At what point will voting citizens consider alternatives to a failing system? While clearly, the pandemic was devastating on many levels, academic performance and scores weren’t exactly terrific pre-pandemic either. Forty percent or less of students demonstrating proficiency at their grade level pre-pandemic, and thirty percent or lower (teen percentages in some places) post pandemic, isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement of our public school system. It’s long past time for a complete educational overhaul and a re-think of how we do things. We must stop fighting and engaging in the private vs public debate, and take a long hard look at what is actually working, regardless of system.
I had originally intended to write about a friend’s experience with the special needs scholarship program, Children’s First, questioning why the public system has to continually bog down, interfere, and outright block any funding that helps parents who want an alternative education for a whole host of valid reasons. Why can’t we work together for the good of our students, the very individuals who are failed by fighting, games, and the “us versus them” philosophies? This scholarship was created to be easily accessible to students with a qualifying disability. Qualification was simplified by allowing a disability diagnosis from a variety of sources, including physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and/or a student’s district IEP. However, the public system couldn’t possibly trust doctors to make diagnoses so families could expediently gain access to these funds, funds which do not come from or take away from public school coffers. The public system intervened at every level as the bill for Children’s First was signed into law and ensured that they became the gatekeepers and overseers to this funding for Utah families. As it stands, only an IEP gives families access, but even then, doesn’t ensure full funding. If there was a loophole to block access, it was used. Unfortunately, the reality is that districts are backlogged, understaffed, and unable to handle the special needs workload of district students, much less the students waiting for IEP evaluations to attend private schools. If that isn’t bad enough, they went on to include in their qualifying process, IEP specific language ensuring that if a student was already in a private school, they would qualify for a significantly lower amount based solely off the label heading on top of the education plan. Students lose funding if their plan says PSSP instead of IEP, a labeling system they chose. To be explicitly clear, students lose needed funding that is neither from nor for the districts because of a label, a label the districts created.
Apparently someone else wishes to be clear about where we stand in education…
‘“I want to be very clear: The results in today’s nation’s report card are appalling and unacceptable,” said Miguel Cardona, the secretary of education. “This is a moment of truth for education. How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.”’
I couldn’t agree more!!!!! However I don’t think we would agree on what’s next. My guess is that politicians, education specialists, and lobbyists will want to make sure (for the trillionth time) that we can’t fix education by pouring more money into an unaccountable system that has again and again proven to be run poorly with even poorer outcomes for students, pandemic or not. Que the next quote…
“The findings raise significant questions about where the country goes from here. Last year, the federal government made its largest single investment in American schools — $123 billion, or about $2,400 per student — to help students catch up. School districts were required to spend at least 20 percent of the money on academic recovery, a threshold some experts believe is inadequate for the magnitude of the problem.”
As I was saying-yes, let’s keep throwing money at this system because it clearly works when we do. That amount of money ($2400 per student) buys quite a bit of tutoring and interventions in the hands of parents over the course of a year. But why would we put money in parents' hands and let them help their individual students in the specific areas they are struggling? How could they possibly know what’s best for their child, they’re only raising them and providing for their needs in every other aspect of their lives. Besides, what if they used it for “private services”? The public system clearly demonstrated they used that $2400 to improve things, right? If you are thinking, what about those students who have parent/parents that don’t/can’t make good decisions. The $2400 could still be used by schools to offer tutoring and services to that specific group, providing services at a high level, given that with many parents allowed to choose alternatives, the system would be far less bogged down.
“The pandemic laid bare the deep and troubling inequalities that dominate many aspects of American life — especially in education.”
And the solution couldn’t possibly be to allow these students and families access to better schools and/or alternatives and interventions possibly outside the public system?
“In fourth grade, for both math and reading, students in the bottom 25th percentile lost more ground compared with students at the top of their class, leaving the low-performing students further behind.”
Once again, it sounds like these are the very students who either need access to alternatives, despite the “well spent” extra $2400, or more from their public school. These students need a tremendous amount of additional support, whether that occurs at their public school or not, they aren’t getting what they need. What could it hurt to offer alternatives? Allowing alternatives, unburdens the public system, freeing educators to provide higher quality care and more time to those remaining students who need it most. At some point we have to stop fearing choice more than we care about how our students are actually doing. If your child resides in the specific part of the country with percentages reside in the teens for students who can perform at grade level, what do you honestly have to lose? Your student’s school babysits your child and does little else. What does the future look like for those kids? Choice is hardly the worst thing out there.
And finally, I desperately desire to add again the pitch to possibly consider Catholic Schools. I want to add links to the many articles published about how well the Catholic School System performed pre-pandemic, mid-pandemic, and now post-pandemic, but that really isn’t the point of the article or my argument to consider any and all options that might help students. I believe in the Catholic System, especially given the huge amount of data showing it works, but I also know it isn’t the right option for every child and every child deserves their best education. As a nation, that is not happening, and it is not happening now for most students, not just a few disadvantaged groups, although they are faring the worst in this mess. Until we stop fighting, blocking funding, ignoring data, making excuses, and tossing money around without accountability at those schools, nothing changes. Can we finally call a truce? Can we vote for solutions requiring accountability? Can we offer alternatives? As stated earlier, “choice” is hardly the worst outcome at this point for the nation’s students.