Whatcha Readin Fer?


United States Constitution and Public Education

photo © 2010 Ted | more info (via: Wylio)

“The correlation between student achievement and zip code is 100 percent,” he says. “The quality of education you receive is entirely predictable based on where you live.” ~ Marco Sommerville, City Council Member Akron, Ohio

On a week when my childrens school held an early morning coffee to celebrate being ranked the top elementary school in an already good district, Kelley Williams-Bolar was released from 9 days in jail for lying to have her 2 daughters attend a better school than they were zoned for. The disparity between her experience and mine really struck me.

A special education teachers assistant, who was studying for her teaching certificate, Williams-Bolar may not be able to become teacher, having been charged with a felony for records falsification. The case has prompted national outrage, but an investigation of the widespread discussion shows that it quickly stalls when it comes to solutions. Current and future Presidents can talk all they want about what our educational standards and ideals should be, but with over half of the funding for public school districts coming from local property taxes, they (the federal government) lack the real means to effect change.

Our decision to move here was predicated almost entirely on the school district, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I have not felt gratitude for having that option. It hasn’t always been easy, and I know many families who make regular sacrifices to afford the district, but it’s been entirely worth it for the experience that my children have had at their schools. I believe their experiences here will contribute directly to their future success and I know that I would hate to be in her place. It is definitely a “There but for the Grace of God” type situation.

What makes our district great? Great funding from the high property taxes, additionally, our district get strong financial support from the Irvine Company and that has allowed us to retain music, art and science classes. The economic situation of many families in our district allows a higher than average number of parents to stay at home and this helps to create not only a thriving PTA, but also increases vital support to the classrooms through parent volunteering. And lastly, the educational level of the households in the district; college graduates tend to produce more college graduates. Even through some steep budget cuts, we’ve remained in decent shape as far as our schools.

But at a time when schools are reeling nationwide from the housing collapse and it’s property tax ramifications, I wonder what I would do in her place. I don’t suppose I’d try and beat the system, but I also know how much less my kids would be getting…and how hard that would be for me to tolerate. Our district has taken some hits, and I still know how lucky we are. I have wondered often over the last few years how districts with considerably less resources than ours have managed. My kids have had computer access and teachers with the highest qualifications, music and science and art. What are the schools in the poorest areas doing? What must it be like to be struggling for chalk and textbooks? To have computer access be an unreachable dream, to be unable to afford to hire any but the least talented teachers and administrators?

“When parents flee troubled schools under the No Child Left Behind Act School Choice option, the district loses not only the per-pupil funding, but must provide transportation to the new school. This causes a funding drain that may seriously impact the students left in the school.” ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_choice – cite_note-12

Vouchers, Tax Credits, Charter Schools, Standardized Testing, Systemic failures in teaching methodology, Parental economics and education, there is little consensus for what improves a districts performance. Like most things, it is likely a mix of remedies, and in all honesty, these days I place far more hope and confidence in private entities to make the biggest gains when it comes to repairing our educational system. I think the future lies with groups like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the innovation behind crowd-sourced creations like TED.com, just to name a few, rather than our government.

There is no question that Williams-Bolars’ two daughters would receive an entirely sub-standard education by attending their home school. A quick check of greatschools.org shows a wide gap between the performances of the district they were zoned to over the one they were schooled in for 2 years. How much difference do we suppose this will make to their future? And how great a leap do we ask them to make to overcome their circumstances? Then ask yourself how many children those two girls represent? And then expect our country to do well on just the backs of the children in this district and the minority of others like it. That seems, at the very least, to be doing things the hard way, if not outright building failure into the system.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of the story, but there is no doubt in my mind that several opportunities were missed on both sides to resolve this issue at a less critical juncture. And it is entirely clear that she willfully broke the law, but it seems equally clear that being put into this position should be unacceptable to Americans across the board. Is it really so hard to believe that our children here in this district cannot ultimately do well with the education they receive if such a large majority of their future fellow citizens will not be equipped to lift up the society in which they live. Her children and mine are not separated by the possible successes of their future. They will live and contribute to the same country and the health of that country will depend on both of them. Children who are unprepared for the future do not just disappear from society.

To charge this woman with a felony seems unreal. The school district valued the cost of the education that her daughters received illegally at $30,000 for two years. I can’t imagine she had the resources to repay that either. She was given two concurrent, 5 year sentences, suspended to 10 days plus time served and 80 hours of community service, possibly jeopardizing her future as a teacher and in effect, putting 3 lives under the sword if she cannot create a better future for herself and her daughters. I’m not saying she was right, I’m saying she shouldn’t have had to face that choice. It is the sickest of jokes, that in our country you can go to jail for trying to get your children a better education. In the American education system, we are not creating all men equally, and it is time to stop pretending that educational access is part of a grand system of meritocracy.

What would you do if your children were doomed by your economic circumstances to attend a school that you knew would fail them?

Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati del.icio.us Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive


One Comment, Comment or Ping

Reply to “Whatcha Readin Fer?”

CommentLuv badge