Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prosecute for Lack of Opportunity, Not a Mother's Desire for a Good School

Tanya McDowell is being prosecuted by a Connecticut court...Tanya McDowell.

"The challenge in the state of Connecticut and beyond is providing a quality education for all children. The failure of school systems to provide that is the larger issue that goes well beyond whatever happened in this case."
Bruce Morris
Norwalk Schools
Director of Human Relations 

New York Times highlights education inequalities: 
"Connecticut, with its patchwork of poor cities and wealthy suburbs, has the largest achievement gap between black and white students of any state in the country."
Read more

Connecticut ranks 44th in the nation in its Opportunity to Learn Index. Black students have only 33% of the opportunity to learn that their white counterparts do.
Tanya McDowell is being prosecuted by a Connecticut court for stealing from the city of Norwalk.

Norwalk officials say that by enrolling her 5-year-old son in city schools without living there, the 33-year-old mother - reportedly homeless at the time - stole nearly $16,000 from their coffers, or the cost of a year of school.

McDowell says she was trying to get her son the best possible education and armed with information about local schools, did what she felt was best for her son. She doesn't think she stole anything - except perhaps a little more hope for her son's future.

Her supporters - and they seem to be growing nationally - agree and argue that the quality of a child's education should not be decided by zip code. They held a press conference yesterday in Norwalk to draw attention to McDowell's plight.

"It is time to end laws that penalize and arrest parents for accessing great public schools for their children," stated a press release for the event, which was organized by The Connecticut Parents Union.

While the legal debate unfolds, the real crime here is that so many U.S. children must attend schools that lack qualified teachers, fail to provide adequate instructional materials for all children and have high dropout rates.

These students - most of them low-income students of color - are denied the opportunity to learn that a child on the other side of the proverbial tracks enjoys. McDowell knows what quality and opportunity look like and didn't want her child denied either one. She now faces charges of grand larceny.

And where should she turn? Policymakers and leaders who could do the most to expand educational opportunity are mired in politics, sidetracked by school and teacher bashing, and undercut by fads or hamstrung by very real stress on federal, state and local budgets.

But for all of the time and energy spent on those issues, they are not even the ones that matter most. The critical choices include federal education policies that fund a handful of states under Race to the Top rather than helping all states support and fund opportunity. Or holding military spending sacred while exposing education to new fiscal vulnerability. At the state level, education dollars increasingly compete with spending for prisons.

These choices for policymakers might be different and easier if the ultimate goal were equal educational opportunity for all. 

McDowell's choice might have been different as well. We should not have to tell parents to send a child to a school where his chance of learning to read, gain basic skills and eventually graduate are far lower than if he took a bus a few miles in another direction.

President Obama said as much in his 2010 State of the Union address: "... in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential."

He is right. A family's zip code should not determine the quality of a student's education. Let's hope that the case of Tanya McDowell gives us all pause to reflect on why a mother must send her 5-year-old son to a school system that pales when compared to an option next door. We can do better in this land of opportunity.

John Jackson
President& CEO
The Schott Foundation for Public Education

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is Your State Doing Enough to Prepare Children for School? Find Out in The 2010 State of Preschool Yearbook

While research continues to demonstrate that high-quality preschool is one of the most beneficial investments we can make for all of our children and their communities, an annual report finds that preschool funding has fallen victim to the weak economy and other spending priorities. The 2010 Yearbook, published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, presents data on state-funded prekindergarten programs during the 2009-2010 school year including information on national trends in public preschool programs, state profiles with detailed program information, and comprehensive appendices of survey and program data. The report emphasizes the need for effective, high-quality early education programs which provide critical support to a child’s development. The data also shows that the recession had a significant impact on state funding for preschool programs in the 2009-2010 school year.
Click here to access the report.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Public school teacher: 13 reasons I’m outraged

Over on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog, guest writer Kathie Marshall posted an incisive blogpost, "13 Reasons I'm Outraged."

It's written in a wonderful polemical tone - a tone that's increasingly needed these days to capture the sheer magnitude of the problems facing our children and our public education system. A few choice reasons:
"I’m outraged that California politicians have so destroyed the eighth largest economy in the world that we are close to having a third-world educational system in place. Who’s going to want to educate my beloved grandchildren when they enter school?"

"I’m outraged that my students, growing up in one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles, are expected to perform better than ever while being provided with fewer and fewer resources in and out of school during these dismal economic times. Who cares about students who’ve lost their homes? Lost a parent? Speak little English? Didn’t eat yesterday?"

Check out the entire post here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Economic Crisis for Who?

By Greg Jobin-Leeds and Saulo Colon

There is great disparity in the economic pain that currently exists.

In the last year, most millionaires gained back all the financial losses that they incurred in 2008. While some economists are calling the current period “The Great Recession,” there is no economic crisis for most millionaires.  The brunt of the economic crisis is hitting the poor, the working and middle classes, and our public infrastructure.  Schools in middle class and poor communities are facing huge cuts resulting in class sizes of up to 60 in some communities. 

It has now become clear that a national strategy is underway to make the public-sector bear the burden of the “economic crisis.”  Teachers, unions, and public employees are the No. 1 target.  Education in particular has become the battleground of our democracy.

Since Democrats and Republicans agreed last December not to increase federal income, estate and capital gains taxes, this makes it impossible to increase revenue for state, local and federal budgets. This forces governors, mayors and state legislatures to raise taxes and/or to slash payrolls and social programs.  In addition, media and politicians’ focus on ‘deficits and debts” has eroded taxpayer support for government spending.

The budget crisis is not due to public spending.  It is the result of our war economy and because federal and state budgets are being starved of tax revenue from corporations and the rich – many of who – through their corporate lobbyists, create tax breaks, subsidies, and loop holes in their favor that they can get the government to pass .

Progressive philanthropy does not have enough money to solve the multitude of problems that our government is exacerbating by rolling back social programs.  These programs are part of the bedrock of our country and were a key reason we became a developed nation.  Organizing for equitable education funding for all students is one way to shift this tide of inequality back towards democracy.  It is time to demystify the economic crisis.  The country has enough resources to educate every child to their fullest potential.  It is just a matter of choices and who gets to make the choices.  The domination by the super wealthy and corporations of our current two political parties crushes the participation of the majority in our democracy and economy.