The Crisis in Our Schools (page 2)
Quality public education for all is a cause well worth fighting for. We have inherited our present schools from prior generations who sought to provide all children with the preparation needed for economic opportunity and active citizenship.
Critics of public education repeat and repeat a message of school crisis. And there is a crisis, but some of our schools are working quite well. More and more of our citizens are completing high school and college than ever before. The percentage of high school graduates completing a core academic curriculum—including four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies—grew from 14 percent to 57 percent from 1982 to 2000. Many students in high schools are completing advanced math and science courses. The percentage of high school graduates completing advanced math courses climbed from 26 percent in 1982 to 45 percent in 2000. A similar growth has occurred in the sciences (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).
Schools are working reasonably well for the middle class, while many schools serving the poor and ethnic minorities are in crisis (Kozol, 2005). Most urban schools, and some rural schools, as currently organized and funded, are not able to offer an education that will overcome the problems of poverty in our society. Students in low-income areas often have fewer qualified teachers, fewer counselors, and inadequate textbooks and teaching materials. Although teaching conditions vary from state to state and district to district, the dropout rates are high, and the college attendance rates are low for African American and Latino students. With only a few exceptions, these conditions have remained the same for over 30 years.
We have a crisis in some schools—not all—and it is precisely the low-income schools in crisis where there are the most openings for new teachers. Let’s look into this crisis. Inadequate funding is a major issue in the school crisis in low-income areas. Governments spent $426.6 billion on K–12 public education in 2005. The problem of inadequate funding is well illustrated in the 2000 lawsuit of Williams v. California.
Williams v. State of California (Superior Court, San Francisco County, 2000)
Superior Court, San Francisco 2000. The complaint alleges:
“1. Tens of Thousands of children attending public schools located throughout the State of California are being deprived of basic educational opportunities available to more privileged children attending the majority of the State’s public schools. State law requires students to attend school. Yet all too many California school children must go to school without trained teachers, necessary educational supplies, classrooms, or seats in classrooms. Students attempt to learn in school that lack functioning heating or air conditioning systems, that lack sufficient numbers of functional toilets, and that infested with vermin, including rats, mice, and cockroaches. These appalling conditions in California public schools have persisted for years and have worsened over time. The Plaintiffs bring this suit in an effort to ensure that their schools meet basic minimal educational standards.
2. The schools at which these manifestly substandard conditions exist are overwhelmingly populated by low-income and nonwhite students and students who are still learning the English language. In all but three of the schools the Plaintiffs attend, more than half of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-priced meals at school. Nearly all Plaintiffs in this action are black, Latino or Latina, or Asian Pacific American, and in each of the schools the Plaintiff’s attend, nonwhite students constitute more than half of the student body. In all but one of the schools, nonwhite students constitute more than 90 percent of the student body.” William v. State of California.
In August 2004, the state of California admitted to the facts in the Williams case and agreed to provide over $1 billion to remedy the most severe problems. In the settlement, California acknowledged its responsibility for ensuring quality and equal education to all its students. In 2007, a series of over 20 studies commissioned by the state legislature again recognized the ongoing inadequate funding of public education in California (Loeb, Byrk, & Hanushek, 2007). Similar adequacy studies in recent years have found that New York, Ohio, New Jersey, and some 20 other states are underfunding some of their schools (Karp, 2007).
In trying to understand school failure and school funding, it is important to understand how the U.S. economy produces inequality. In our political system, we prize equal votes (as one person–one vote); in our economic system, inequality—even extreme inequality—is normal. We have been growing increasingly unequal in our economy and increasingly unequal in our offering of school opportunities. While the average income of millionaires and billionaires has grown by over 19 percent per year, the average income of 99 percent of households has barely grown since 1979. The average income of the bottom 40 percent of households (and over 50 percent of children) has stagnated for over 30 years (Mishel et al., 2007).
We have long known that social class, or socioeconomic status (SES), is directly correlated with school achievement. That is, the rich and the middle class do well, and the poor, by and large, perform poorly on standardized tests and in schools (Berliner, Glass, & Nichols, 2005; Rothstein, 2004).
In the United States, school funding is largely a state and local responsibility, with 47 percent of funding coming from state governments, 43.9 percent from local sources, and only 9.1 percent from the federal government. States spent an average of $9,138 per pupil in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New York was the biggest spender, paying $14,884 per student, with New Jersey second at $14,630; California spent $8,486 (below Oregon), while Texas spent $7,561 per pupil. The states with the lowest spending were Utah at $5,437 per pupil, Arizona at $6,472, Idaho at $6,440, Tennessee at $6,883, and Oklahoma at $6,961 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2008).
A first requirement for improving schools is adequate funding for all schools, and that requires developing a fair tax system. Adequate funding requires tens of billions of additional dollars over many years, similar to the giant sums of money that have been poured into the military but not into the schools. Few politicians are willing to face this funding reality (Johnson, 2007; Karp, 2007).
A thesis of this book is that schools should serve as a vehicle to provide equal opportunity—not to increase inequality in our society. While inequality is seen by some as normal in our economy, it does not necessarily follow that extreme inequality in terms of basic life needs—housing, health, and food—is appropriate in a democratic society. In particular, we do not need to accept inequality in schooling. If based on democratic theory we assert that each citizen should have an equal vote, the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have decided that all students deserve an equal opportunity for education (14th Amendment; Brown v. Board of Education).
© ______ 2010, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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