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Education Reform in an Unequal K-12 Education System: Right, Entitlement, or Privilege?
Just as the medical profession manages symptoms through drugs, politicians manage the education system by turning a blind eye (ignorant?) to how education deals with its ills. These “solutions” are more easily visible in urban areas.
Politicians, through the power of legislation, expect all students in schools to perform at or above grade level, which the “average” child is expected to know or do. There are kids who can and do, and kids who can’t and don’t. All schools are NOT equal, and never will be, as long as we have the freedom to choose where we live and what we do with our personal resources. All children are NOT equal, and never will be, in terms of experiential readiness, developmental readiness, native abilities, talents and skills, or interests. When we look at school performance, we need to consider many things that don’t fit into formulas for success.
The schools of “law”
In the United States, by law, children have the right to a free and appropriate public education. Complex social, political and legal changes have created standardized education, ostensibly to ensure adequate and equal educational opportunities. The goal is for every child to learn skills to become a productive member of the workforce. General education schools are the result. These schools often have an alarming graduation rate, for many reasons. One of the reasons is that the most successful and successful students attend schools of “entitlement” or “privilege”.
In larger or more urban areas, the public school district may have specialized schools for any level of education (elementary, middle, high school). High-achieving (gifted) students typically attend middle and/or high school. Magnet schools focus strenuous or intensive instruction in areas of particular career interest (math, science, arts, career options, etc.) in middle and/or high schools. “Traditional” schools emphasize the pedagogical bases; these are usually elementary and/or middle schools. Charter schools require direct parental involvement and can be elementary, middle, or high school. Generally, all of these special schools expect parents to support and involve students in their homework, performance, and school-appropriate attitudes, behaviors, and dress.
They are schools of law; students must meet certain criteria or standards in order to attend. These standards do not ensure attendance; not all who apply are present. Quotas determine the number of students in classes, and when they are filled, the doors close. Students who fail to meet the required standards of behavior and/or scholarship become ineligible to continue attending school. “Law” schools have high graduation rates because there is a mental and emotional investment from both adults and students.
Another type of school, arguably falling under the “entitlement” category, is the alternative school: the school for students who are behaviorally and/or emotionally inappropriate for the “good” school and permanently excluded from “preferred” schools. “. Students, removed from their “good” placement school for serious behavioral and/or disciplinary reasons, may or may not return to the mainstream in the future; generally, they have little interest in academic success.
The “privileged” schools
Parents who can afford and appreciate stimulating educational opportunities for their children ensure that their children benefit from them. Those with sufficient income, usually from the upper and upper middle class, send their children to private schools, either day schools or boarding schools. The standards for these teachers and students are high, mainly because parents are committed to the education of their children; they pay tuition and fees to cover expensive structures, uniforms, books, educational trips, and other experiences to enhance their children’s optimal growth and relationships for their future. Those who choose local schools live where state schools are highly rated and have a reputation for excellent teachers, often also attracted by high salaries and exceptionally good students. Housing costs prevent low-income families from participating. When parents, due to employment or other constraints related to their place of residence, cannot afford these exceptional public schools, they can always seek out specialized schools. Many of these schools, affiliated with a religious organization, reinforce the common values of the families present. Graduation rates in “preferred” schools are high.
What do we really know?
All educators have extensive training; most teachers work hard, long hours, but can’t stop the plethora of influences outside the classroom that keep students from succeeding. Research and statistics, as we currently use them, are NOT appropriate for evaluating education; we cannot statistically assess education when some aspects of poverty affect children’s learning. Assumptions about people, attitudes, values and beliefs lead to policies that don’t work.
Everyone can contribute to the solutions; it is a revolutionary approach that could help identify our personal and collective weaknesses and our blind spots. Exposing the personal and national attitudes and beliefs that keep us entangled in habitual approaches could enable us to begin effective educational reform.
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