8.1 Twelve Steps to Achieve Real Education Reform
In previous chapters, we have described the billionaires war against our public schools. These attacks threaten not only the future of 50 million children, but also the future of our economy and our democracy. In this final chapter, we will look at steps each of us can take to achieve real education reform.
Real Actions versus False Hopes
There have been many previous books over the past 20 years to warn parents and teachers of the harm being inflicted on our public schools. These books typically end with vague advice to “sign a petition or call your Congressman.” The problem with such advice is that it does not ultimately lead to solving the problem. It is the illusion of action. Billionaires do not care if you sign a petition or call your Congressman. It is likely that they paid for your Congressman's election and he or she will vote for what is best for billionaires and not what is best for our children. We need to recognize that we are in a war and the enemy, the billionaires, have already occupied our nation's capital – just as surely as the British occupied it in 1812. Billionaires have also taken over most State legislatures and most school boards - just as they have taken over most TV stations, radio stations and newspapers. It will take aggressive action on the part of parents and teachers and all of us if we are to restore and protect our public schools and the future of our children.
The first step in this process is getting better informed. This is in part why we wrote this book. The first step in solving any problem is becoming more fully informed about the underlying cause of the problem. Our conclusion is that the problem is not merely privatization of our public schools, it is concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few billionaires. The second step is forming a shared vision of what would really help our schools. It is not enough to be merely against Common Core, Charter Schools and High Failure rate tests. We also need to have a clear vision and be able to express what we are for. That is the purpose of this first section. But we must not end there. The challenge we face is about more than what reforms would lead to better public schools. It is also about how to organize politically to take back our democracy. Therefore in the next three sections we will talk about how to organize politically to take back our political parties, take back our school board elections, take back our legislative district elections and ultimately take back our Congress.
A Shared Vision of Real Education Reform: Promoting What Actually Works
To provide a better future for our children, our public schools can and should be improved. But they should be improved with the kinds of reforms that are supported by the scientific research on child development. We will therefore briefly review what the scientific research has concluded would help children have a better chance at success in life. We will cover not only what works, but why it works. The following 12 steps represent a broader, more effective approach to educating our children for greater success in life. Much of the data cited below comes from a report called Poverty and Potential, Out of School Factors and School Success, by Dr. David Berliner, Arizona State University http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/PB-Berliner-NON-SCHOOL.pdf
#1 Reduce Child Poverty by Making Sure their Parents Have Good Jobs
Children are not isolated machines. They are not like computers. What happens to a child inside of school is strongly influenced by what happens to the child outside of school. Children are a reflection of their families and communities. In addition to investing in our public schools, children will only succeed if we also invest in helping all families succeed and invest in strengthening our local businesses and local communities. The issue with students in poverty is that they are in poverty. They don't need their schools closed. They need their parents to have jobs. It is tough for a kid to do well in school when they are hungry and living in the back seat of a car. The problem with poverty is that it causes chronic stress in the lives of children. The stresses low income children experience include loss of their home, frequent relocations, lack of food, stressed out impatient punishing caregivers, lack of health care, lack of books and toys and many other problems. These chronic adverse events harm the child’s development by causing the child to see the world as a dangerous place.
Children who live in poverty are far more likely to have adverse outcomes, such as dropping out of school, taking drugs and committing crimes. Sadly, with the concentration of wealth in America, many American families now live at or below the poverty line. One in four children live in poverty and one in two children live near the poverty line. The most important thing we can do for children is to make sure their parents have meaningful living wage jobs. Sadly, our current political leaders place more importance on increasing corporate profits than increasing living wage jobs. As a consequence, parents now face record unemployment.
#2 Make Sure All Families have a Stable Home
Children need a secure base with a consistent regular predictable schedule. Sadly, our State and nation are forcing millions of children out of their homes due to an economic crisis created by the same Wall Street gamblers who are now threatening our public schools by funding fake charter school groups. Children will not do well in school when they are living in the back of a car or frequently moving to a new school where they do not know any of the other children. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reported in December 2011 that 24,000 Washington state school children were homeless in Washington State in 2010. This is a 56 percent increase from 2006. These figures suffer from under-reporting due to the reluctance of many families to admit their circumstances. The real number of homeless children is likely to be double the reported number. Homelessness is a crime against our children. We should put an immediate halt on all home foreclosures involving children. We should also put families back into all of the boarded up houses and charge them rent based on their ability to pay.
#3 Make Sure All Parents have Access to Parent Education
For children to form a secure attitude toward learning, children need caregivers who are consistent, sensitive and responsive to their needs. Parent education is the best way to help children develop a more positive attitude toward learning. Ideally, parent education should include prenatal care and courses as the most crucial time in any child’s development is the first few months of life. Like everything else that actually helps children, funding for such programs is being cut when it should be expanded.
#4 Provide All Children with Free Real Health Care
Children with hearing and vision problem, and many other medical problems will have a much harder time learning. As much learning occurs early in life, the sooner these problems are addressed, the more likely a child is to succeed. Sadly, 50 million Americans are without health insurance. This number does not include the poor who have policies but cannot afford the co-payments and therefore cannot get the health care their children need.
