Heather Wolpert-Gawron

LA Times Article: Bailing on Schools Doesn’t Fix Schools

By on January 7, 2010

So a colleague of mine commented yesterday on my article “Is TFA a Volunteerism Succubus?” David Cohen (fellow member of The Teacher Leaders Network and creator the ACT ning) said the following in response to my article:

“…They won’t invest in deeper structural improvements, won’t risk the political fallout of admitting that poverty matters in school performance, and have become cheerleaders for the quick and cheap fix.”

So this got me thinking about an article I saw in yesterday’s LA Times. The LA Times reported that in an attempt to get schools to change their wicked ways, California has just approved a bill that would allow parents more power to try to overhaul their student’s school. If unsuccessful, those parents would have the right to pull their students and move them to another school or even another district. I don’t know about you, but there’s a slippery slope in my head.

To begin with, the bill insists that as long as 50% of a school’s families have signed petitions for a particular reform, then that school board must oblige in any number of ways. If unsuccessful, the parents have the right to pull their students and pitch their educational tents for another district.

OK, I can’t say I don’t get it. But what could this lead to? It’s always a question of that. What could this lead to? Will parents eventually control the curriculum? Will they control the fate of a teacher? Will they control the fate of another family in the school? Slippery-slope: witch hunt.

Now, it’s not that I don’t believe these schools should be built again from the philosophical ground up, or that education isn’t desperate for family involvement, or even that schools and districts must be more fearful of not doing their jobs better, but I think this could lead to places these assembly-folks never dreamed.

Rather than fix the schools, they are granting families (the ones with advocates, that is) the right to bail on them, “leaving behind” as it were, the kids with the least amount of advocacy. So what happens to those kids who don’t leave the school? We’re now creating an even more tragic tier of performance and achievement while creating an exodus to other schools. Slippery-slope: prisons.

That’s right. Because what happens here is that we’ve created school sites which even more resemble prisons, because the problems haven’t been solved, of course, just abandoned by some.

The government is throwing up its hands. After all, these schools were desperate for parental involvement to begin with. If they had had it in the first place, the schools wouldn’t have been in this mess. But it isn’t that parents didn’t have enough power before, it’s that the families were AWOL, or working three jobs, or busy putting food on their table, leaving the job of educating to their schools.

Now, leaving education totally in the hands of schools is misguided. We all know that. We all know that families are the first teachers and the most consistent teachers. But many of us have worked in these schools before. It’s not that these families don’t care. It’s that they have other things to do to survive, trusting that the education will be taken care of.

Are their families out there who don’t care, or who only use schools as babysitter services? Sure. But it’s these kids who will become the norm in these lower performing schools if we allow other students to just abandon the site. No, we have the fix the problem, not ditch it.

And what of the schools which accept the influx of students who have made the journey elsewhere?

Are those schools going to get more ADA funding (thus, taking money from the more impoverished schools again)? Are they going to be able to hire more teachers to accommodate the greater number of kids coming from an underperforming districts? Or will their class counts merely be set to overload? Or maybe, horror of horrors, Will the overall test scores in the receiving school drop due to the influx of kids who had inferior educations, thus, creating more failing schools according to the sacred test scores?

I believe in parental involvement. I believe there is a way to make parental choice work. But this slippery-slope is getting greased up with every bill passed. We’re heading in the wrong direction for the good of these kids.

The government can’t avoid the inevitable. They must be involved in funding. They must be involved in solving. As must we all: communities, schools, teachers, parents, and students alike. We spend so many hours and years trying for the bullet, the quick fix, the buck passing. But like the Nike ad said, “Just do it.” Just fix the schools.

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