First, basically, change the reigning community orientation as to what has gone wrong, why, and what we can still do to fix it without any more dollars.
Then, strive to get folks all across the City on the same page as to how to really deal with it. In this City, our churches provide about the only feasible means of embedding this word.
Whenever there is a broad community problem, you can expect that a swarm of opportunists will scurry like roaches to the situation, with all manner of top-down solutions.
As Mark Twain (Samuel Clements) was quoted: For every complex problem, there is an obvious and simple, but also totally wrong solution!
These days, that problem is seen as a lack of accountability, and the simple solution is yet another top-down model for the “administration” of education.
For politicians who are eager to respond to serious community concerns, this presents a sterling opportunity to plunder the problem for all manner of political payoffs. Just as with all previous top-down ideas which have failed make things better, the next top-down panacea will just make things worse. And foundation directors and newpaper editors are not very much better. All want to make their “mark” on our society, by coming-up with some magical solution, with the next “big idea”, when none is realistically to be had.
You only need to go back and think seriously about what you should have learned in Sociology 101 to find your answers. And these answers are just as complex as the problem. Unfortunately, this college course is usually taught to Freshmen as a “memorization of definitions” exercise, and almost no one leaves the course with a true understanding of the human condition, its potential, and its limitations.
To break the issue down into its most basic components, in at least 2/3s of the cases, getting a good education requires a series of caring and constant teachers, a caring and constant parent, a set of caring and constant school-mates, as well as a caring and constant student. Absent any or all of these components, the average outcomes are bound to be dismal. There is truly no viable substitute. There are “exceptional cases”, but statistically, these are true in less than 5% of the total array; they do not significantly change the average outcome. While the effective education of children is not rocket-science, most concerned people seem to buy-into an array of seemingly rational, but counter-productive approaches.
MENTORING: One of the most commonplace “solutions” to this “problem” is to encourage well-meaning folks to volunteer as mentors to students, that is, to become a good-parent substitute. But, the person who really needs mentoring in these situations, is not the student, but the parent. The whole scenario of mentoring communicates to deficient parents that the education of their children is not really their obligation, but somehow that of “society”. Instead of strengthening child/parent bonds, we unintentionally weaken and dissolve them. But, no one seems to want to correct these “well-meaning” efforts to avoid addressing the missing or deficient parent. We do no one a favor by weakening our expectations of them. The most of us actually do most of what we do in response to what others expect of us. We are who we are because of those mutual expectations, and not because we have some innate moral compass. That’s a proven fact: Deal with it!
ADMINISTRATION: There is a commonplace notion that all you need to do to improve educational outcomes is to have a strong and vigorous administration of the “system”. There is in fact nothing “magical” about administration, and there is a lot about it which is totally “toxic” to such outcomes. But, there are scores of candidates for such an “opportunity” to crack the whip, who are ready and willing to take-on that impossible task.
The one biggest reason that teacher’s unions are adamant and inflexible in their positions, is because teachers, for decades, have been abused and victimized by asshole administrators, by folks who have mainly been promoted into their positions by virtue of a network of whom they know, rather than by a record of what they are able to engender in their staff and students. Good Principals are extremely rare. But “top-down” “crackdowns” invariably reward the worst assholes in the system.
FREQUENT CHANGES IN “ADMINISTRATION”: Even the most caring and motivated teachers burn-out when they face wave after wave of reform. It takes an extremely high level of collaboration over a long period of time between the members of a teaching staff for them to become the very best that they can be. But, when those efforts are gutted every two or three years by a change in the oversight administration, or by a churning of staffing and students, they just quit trying. If you can not promise at least a five-year duration and stability of any new effort, no one in the classroom will give it any serious attention. Most teachers are really caring and concerned, but have been made cynical and unresponsive by frequent past waves of “administrative reform”.
TURNOVER RATES: The class turnover rate in most Detroit schools runs between 20% and 50% each year. Even the charter schools have high turn-over rates, because even caring parents have been led to have unrealistic expectations of these schools. The parents of children in our neighborhood schools which have high turn-over rates are usually especially poor, “unreliable”, and unreachable. They can’t afford their rents; they are always on the move, and trying to avoid their creditors. So, the school staff tends to “write them off”, and be glad that they have gone somewhere else. For an effective education, children need a high level of continuity with the same teachers and the same classmates. If we are really serious about educating “hard-to-educate” children, we have to zero-in on this situation, and stop this endless churning. But, this is not so much of an administrative problem, as it is one of parent education and a steadfast willingness to stay put.
DELETERIOUS CLASS CONFLICT: We expect our teachers in this State to be college-educated, with at least a bachelors degree, and a State Certificate. Most folks who qualify on those measures also carry with them class values and antipathies which repel them for establishing positive personal relationships with the parents of most of their students. This is truly one of the biggest problems in the education of “our” children. This social gap is awesome, but no one deals with it “up-front”. It can be done, but it often means a series of grueling and sometimes even hazardous encounters. Our systems presently do very little to make these to be positive and mutually rewarding encounters.
