Thursday, March 26, 2009

Which Crisis Where?

As people talk about the crisis in America’s educational system, they aren’t talking about schools in places like Orinda, Lafayette, Piedmont, Danville, and San Ramon [for readers unfamiliar with the Bay Area, these are our leafy suburbs]. They use “America” broadly, but are actually referring to the “crisis” in schools and school districts which serve a large number of poor kids (ie. kids with brown skin). These schools are in every major urban area you can name.
America passed through a civil rights movement in the 1960’s thinking it would resolve the inequity that stemmed from our long history as slaveholders, but nearly fifty years later our schools are more racially and class stratified than ever before. In every community across the land, as one group was finally permitted to move in, the other group sold their homes, packed their bags, and moved away; it was all about self-selection and choice, you see.
So here we are in 2009, mostly believing that America’s race issue has been solved; Obama is president, right? However, you'll know for certain "it" hasn't been "fixed" if you live a life where you rub up against it everyday.

Certainly things have improved, and for some, things are getting better all the time. But for enormous numbers of people, their original problems have grown and been transformed into very, very deeply rooted issues relating to (hush hush, don't say it!) social class, where – after all that has been said and done – they have ended up in the very bottom stratum. Having been subjected to high rates of unemployment for generations now, these people and their children live an existence of geographic and social isolation. Their plight has come on America’s radar at this time, probably because of the immense and growing cost of incarceration, and our shock at the behaviors which have caused it (why we have a Three Strikes Law in California, for example). My God, take a look at its trajectory (one source is Kirwan Institute’s report “Brown Disparity Data: Then and Now,” April 2004).

Perhaps our nation has finally decided that it had better figure out a way to get all the kids in those communities more educated, but we definitely don’t want to spend too much. Oh yeah, and even though things have been really bad for a long, long time (we would all know this if we had been listening to the teachers all along), we are now going to call it a "crisis."
Crisis: 1.a. A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point. b. An unstable condition, as in political, social, or economic affairs, involving an impending abrupt or decisive change. 2. A sudden change in the course of a disease or fever, toward either improvement or deterioration. 3. An emotionally stressful event or traumatic change in a person's life. 4. A point in a story or drama when a conflict reaches its highest tension and must be resolved. (The American Heritage Dictionary)
As for the approach to handling this task, there appears to be a basic philosophical split between perfectly intelligent people.
On one hand are the people who believe that the teachers, schools, and school districts who have been serving those children for years are the ones to blame for their low achievement; they are simply ineffective and have been for a long time. The solution this side proposes is to highlight the children’s lack of achievement with regular testing, to close their existing schools, and to eliminate the teachers in them – then more schools can be started anew. For the most part, a force of upper-middle class recent college graduates who were raised in leafy suburbs – and then certified to teach in a streamlined way – will serve 60 hours/week at the schools for two-years and then "se fue." The new schools will be operated on the business (rather than traditional) model, and competition between them will produce superior schools.
And on the other hand are the people who believe that the teachers, schools, and school districts – which have been tasked with serving these exceptionally challenging children for decades – have also been short-changed for years in terms of fiscal support, social capital, professional respect and other resources that would have helped them to help the children to do better. The solution they propose is to provide the pre-existing schools with sufficient support at long last, to have empathy and respect demonstrated to the individuals who have been toiling under such difficult circumstances for so long, and to focus on strengthening the components that are already there. They seem to take a “whole child,” “whole family,” and “whole community” approach.
You will find that these two camps were formally defined last year, calling themselves the Education Equality Project and the Broader Bolder Approach.
Most people seem to have a natural inclination to align themselves with one side or the other. Oddly, some people signed up with both, like the mutable, and very-much-wants-to-be-liked Arne Duncan. By the way, guess which camp has the fanciest website?
Among the EEP signatories are:
  • Antonio Villaraigosa
  • Adrian Fenty
  • Cory A. Booker
  • John McCain
  • Janet Murguía
  • Michael Lomax
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Margaret Spellings
  • Roger Wilkins
  • Al Sharpton
  • Michelle Rhee
  • Jeb Bush
Among the BBA signatories are:
  • William Julius Wilson
  • Ted Sizer
  • Richard Rothstein
  • Diane Ravitch
  • Pedro Noguera, Ph.D.
  • Susan B. Neuman
  • Deborah W. Meier
  • Christopher Jencks
  • James J. Heckman
  • M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D.
  • Linda Darling-Hammond
  • T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.
It’s an interesting assortment of people. Which point of view has been getting the most press?
Be sure to Google the ones you don’t know sometime.

No comments: