I believe we need to stop saying we need to make education a priority. I believe we, as elected leaders, families, teachers, and the professional community, need to make education a top priority.
We have all heard it, and we have all nodded our heads in agreement at the phrases tooted or espoused upon at cocktail dinner parties, election speeches, or sidewalk protests. We all praise the virtues of working together to ensure all students get a quality education
“Our children’s future is everyone’s future!” says the governor elect.
“The best thing my country can do for me and my children is to ensure good teachers and schools!” says the parent.
“Only quality education can raise a well-educated workforce to drive a vibrant economy for our country,” says the businessman.
“My job is to do all that I can to make sure our schools and our children receive all the help and resources they need in order to learn,” says the teacher.
And, “I want to do the best that I can,” says the student.
I have no doubt that these statements are sincere and most everyone can agree that quality education is a fundamental right the driving force behind our country’s progress. However, my recent experience in our public schools during these last couple of months may prove to disprove our vows of commitment to our children’s education. My hope is that by painting a real portrait of a public school in the suburbs of California, we will make a decision to make education a top priority in our country.
In two months I will be finishing my first of two years in a Masters of Education and Multiple-Subject Credential program at University of California, Berkeley. Throughout my program, my classmates and I rotate through 5 schools from multiple school districts as student-teachers. My most current placement, for the purpose of this article we will call Monte Vista Elementary, is a K-5 elementary school in Berkeley, California. The school population is reflective of the community’s demographics, with students of African-American, Latino, Asian, and European descent. At first glance, as a parent or student-teacher stepping onto the campus, it is a delightful oasis. Several years ago, the school was renovated and designed by a local architect. The result is an open air campus adorned by children’s artwork and murals. Two story buildings encircle a courtyard where children are free to run and play organized games of basketball and foursquare. There is a small garden where students learn environmental sciences every other week. A creek runs through a hidden wooded play structure.
In the past, Monte Vista Elementary has been fortunate to gain the attention of the district to receive grants to fund necessary services for their students. However, with recent changes and decisions from the district, this children’s haven may not be able to hold it together for much longer. Monte Vista Elementary is overcrowded and understaffed. The school is already taking 2-3 more classes then they are built to accommodate. The school’s program for students with exceptional needs is supporting 3 times as many students as any other school in the district. Resource specialists are working out of closets, and the science teacher boasts a mobile cart!
Rather than bring in extra support through funding or distributing the booming student population to other schools, the district has decided to add one more kindergarten class for the academic school year of 2007-2008! This means that for the next 5 years, teachers of every grade will have to be shuffled around as this 4 class kindergarten moves through each grade, causing teachers to be up-rooted and re-arranged in order to accommodate for these extra 20 students. Other hasty decisions for the following year include removing one of the district’s most successful intervention programs for literacy due to financial shortages, and replace it with a math support program. It is true that the children and school could benefit from extra support in other subjects, however the district fails to realize that while the students receive support in math, literacy skills will very naturally suffer.
Concerned for the state of Monte Vista Elementary, the teachers at the school called up the district superintendent and requested a personal on-site meeting to discuss the district plans. The meeting went as expected. The district superintendent listened empathetically, but was not able to offer any hopeful solution. The changes for the following year will have to be in place as planned.
The teachers and students at Monte Vista Elementary are constantly battling and fighting for their right to quality and good education. It is true, during times of economic hardship, cuts are necessary. In May 2004, Field Poll, 62 percent of Californians said that taxes will have to be raised to resolve the state’s budget deficit. But Governor Schwarzenegger refuses to contemplate inconveniencing the affluent. Instead, the governor is borrowing billions, deferring debts, and betting on an improved economy. All the while California’s students endure undeserved hardship now, and for the future.
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