Why We Say Save Our Schools

copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

I am but one who will stand strong to ensure an equal education for all.  All who do or plan to, will express themselves in various ways.  Some will March. Others will Rally or gather in Conference.  Several have, do, or expect to act locally.  Countless change what they can for children within the dynamics that define their family.  Nationwide, innumerable Americans join hands and embrace a common cause. Let us Save Our Schools.

Jointly, we wear our hearts on our sleeves so that our children, our communities, this country can see we care.  As our forefathers did before us, Americans invest in a shared future.  We trust that learned little ones, as well as those denied an adequate education must have a solid foundation on which to build.  Our offspring and we will suffer if, indeed, we do not work for the good of our young.  It seems our many decades long shortsighted education “solutions” have already had an adverse affect.  People from every political Party and point of view proclaim the need to teach the children well.  

The Left, “Right,” and middle muse; our education system needs reform. We must Save Our Schools.  The questions are how, which schools; charter, private or public institutions and why?  These queries lead to further reflection.  What might be preserved, reserved, reformed or left for ruin?  Would it be better to transform an arrangement that many agree fails our young?  The answers spur people to act.  It seems with little forethought, the process has already begun.  Indeed, change commenced decades ago.  

Headlines herald the news. Jonathan Mahler wrote in The Deadlocked Debate Over Education Reform. “The modern school-reform movement sprang to life in 1983, with the release of “A Nation at Risk,” an education report commissioned by the Reagan administration that boldly stated…that the United States had embarked upon a “unilateral educational disarmament…The Clinton administration’s emphasis on national standards… President George W. Bush’s declaiming of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”… ”

For some, the history is nothing in comparison to what we witness daily.  Children are being left behind.  The past was but prologue. It is now our present.  Education observer Mahler continues. “On to the current generation of reformers, with their embrace of charter schools and their attacks on the teachers union. The policies and rhetoric changed, often dramatically, but the underlying assumption remained the same: Our nation’s schools are in dire need of systemic reform.”  The debate as to how, why, when and where has become less about the little ones and more about rhetoric.  Messages are “framed” to ensure that a political agenda is maximized.

Today. Public Education has all but Perished.

The Frame; Change arrived in the form of “No Child Left Behind.” This law caused our children to languish further.  The One-Size-Fits-All tools adopted fit very few.  The state and the nation are pursuing policies that have not closed the achievement gap and have aggravated the situation for many students.  “Indeed, No Child Left Behind’s ‘get-tough’ approach to accountability has led to more students being left even further behind, thus feeding the dropout crisis and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” ~ Bob Valiant. Kennewick School District. Education Matters. March 19, 2011

Political postures are effective, that is, for all but the young and their Moms, Dads, Grandparents and Guardians. These elders see the pain on their little loved ones faces.

Students Struggle to Survive…

Curriculums have been cut to the core.  Classes canceled. Test scores and statistics govern what occurs. “Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.”  School Districts confronted with possible punishment, or the promise of financial rewards, dependent on student test scores, thought it wise to remove coursework that did not pertain to the subjects tested.  

Reading and math became the sole priorities. All other topics in a school’s curriculum, with the exception of Science, at minimum, were reduced in scope.  Some disciplines, such as the Arts, Social Science, and Literature were as the children, left further behind to the point of being lost.  For persons who care about our progeny, this point alone became the raison d’être for a Save Our Schools March, a Rally, a Conference, and a mass Movement.  The populace observed Students Stifled Will Not Sing or Soar. The pain became more and more palpable.

Students Stifled Will Not Sing or Soar.

Critical Thought, Creativity, and Curiosity are now null and void in our schools.  Public and private institutions wane.  Rather than a shared success among all students, today we have winners and losers.  Parents work to see that their children achieve.  The less financially fortunate will wait in enrollment lines for hours in hopes that by lottery, their young ones will triumph.  

