The average expenditure on college students in the United States amounts to $24,400 per college student, two and a half times more than the $9,800 per-pupil spending in the public schools. Beneath the numbers is the re-segregation of children on the basis of class, race, and immigration status.” 9 This couldn’t be more obvious as you read the next quote, and this is one that almost everyone in Texas is at least somewhat familiar with. “…The model for the 2002 federal education plan, No Child Left Behind, the Texas accountability system measures and holds schools and districts accountable for student performance on assessment tests and dropout rates. Campuses and districts each year receive an accountability rating based on the percentage of all students and the four student groups (white, Hispanic, African American, and economically disadvantaged) that pass the state’s assessment tests at grades three through eleven. The rating also considers the overall student dropout rate and each individual student group.”10 I don’t understand why the four student groups were primarily based upon race, why would race ever relate to grades and assessments? I understand that economically disadvantaged youth would be one of the groups, but the other three should be based on the mind, not physical appearance. Government spending is a bigger issue than our public schools’ ability to give an assessment. I hope that soon the government will start holding itself accountable for its actions, and helps us by fixing our broken education system.

As I conclude this little rant on education, I want to leave you with a little “food for thought”, and the pun was intended, sorry. Thanks to the guys at Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, we have a nice little proposal to solve our problem in government spending. The title of this exercise is;

US Defense Budget, Explained with OREO Cookies.”

* 1 cookie= $10 billion

Pentagon40 cookies

K-12 education3 ½ cookies

World hunger1 cookie

Alternative energy¼ cookie

Children’s healthcare4 cookies

Head Start¾ cookie

If we remove 5 cookies per year from the Pentagon, that would leave us:

Pentagon35 cookies

K-12 education4 ½ cookies (+1 to rebuild our schools)

World hunger3 cookies (+2 to feed all 6 million hungry kids around the world)

Alternative energy1 ¼ cookies (+1 to get rid of our dependency on mid-east oil)

Children’s healthcare4 ½ cookies (+½ to give all kids health insurance who have none)

Head Start1 cookie (+¼ to help kids have a brighter future)

What about our military? Won’t we be vulnerable to other countries?

Russia7 cookies

China5 cookies

Middle East and Korealess than 1 cookie ALL TOGETHER

Thanks Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream! Now we understand that our budget can be changed so that everyone stays on top without sacrificing our US Defense!11

Works Cited:

1 “The Death of Public Education; lack of money is killing our schools” (Derrick Z. Jackson)

2 “An Overview of the History of Public Education in Texas” (TEA)

3 “The Failure of American Public Education” (John Hood)

4 “What are the Most Serious Problems in Schools?” (NCES)

5 “The Death of Public Education; lack of money is killing our schools” (Derrick Z. Jackson)

6 “The Failure of American Public Education” (John Hood)

7 “The Death of Public Education; lack of money is killing our schools” (Derrick Z. Jackson)

8 “The Failure of American Public Education” (John Hood)

9 “The Death of Public Education; lack of money is killing our schools” (Derrick Z. Jackson)

10 “An Overview of the History of Public Education in Texas” (TEA)

11 “US Defense Budget, Explained with OREO Cookies” http://www.truemajority.org

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