Friday, February 18, 2005


Political deals trump both the needs and the wishes of the people

While taxpayers in Florida's Miami-Dade School District aren't getting the new schools they want and need, taxpayers in Jersey County, Illinois, are getting new schools they don't want and don't need, despite rejecting --by a 71-29 percent vote--a 1999 school district referendum to build two new schools. School enrollment in Jersey County has been falling for the past eight years.

According to information provided by the Coalition for Public Awareness of Jersey County, Illinois, the repair estimate for bringing the district's existing high school into compliance with state code was $531,000 in 2000. A year later, the district's repair estimate had jumped more than 20-fold to $13.99 million, with the cost of building a new high school pegged at $12.8 million.

The higher repair estimate permitted the district to access a grant of $20.53 million from the state's Capital Development Board to build two new schools with a local bond issue of $14.0 million, for which no referendum was required. Local taxpayers, who did not want new schools, now see new schools being built and are awaiting the increased tax bills that will be imposed on property owners to pay for them.

Many Illinois school districts on the state's financial watch list have taken advantage of the same school construction grant program, according to Coalition for Public Awareness Chairman Jeff Ferguson.



After 18 years of commuting back and forth to one public school, I transferred to another public school that is closer to home. Each school has a different school climate because their respective student populations are culturally distinct. The school I left was dominated by military dependents. The school closer to home is dominated by Hawaiian and local Hawaii culture.

At the school dominated by military dependents, most students could function in a classroom environment, and a minority of students-as their behavior demonstrates -- belong in a classroom without walls. At the school closer to home, the student populations are just the reverse: there are a few students who do very well in a classroom environment, while most students --- as their behavior demonstrates -- belong in classrooms without walls. Yet teachers are managed at each school as though the student population of each school is exactly the same -- as though all students belong in a classroom environment.

Students who belong in educational environments different than existing classrooms are not being serviced by public schools. And just as bad, students who do very well in classrooms are being inefficiently serviced by teachers who are forced to deal with students who belong in classrooms without walls. So the classroom becomes an environment that inefficiently services students who do well in school; and the classroom completely fails to service students who belong in wall-less classrooms because their needs as learners are not recognized by a standardized system of accountability. And, again, just as bad, the standardized system of accountability leaves no room for teacher spontaneity and student creativity -- since what is to be taught and what is to be learned are becoming more restricted by the standards.

The pathetic situation we find ourselves in -- a reform movement whose sole criterion for success is the score of a test -- is a reflection of the 22 year national debate about reform of public education. The national debate about public education has no vision. Policy makers and legislators are blinded by economic reductionism and empirical studies. The question that needs to be answered is why public classrooms do not represent the society that surrounds them? Our schools, to quote a man who but for one vote would have been a state superintendent of schools, are a wasteland compared to the technologically enriched environment that nurtures children at home. The national crisis outlined in A Nation at Risk ("unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament," April 1983) will remain the status quo until policy makers and legislators turn to teachers and students as resources for direction in national policy......

You would think -- if indeed we even think anymore -- that the recent presidential campaign would have noticed that public education has become public daycare.

The life experiences and collective will that have created and shaped "the standards" and the tests that "measure" their attainment, belong to an elite segment of American culture. The standards of the American elite -- those who can afford eighteen thousand to forty thousand dollars per year for private school tuition, per child, from kindergarten through post-doctorate -- are not the standards of the masses.

To hide the socio-economic differences between those who deserve what they have and those who have what they deserve, public school officials adopt the descriptive language of private institutions. In their efforts to rebuild and restructure "physical plants," we hear elite descriptors: schools within schools, academies, and chief executive officer. Having restructured the physical plant and their managers with descriptors, there is no need to actually alter the walls and interiors of the actual school that remains a technological, stuffy, sweaty, gum strewn wasteland.

All of the students who fall outside the unspoken socio-economic foundation of "the standards," and their numbers belong to the largest segment of the American population, are not being served, but instead are being contained by public school policy. Their containment seems to be in the best interest of the day-to-day activities of the financial, industrial, service, labor and private institutions who do not want to be bothered by the actual conditions and attitudes that exist inside classrooms.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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