Yet, few truly do.  In contrast to the much-touted claims, children who are accepted into these so-called “exceptional” charter schools are, in actuality, no better off than those who are rejected.  After a lengthy study, Senior Harvard University Lecturer Katherine K. Merseth observed, “No matter how they are measured, there are some amazing charter schools…At the same time, however, we know that there are many charters that are not successful. A further disappointment for me is that essentially given the freedom to create any form or structure of schooling, the vast majority of charter schools look just like the schools we’ve already got. ”

Religious schools fare no better.  Often seen as the savior for less than affluent parents, they also struggle with standards. Hard times push Catholic schools toward crisis.  Enrollment is down and the need to satisfy an insatiable American need for “accountability” is up.  Government sponsored voucher programs contributed to each of these truths.  Popular conventions are also the reason that Standardized Tests Taken by Nine Out of Ten Voucher Schools.

Even private schools have not fully escaped what often holds young learners back.  Standardization, in other words and ways, the testing craze is alive and well in exclusive schools.  These privileged institutions too have seen the errors of this way. Entrance exams are inaccurately evaluated. “Substantially equivalent” educations are as advertised.  Differences, in the end, are not realized,  Hence, as might be expected, most every curriculum in each locale has suffered, just as students have.  Again, as parents pour over test scores and the scours on little ones faces, in harmony, they chant “Please Save Our Schools!”

“Only two subjects [math and reading.] What a sadness,” said Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College and a former New York State education commissioner. “That’s like a violin student who’s only permitted to play scales, nothing else, day after day, scales, scales, scales. They’d lose their zest for music.”~ Sam Dillon The New York Times.  March 26, 2006

Students are at risk when punitive policies promote more scales, less music!

“Teach to the Tests.”

Proud Papa Barack Obama understands the problem and spoke to it in March 2011.  As the nation’s Chief Executive stood before students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network, at Bell Multicultural High School, in Washington, District of Columbia, the Professor turned President said, “Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.  Yet, Administrations Mandate More Standards, Scores, Statistics, and School Closures.  Today, Performance is Reviewed Rigorously. “Race To The Top Requirements” rule.  Please peruse Race to the Top Program Executive Summary.  Department of Education. November 2009

While intellectually, Mister Obama understands the myriad hazards associated with “common core standards,” he and his Administration adopted these.  “Standardized-test scores can provide useful information about how students are doing  But as soon as the scores are tied to firing staff, giving bonuses, and closing schools, the measures become the goal of education, rather than an indicator.  Race to the Top went even beyond NCLB in its reliance on test scores as the ultimate measure of educational quality.” ~ Diane Ravitch. Historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.  Newsweek. March 20, 2011

Race To The Top Myths.

  • Teachers are to blame for the education crisis.
  • Business practices build solidly performing students and schools.
  • Rigor is “right.”
  • Teaching is a task anyone can do.

Race To The Top Truths.

“Race to the Top? National standards for math, science, and other school subjects?  The high-powered push to put them in place makes it clear that the politicians, business leaders, and wealthy philanthropists who’ve run America’s education show for the last two decades are as clueless about educating as they’ve always been.” ~ Marion Brady. veteran Teacher, Administrator, Curriculum Designer and Author. Washington Post

Administration after Administration administers standardized exams.  The scores reveal one truth consistently; our children are not standard.  Each is a Whole being, a child who yearns to learn more than memorize.  Indeed, to commit a fact, figure, or formula is not learning at all. Rote and regurgitate; this rhythm does not resonate in a mind, heart, body or soul.  Adults will tell you, in retrospect such an education is not an education at all.

Still policymakers are intent. Reinstatement. Rewrite. When will Legislators learn? The Race Leaves Children Further Behind. Please Save Our Schools!

National Standards. Low Expectations.

Countless concur. Standards and standardization in our schools has not helped advance humanity.  These are the cause of the stagnation we see in our schools.  Indeed, with the restrictions imposed, more students and Teachers dropout of an already diminished system.

More than five years ago, it was calculated that “Every Nine Seconds in America a Student Becomes a Dropout. Then and now we pay the cost for inadequate education structures.  

The number of Teachers who dropout of our schools in the first five years of their careers is far greater than that of students.   Studies show the most qualified Educators leave first.  Little support, poor conditions, and poverty play roles in what occurs.  Innumerable acknowledge; scarcity and the problems this puzzle presents within our society, specifically for our schools, is intolerable.  

Writer Kozol perhaps, speaks for the American people when he says,  “Good God, with all these gifts, useful energy, innocence, curiosity, why don’t we give [our children] everything we have?

