CUI BONO? WHO BENEFITS?
As our old institutions – education, health, welfare, criminal justice – become systematized and fail, ask yourself the question: Cui bono? Who benefits from what we have now?
You will find again and again that the systems are not failing for those running them, the failures are coming for those who should be served by them.
That reality is glaringly obvious in our system of public education where what is bad just gets worse. Wrong-headed thinking, political “solutions” rather than educational ones, the overwhelming lure of Federal money, the inadequate education of our teachers, the power and influence of the education publishing and testing industries, the failure of the teacher’s union to elevate the profession and the essential disappearance of parents from the daily role they used to play – have all combined to produce less and less over the past thirty years. The spiral is down and falling every year.
People in this system who should be serving children, are not. They care more about themselves and what they want and can get from the system than they do about our children and their teachers as well.
We in New York State should be especially concerned because we spend two and a half times more on education than any other State in the nation and yet rank only 32nd in the national standings.
To say that a lack of money is at fault is a deeply misleading claim. The question should be: Cui bono? In education who benefits when tax dollars are being spent? The answer is: Not the Children!!
A NEW PARENTAL ROLE
One of the great myths of public education today, is the one that says parents should have more say, more choice in the education of their children. But how many parents know enough about what is taught and how and by whom, to make a decent choice?
Once upon a time in American households, teachers, parents and children knew that parents (Mothers, mostly) sat and helped their children with homework every day. Teachers expected it and needed the help. Children did too.
Today only people old enough to be Grandparents remember that experience; remember their own Moms sitting down with them to work on a science test, or an essay in English or (with Dad) on a problem in math.
As more and more women joined the work force – 75% of all Moms now work full-time – teachers no longer had that special assistance at home in the education of children. Today it is fair to look back and wonder if the withdrawal from that activity assisted in the decline of public education.
With major changes in what is taught and how it is taught, with endless configuring of curricula in order to stop the failures, with teachers leaving the profession at a rate of 60% within five years on the job, can any parent really know what is going on in the classroom? For the past twenty years all they’ve heard about is testing, endless testing. School has become about test scores and not learning.
Can any parent spend enough time in the classroom to know the difference between a good and bad teacher? Can any parent genuinely choose the kind of school their children should be attending? When they are made, are these decisions knowledge-based or based on what someone else says about a school?
Is it any wonder that parents in NYC are desperate to have their children attend a charter school because those few schools among the 1,100 schools in NYC are supposed to be getting better test results? Do those test results tell the true story of what is happening in those schools? If charter schools are supposed to be that much better than traditional schools, how is it that the very reason for their existence – to become models of success that traditional schools can copy – has never once happened in New York – or anywhere else in the nation. NOT ONCE.
And so it is within that environment that two recent actions by groups of parents have shaken and will continue to shake our system of public education. Not change it mind you – but shake it.
33,000 children did not take the latest Common Core tests in NY State as their parents had them stay home.
And, in California, parents, with the backing of a financier’s money, have sued the school system in an effort to end teacher tenure. The Judge ruled that tenure was unconstitutional because it protected teachers from dismissal and so violated the state’s constitutional commitment to provide an equal and quality education. He supported his ruling by drawing parallels with prior cases concerning school desegregation and funding levels.
This issue has nothing to do with those parallels but we will not argue the case here…just to say that other suits are expected in States across the country – one in New York is imminent – as parents try to get rid of bad teachers…and believe teacher tenure stops them from accomplishing that goal.
And so parents have suddenly began to play a role unseen until this point.
We believe that even though three of the original 45 States accepting the Common Core – mostly because State Governors could get their hands on Federal money – have dropped out of the program (Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma), we think that the program could succeed if teachers had enough time to learn it and work with it – time they did not have when it was adopted and hurriedly “bought” (that’s not a typo) into our schools.
On the other hand, as far as our system of public education goes, new curricula appear as quickly as weeds in a garden. As soon as one fails, another takes its place.
But parents – once the teachers’ best friend and closest partner – have backed away from them and they are alone on the battlefield. Why that is true is another story.
Despite the complaints of high property taxes imposed by the need to fund education and the reality that America spends more money on education than any other nation in the World, we drop further and further down the list of developed nations…now down to 24th in the World.
New York spends Two and a half times more on education than any other State in the nation and we rank 32nd on the list. Only 18 States separate us from the bottom.
Where does all the money go? Here’s an easy answer that makes the point: Facebook gave Newark, NJ a gift of one hundred million dollars to improve education. Mark Zuckerberg gave the check to then Newark Mayor, Corey Booker, less than two years ago.
The money is essentially gone. Half of it went to adjust teacher salaries and benefits. The other half went to educational consultants who are developing new programs for the schools. Not a single one has been introduced at this writing.
Massive amounts of money flow to companies like the Educational Testing Service and the educational publishing giant Pierson, Inc. They supply endless amounts of material that fill classroom closets and make work for more consultants. But not the heads of our children.
57,000 four year olds in New York City have been promised pre-kindergarten for the very first time…a great start on their education…or so we are told.
57,000. Mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio’s principal campaign promise – we will raise taxes on the rich and institute city-wide Pre-K for all those who want it – had nothing whatever to do with any real idea of how many children would apply, where would classrooms be found and where would their teachers come from.
His eventual trip to Albany to see Governor Andrew Cuomo and key members of the State Legislature resulted in a half victory: No new taxes, but the Governor’s pledge to provide all the money he needed..and the inclusion of all New York State children too.
So now comes the hard part…getting the program up and running and finding out how many kids want it, where their classrooms will be and who will teach them.
57,000 kids. Few classrooms available in our public schools…we have to go into community centers for space, into religious schools for space, into any decent spaces we can find.
As for teachers, we understand that people are applying for jobs. They’ll need about 2,800 qualified teachers…and qualified classrooms aides as well. You see there are benchmarks for quality early childhood education. There are standards that include a degree in early childhood education NOT elementary education starting from Kindergarten.
There must be a balance between qualified adults in the classroom for every certain number of children in each class. It can’t be one teacher to every ten, 15 or 20 little ones…not and deliver quality Pre-K.
If you are a parent seeking to have your child join the other 57,000 four year olds in Pre-K know this: THAT UNLESS THERE IS QUALITY BEING OFFERED, THE FACTS ARE THESE: a study last year revealed that the failure rate on tests for third and fourth grade children was the same for those who had Pre-K and those who never had Pre-K.
A head start in school for those in Pre-K??? Not so far.