This is not to disparage either middle class nor “underclass” values. But the bottom-line fact is that “underclass” values are not supportive of economical progress. In a middle-class setting, you can not insist upon “telling it like you see it”, and expect to excel. Over the past hundred years, about 70% of Americans have found their way up from those underclass values into the middle class, and that has been a very good thing. But, this is not at all an easy transition. I personally grew-up in a squalid and crude situation. And it was education which mainly got me out of it. I’ve been there and I’ve survived it. We need to take some serious efforts to bridge this gap.
TEACHER TURNOVER: It helps greatly when teachers stay put in the same school for many, many years. Students, who also stay put, actually look forward to the day when they have Ms. or Mr. So&So for a teacher. In our current seniority system, whenever a school is closed, or some other series of ”bumping” rights are triggered; teachers have a bargained contract right to transfer to some other more seemingly inviting situation at another school. That can result in a long series of “bumpings” and transitions. None of this helps sustain the durability that most students need to sustain their bonding with the aims of the school. If there is one thing that our school systems need, however funded, to act on behalf of their students, it is to reward teachers for staying with the same student body, year-after-year.
THE BIGGEST LIE: JUST LEAVE THE TEACHING UP TO US! Both the Charter Schools and the Public Schools in their advertising for more students chant the same big lie: Bring your children to us, and leave the teaching to us! Education is presented as a huge public service, and not as an intensive collaboration in effectively raising one’s children. The crucial collaborative issue is left intentionally untouched because each of these schools is competing for parent’s business, and none are willing to promise less than the competition. Why do they do this? Simply, because they are first of all competing for limited State dollars; actually educating children is totally a secondary concern. Until all school systems are ready to acknowledge that parent collaboration is crucial to student success, there will be no serious improvement.
Yes, there are some small differences which can be attributed to teacher training and effectiveness in “classroom management”, but even the highest conceivable level of teacher preparedness can not compensate for a lack of positive parent support. The current system makes it seem to parents that all they have to do is to be a concerned consumer and an active critic of what the schools have to offer. When a parent becomes simply a staunch consumer critic of the school system rather than an active collaborator, the relationship and the underlying message to their children becomes totally negative.
PUT MORE DOLLARS INTO THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM, SO AS TO AVOID PUTTING MORE AND MORE DOLLARS INTO THE ADULT JUSTICE SYSTEM.
Kids who do well in school, and who are well bonded to the mores of our society do not become career criminals. Fortunately, most juvenile delinquents grow out of their deviance within five years . Our best bet to curb growing criminal justice costs is to do a better job of making sure our students are doing well in the first place. While some of this may require more dollars up-front, most of it does not. So, this argument is best totally ignored, so long as we place our efforts into really improving how we go about educating our children.
VERY FEW OF THESE FACTORS REQUIRE ADDED FUNDING FOR OUR SCHOOL SYSTEMS, AND UNTIL THEY HAVE BEEN FULLY ADDRESSED, THERE IS LITTLE POINT IN CAMPAIGNING FOR MORE AND MORE FUNDING FOR EDUCATION, PARTICULARLY WHEN THOSE WHO HAVE TO PAY THAT PRICE MUST SACRIFICE MORE AND MORE FROM THE LESS AND LESS THAT THEY ARE EARNING.
For more than the past 30 years, State and local public revenues have been shrinking and shrinking along with the shrinkage of middle-class and lower class earnings. Most people are no longer willing to pay-out anymore for those public services to which they have become accustomed, including public and higher education. Higher education has seen much bigger cut-backs than K-12, but almost no one is willing to increase taxes for either purpose. I voted for Bernie, but only 1 out of 5 voters were with me. Some folks castigate the Tea Party folks for being behind this, but it is clear to me that more than 75% of voters support the Tea Party on that particular part of their platform. Why? Well, just consider how the middle-class, which pays the most of our taxes, has fared for the past 30 years to maintain their former standard of living and spending. First, the wives nearly all went to work. Then, they each worked more and more hours each week. Then, they raided the equity in their homes for a loan, which often had a killer escalator interest rate. Finally, they are running-up higher and higher credit card and student loan liabilities. They have come to the end of the economic road. Anyone who thinks that they would now support higher taxes for education is simply delusional.
BOTTOM LINE: This means that you and I must place our primary emphasis upon those few things which can be done within what little revenue remains. And frankly, that takes the guts to do whatever is necessary, and not more revenue. Obviously, this rules out any role for those venal politicians, whose inaction and grandstanding have left our school systems in their currently pathetic status, to ride-in with another top-down “administrative miracle” to cure all that ails us.
If the array of issues outlined above have not been seriously addressed by our whole communities, any increase in State funding for education will become a total waste and will produce absolutely nothing better. That is a sad, but inevitable fact, and there is no point in denying it.