This question is one every individual has asked at some time in their lives.  Even the childless are troubled by perceived injustices.  Teachers are troubled.  Parents perturbed.  A Professor ponders and shares her exploration. University of Berkeley Social Scientist Dacher Keltner reminds us of our roots.  Innately, humans hold dear the notion “survival of the kindest.” This truth is our strongest instinct. “Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner.

Dacher Keltner’s research reveals that Political divides and partisanship disappears when compassion, particularly for the children, is the issue.  Possibly, this is the essence that energizes the masses to Rally, to March and to build a Movement.  The people are compelled to call for action.

Finally, as education worsens Moms and Dads put their habits and hubris aside.  Many have decided dollars can no longer dictate deeds as have been true in the past.  Compassion for the children can and must be our guide.  

Perhaps, that is the real reason people from every political Party will join hands. In Washington District of Columbia, in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, California, in every State in the Union the public proclaims, we will not abandon our public schools.  This is why I will March, attend a Rally, Register for a Conference or two, and you? Will you?

References for Real and Rhetorical Education Reform . . .


Schools Deteriorate. Children and Teachers Suffer. ©

Recently, communities are more actively speaking of the future.  They are expressing their concerns for what we as a society have accepted.  Mostly the focus is on the war in Iraq.  Corruption in Congress can consume us for weeks at a time.  When chatting in cyberspace, Americans touch on issues such as the economy, healthcare, and Social Security.  These all qualify as vital when discussing our distresses. 

However rarely, do we discuss the situation in the schools.  We dance around and dialogue some; we speak of students and state there is a need to promote success.  At times, educators, and even the greater community consider the topics of “standards,” “teaching to the test,” and “accountability.”  Still, these issues stay on the periphery; those in power tie our purse strings.  Thus, we capitulate; we yield to their unwitting wisdom.  As sad as this may be, we do little or less to better the educational opportunities for our offspring.  It may be sadder still that we house our healthy students in decomposing buildings. 

The physical condition of their surroundings affects the fitness and wellbeing of our progeny.  Yet, we ignore this circumstance.  We allow what contributes to ill health in our young.  We, the public, accepts that those that teach our children will also endure environmentally caused illness.

There are environmental problems in Chicago and Washington schools that the study found to be exacerbated by poor building design and maintenance, creating situations for many teachers and students that jeopardized not only academic outcomes but also health.  Of the conditions most surely linked to health and academic achievement – indoor air quality, thermal comfort, lighting and noise, was of greatest concern.

They say you cannot fight City Hall or Congress.  I ask; might politics be more about all people, even or especially the youngest among us?

Organizations, such as The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), are reaching out, attempting to further the dialogue amongst educators.  Their hope is that if teachers speak, perchance the populous will listen.  They acknowledge that, thus far the words of those that work in the schools fall on deaf ears.  Nevertheless, the American Federation of Teachers tries.  They invite all of us to share in their concerns.

On December 4, 2006, The American Federation of Teachers delved deeper.  They published a report addressing the nitty-gritty in instruction, the buildings themselves.  In Build It Up we can read about  the use of asbestos in school construction and illness due to environmental issues.  In this article, the reader is subjected to the suffering due to poor conditions in our school. 

Structures are built on landfills.  Toxins are often found in the air and in the walls.  What seeps through the ceilings is distressing.  Dis-ease in the classroom is prevalent amongst these educators and their pupils.  Possibly, these concerns effect instructors and scholars in your own districts.

“[We have] leaks and even the occasional icicle from my computer lab ceiling, asbestos coming up off the floor, the exterior walls are crumbling. We feel forgotten ?.” – a Minnesota technology coordinator

“Our school has been built on a former landfill?. On our worst days, we’re forced to have early dismissal because so many get sick from the smell.” – a Boston third-grade teacher

These quotes from AFT members come from our new report Building Minds and Minding Buildings.  We asked these members and their brothers and sisters across the country to describe the condition of the schools they work in.

What we found was sobering, but not surprising.  Although many schools are properly maintained and in good condition, far too many are not, The Society of Civil Engineers, for example, gave America’s schools a “D” grade for quality of infrastructure.

