With all the controversies surrounding education today, we seem to be having trouble finding where to place blame.
Certainly teachers are an easy scapegoat, since if children aren’t achieving properly, then there must be something wrong with what they’re doing (or not doing).
Administrators also get their share of the blame, since their salaries are frequently scrutinized because they’re a matter of public record.
Members of the community are quick to complain when their taxes are increased, since a growing number of citizens are entering retirement, and current young parents are finding it difficult to maintain mortgages. Since property taxes are one of the main funding sources of school revenues, declining home values do nothing to help the financial viability of the school district.
And as we experienced during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, schools were closed. Many private schools converted to full-time online learning environments, which is something they had been offering as a differentiator to public education, but public school districts, especially regarding elementary schools, were scrambling to try to come up a distance learning solution since parents weren’t ready for the new challenges of our new reality.
Isn’t it ironic that the technology has been available for the past decade – especially with the rise of cyber-charter schools – and public school district board members still get elected on the platform of “Keeping taxes low” while demanding educational excellence? I guess no one ever told them you get what you pay for.
Some school districts are still finding economic conditions have taken a drastically detrimental turn. While they’ve relied on their surpluses as well as the ability to increase taxes, public school boards are finding that employing both of those measures are not enough to balance the coming school year’s budget. The culprit, or so it seems, is the large retirement payments that are coming due, since many school districts have given seasoned educators “early outs” over the past decade. Since people are living longer today, the decisions made for short-term gains in previous years are now having their long-term effects felt.
Then there are the additional costs for students with special needs and difficult economic circumstances. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that about 15% of students in public schools have special needs – a number that keeps rising every year (Source: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=64, accessed 2023.03.25), requiring additional resources which require additional funding.
Some programs have been created to help those students who come from economically disadvantaged families, allowing them to qualify for free and reduced cost lunches. It’s been documented that the meals offered by these programs are the best nutrition these students receive, since their home situation does not provide adequate housing, food, clothing and other resources necessary to excel and achieve to their highest potential which was another issue that was exacerbated by stay at home orders from state governments during the pandemic.
And that’s where we seem to stop the blaming. Remember that any system must identify all of its elements so that a valid assessment can be made when attempting to provide improvements…and no one ever seems to blame the parents.
Of course not. Why would they be blamed? After all, just Google “parents,” then choose “images,” and take note of the pictures that result. Happy families, smiling children, all with mothers and fathers who support them, provide a loving and protective environment, and even helping with homework.
And you know what? That might be true for a majority of the families in a school. But what about those single parent families where dad is nowhere to be found and mom is working 2 or sometimes 3 jobs to provide for her family? What about those families who take in foster children simply for the revenue it will bring in to the household? Or those families where mom is an alcoholic and dad’s in jail? And I’m sure you can think of situations where bullying, drugs, and other criminal actions and activities are present, and impede the educational excellence that teachers were indeed trained to provide and supremely qualified to deliver each and every day.
Could it be that our educational problems are simply a manifestation of the breakdown of society? If that was true or false question on a test, you may think that the answer would be “true,” especially after reading this article, since actions applied to one element will have an effect on all the others. However, the answer would be, “false,” because, unfortunately, one does not know if the other elements will respond with intended or unintended consequences. All elements must have attention paid to them, and some elements will require more attention than others, but if even one element is ignored, the system will never improve. Interestingly, and sadly, we’re even more painfully aware of that today.