As just one example of how lack of health care harms learning, among school age children living at or near the poverty level, 32% had cavities and tooth aches – but had not seen a doctor in more than one year. As most health insurance in America comes from employment, record unemployment makes this problem much worse.
#5 Provide All Children with Adequate Food
It is estimated that one in ten children in the US suffers from food insecurity meaning that they often do not get enough food to eat. One in four children lives in poverty and one in two children in many cities now qualify for food stamps. With the record high unemployment, a record number of 46 million Americans are now on food stamps as their primary source of food.
Sadly, the food stamp program does not give enough food to meet the recommended daily allowance of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). There have also been cut backs in school breakfast and lunch programs. Schools have learned that giving children a high calorie meal on the days the children take high-stakes testing can increase test scores 4 to 7% - an indication that children are not getting adequate calories on non-test days. A better solution would be to make sure all parents had jobs which would increase the chances of children having enough to eat on weekends and summers as well as when they are at school.
#6 Provide All Children with Quality Preschool Education
If we truly want to improve outcomes for all children, then we must help children at every point of their development. Preschool education helps prepare children for elementary school at a time when children are learning emotional regulation and crucial social skills. Quality daycare also allows parents to go to work knowing their children are well cared for. Sadly, in the past few years, the Washington State legislature has cut millions of dollars from the Work First program. This cut preschool funding for more than 20,000 low income children at the same time that their parents were losing their jobs and losing their homes.
#7 Full Day Kindergarten Helps Children
The legislature in Washington state is supposedly moving to all-day kindergarten by 2018. Sadly, they have not provided any funding for it. Also, they have not provided funding for the dozens of elementary schools that will have to be built for the 80,000 Kindergarten children who will be moving from half day to full day Kindergarten. This is the equivalent of adding 40,000 children to our public schools. At 500 students per elementary school, we will need 80 new elementary schools to have the classrooms for all of these kids. At $20 million per elementary school, the estimated cost of construction is $160 million. In addition to doubling the number of kindergarten classrooms, we will also need to double the number of kindergarten teachers. At 20 kids per Kindergarten class, or 50 teachers per thousand children, we will need 50 x 40 or 2,000 more teachers.
#8 Lower Class Sizes Helps Children
As we discuss elsewhere, our students are subjected to some of the highest class sizes in the nation. It would take more than $2 billion annually to lower school class sizes down to the national average and another billion annually to build the extra classrooms needed for national average school class sizes.
#9 Experienced Teachers Help Children
Research shows it takes 5 years of training and another 5 years of actual teaching experienced for most teachers to finally be able to effectively teach higher order reasoning and problem solving skills. Sadly, the charter school reformers think it is perfectly fine to put someone in charge of a classroom with only 5 weeks of training. These fake teachers usually quit during their first year – causing even more harm to the children who blame themselves for the loss of their teacher. The best way to retain quality teachers is to give them reasonable sized classrooms and make sure the children come to their class room with positive attitudes ready to learn. This includes making sure the child got adequate sleep in a safe home the night before class and adequate food before starting their school day.
#10 Provide Free School and After School Social and Sports Programs
Many children need help with their homework. Many have parents have jobs and are unable to pick them up until several hours after school closes. Many children are highly motivated by sports or other social based after school programs. Sadly, all of these programs are being cut as school districts can no longer afford to provide them. In many school districts, even modest user fees leads to a huge reduction in student participation in after school recreational programs. The low income children who need the extra attention the most are the very children who no longer have access to it. This crucial programs need to be restored or our entire community will suffer.
Our nation’s children are suffering an epidemic of obesity at the same time that schools are discontinuing PE and recess to spend more time drilling children for high stakes tests. Sitting in a chair too long is harmful to a child’s brain and physical development. Our kids need more physical activity, not less.
#11 Reducing School Violence Helps Children
Children need to feel safe on the bus going to school and they need to feel safe while they are at school. Sadly, over-crowded schools and over-crowded, high pressure classrooms foster the very conditions that lead to bullying, drug abuse and school drop outs. We should increase programs which teach children problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
#12 Greater Parent Participation in Public Schools Helps Children
Parents are not only the most knowledgeable about their children, but seeing parents in school helps their child feel good about attending school and motivates the child to do better in school. There should be more opportunities for parent involvement in the classroom, in the lunchroom, on the playground and in after school activities. The opinions of parents should also be given greater weight at school board meetings and PTA meetings regarding policies that affect them and their children. It is ironic that, instead of pursuing these 12 known effective strategies, the corporate education reformers are instead focusing in on strategies that are doomed to failure. This shows that the ed reform movement is not about helping kids. It is about increasing corporate profits.
What is Next?
Now that we have presented a shared vision of real education reform, in the next section, we will introduce the topic of political organizing, which is the only way we will ever be able to take back our public schools from the billionaires.