This issue has direct educational and health consequences for kids.  For example, poor acoustics and indoor air quality hurt performance in the classroom.  Mold and improper ventilation are linked to respiratory troubles such as asthma.  Schools with poor facilities have higher teacher turnover, which also directly affects student learning.

Max B. Sawicky and Doug Harris, of the Economic Policy Institute thinks the situations in the schools are important.  These economic experts wrote of this in Putting school renovation on a fast track.  The authors cite a portion of an article from Education Week to demonstrate how dire conditions might be.

A school in Portland, Maine, was closed forever last month.  The Romeo, Michigan, district started the school year four days late.  And students from a high school in St. Charles, Illinois, now are forced to take their classes at a middle school.  The culprit in each case was mold, literally a growing problem in the nation’s schools….”?~ Education Week

The United States Government Accountability Office GAO also expresses concerns.  This federal organization sees school facilities crumbling and wonders of our youth.  Will we?  Can we contemplate what we know and yet rather not recognize?

I wish to present what is a problem in our neighborhoods.  Schools are crumbling; our children are sitting in classrooms where the conditions are poor.  In California, on May 17, 2000,  a coalition of private and public-interest groups filed a lawsuit in hopes of taking action against the state.  The complaint alleges that students in 18 schools throughout the region receive a substandard education.  What we witness as we watch the facades of our school fall to pieces is reflected within.  What occurs within the walls is due to an overall lack of attention. 

Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] states, “These schools are the shame of California.”  Rosenbaum expounded, “If these schools were housing, they would be treated as slums.”  Exasperated, representing Attorney Rosenbaum explained, “These are the schools a government would create if it did not care about all its children.” I agree.  Our actions as a society speak volumes. 

We say that we care; yet, there is ample evidence to demonstrate that we do not.  I surmise, we must accept that our actions do not match our words.  We need to ponder why this is.  Would we wish to study in classrooms where our health is sacrificed?  Do we want this for our children or for the offspring of our neighbors?  Are we  willing to sacrifice the elders that serve our students?  I think not.  Yet, that is what we do.  Now that we, the “adults” are out of school, education, and the circumstances of educators seems to be a lower priority.  Money, making it, and not spending it takes precedence.  “Raise No taxes” is the rallying cry!  Americans have spoken.

We, our countrymen, do not wish to commit to doling out cash for petty concerns.  As long as the young have food and shelter that is sufficient.  The quality of our facilities [and the excellence of instruction] need not matter.  For “when I was a child . . .”  or so the saying goes.

From all accounts, the public does not wish to comment, to commit, nor do they [we] expect our elected officials to take further action.

“The lawsuit is lengthy and detailed,” Leigh Manasevit, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education (CDE) told Education World today. “[CDE] will have no comment about the lawsuit until the department’s lawyers, and perhaps the attorney general, have had a chance to review it.”

Among the complaints detailed in the lawsuit:

  • Some classes lack textbooks; other classes don’t have enough textbooks for every student.
  • Some classes share textbooks, which prevents students from taking them home to do homework.
  • Some schools are severely overcrowded.
  • Schedules present obstacles to learning, including year-round schedules that result in a reduced number of instruction days.
  • Some schools lack adequate heating, ventilation, or air conditioning.
  • In some schools, classrooms are created in spaces previously used as gymnasiums, libraries, and auditoriums.
  • Some teachers have not yet obtained teaching credentials.
  • Roaches and vermin inhabit some classrooms.
  • Some schools offer too few courses.
  • Some schools have filthy bathrooms and toilets with no seat covers.
  • Some classrooms don’t have enough seats for students.
  • In some schools, libraries are closed.
  • The supply of paper and pencils is insufficient in some schools.
    Those problems occur disproportionately in schools serving minority students in urban areas. Even when violations of “minimal standards” are reported, the state has taken few steps to remedy the situation, the suit contends.

  • Remedy and review.  There has much of this for decades though the situation in our schools continues to worsen. 

    Actually, in many locales the state of affairs is worse than what is reported here.  Words cannot express what it might feel like to study in surroundings where paint is peeling, public toilets are plugged, icicles drip from the ceilings, and wind whooshes through the windows and doors.  The specifics set aside above speak to the situation in California where the climate is moderate.  Perhaps, we could try to imagine what learning is like for the young in the inner city schools of New York City, Chicago, and the frigid metropolis of Detroit, Minneapolis, or Milwaukee.

