Another View — Diane Sekula: Public education isn’t doomed. Here’s how to save it.
By DIANE SEKULA
I’ve said it before, but I think that it’s worth saying again. If you are going to have public schools, then you need for schools to be held accountable to the public for their spending, curriculum and all related activities. Anything less is unacceptable. What we have now is unacceptable.
What we have now is a focus on teacher and student accountability, but a lack of focus on accountability in regard to spending and curriculum.
To be sure, teachers need to be held accountable for their work with students, and students need to be held accountable for their own educational attainment. I would argue that there are better ways of doing this than what is now being done, but that it is a necessary evil. For the time being, however, we cannot afford to be hyper focused on teacher and student accountability. This myopic focus has allowed the problems associated with a lack of accountability in other areas to proliferate.
In terms of curriculum, we are saddled with the hastily put together Common Core state standards that were forced upon states through President Obama’s Race to the Top grant program. The standards are, without argument, often developmentally inappropriate and are not nearly as stringent as the old Massachusetts state standards; which although abandoned in favor of Common Core, are still widely regarded as being the best standards in the country.
This initiative has, in fact, been such a failure that it has been regarded as a “third wheel” by the Democratic Party, which urged its members to stay away from any discussion of it. Where is the accountability for this?
Why is it that although the standards have not been proven to have any positive impact on the academic development of our children, any move to rescind the standards is met with complete and absolute resistance, the kind of resistance only afforded to a very few in this country? Could it be because the amount of money to be made by textbook companies, data mining companies, and online learning programs that promise to personalize and somehow magically eliminate the so called achievement gap is in the billions of dollars? Or could it be that the ideologues bright with the abstractions they gleaned from their professors at their Ivy League institutions are certain that the country would be better off with a planned economy that includes early career tracking; oft referred to as a talent pipeline, like that promoted by self proclaimed education experts such as Marc Tucker who proposed such a system; with its distinct similarities with the systems found in Germany and other Eastern European countries in his now infamous, “Dear Hillary” letter?
Or could it be that the money-making schemers and the ideologues are one and the same, tossing aside our children for a cause or a few dollars?
In addition to her past support of charter schools, Hillary Clinton’s husband and the Clinton Foundation have ties to for-profit education institutions and have accepted money from monied charter school supporters like Eli Broad. Likewise, Donald Trump is a known charter school supporter.
What is the problem with charter schools? Some are good. Many, however, are not. In addition to the myriad of high profile scandals where charter schools have been criticized for taking only high performing students or subscribing to draconian testing and disciplinary policies in areas with a high population of minority students, the problem with charter schools, with their appointed instead of elected school boards, is that they are held even less accountable to the public.
The average American child spends approximately six hours per day in school. That’s six hours of time where they are susceptible to the whims of the politicians and money movers who snake their way into schools through policies, grants, promises and handshakes with the upper echelon of government and union officials. We do indeed need public school accountability, but not the kind that we have now.
Given the current political climate in this country, one has to wonder what will become of public education and the future of this country whose public schools, while imperfect, with their lingering problems and imperfect scores, have in fact produced unprecedented numbers of doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers, authors, playwrights and, more importantly, thinkers.
Diane Sekula is a former public school teacher, most recently at Cawley Middle School in Hooksett.
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