    You might recall the famous or infamous, depending on your point of view, Jonathan Kozol and his publication, “Savage Inequalities.”

    The problems of the streets in urban areas, as teachers often note, frequently spill over into public schools. In the public schools of East St. Louis, this is literally the case.

    “Martin Luther King Junior High School,” notes the Post-Dispatch in a story published in the early spring of 1989, “was evacuated Friday afternoon after sewage flowed into the kitchen…. The kitchen was closed and students were sent home.” On Monday, the paper continues, “East St. Louis Senior High School was awash in sewage for the second time this year.” The school had to be shut because of “fumes and backed-up toilets.” Sewage flowed into the basement, through the floor, then up into the kitchen and the students’ bathrooms. The backup, we read, “occurred in the food preparation areas.”

    School is resumed the following morning at the high school, but a few days later, the overflow recurs. This time the entire system is affected, since the meals distributed to every student in the city are prepared in the two schools that have been flooded. School is called off for all 16,500 students in the district. The sewage backup, caused by the failure of two pumping stations, forces officials at the high school to shut down the furnaces.

    At Martin Luther King, the parking lot and gym are also flooded. “It’s a disaster,” says a legislator. “The streets are underwater; gaseous fumes are being emitted from the pipes under the schools,” she says, “making people ill.”

    In the same week, the schools announce the layoff of 280 teachers, 166 cooks and cafeteria workers, 25 teacher aides, 16 custodians and 18 painters, electricians, engineers and plumbers. The president of the teachers’ union says the cuts, which will bring the size of kindergarten and primary classes up to 30 students, and the size of fourth to twelfth grade classes up to 35, will have “an unimaginable impact” on the students. “If you have a high school teacher with five classes each day and between 150 and 175 students . . ., it’s going to have a devastating effect.” The school system, it is also noted, has been using more than 70 “permanent substitute teachers,” who are paid only $10,000 yearly, as a way of saving money.

    Granted, this was the worse of the worse, and in East St. Louis things are improving since Kozal’s disclosure.  However, conditions are still terrible.  For many, situations similar to these are life in America.  As long as we do not discuss what is, as long as we allow the tax dollars that support our schools to wither away for we want no tax increases, society as a whole will suffer.  Might we re-assess our priorities?  Is our progeny important, are our educators able to truly teach.  If not what will become of future generations, what is already happening to us.

    As you reflect on the national, state and local budgets look now at the pavement, or the roads you ride on.  Ponder the conditions you see.  What we neglect will decay, be these minds, bodies, or buildings.

    Thus, I beg; I plead. I believe educators, parents, and those in cyberspace communities need to advance awareness.  We must speak of the dirty little secret, students and teachers are suffering.  Distressed and debilitating circumstances are ample.  These are spreading as our infrastructure disintegrates.  I wonder; will we sit idly by and watch, waiting for what, Godot.

    Often diaries that discuss schools receive few comments.  Are we not concerned for our children, their teachers, or for ourselves?  I wonder, does anyone care?  What will we welcome in our net neighborhoods, and what might we deem “unfortunate”; yet beyond our control.  Our schools are in crisis, [our cities fare no better.]  Will we cogitate; can we confer, convene, and come to an agreement or will we continue to stand by?  Perhaps, we as the California Department of Education official announced, need more time to review.

    Please Review the resources . . .

  • How Standardized Testing Damages Education, The National Center for Fair & Open Testing
  • NCLBlog
  • Build It Up.
  • School Building Conditions. American Federation of Teachers.
  • School Facilities Government Accountability Office
  • General Accounting Office Reports on Schools US Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Putting school renovation on a fast track. By Max B. Sawicky and Doug Harris.  Economic Policy Institute November 2, 2001
  • Little Red Crumbling School House MaxSpeak. December 04, 2006
  • Linking School Facility Conditions to Teacher Satisfaction and Success, By Mark Schneider.  National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities August 2003
  • Poor School Conditions Prompt Lawsuit on Behalf of Students: How Does Your School Compare? By Gary Hopkins. Education World
  • Waiting for Godot. TheatreHistory.com
  • Savage Inequalities, By Jonathan Kozol. [excerpted from the book]