If a Superintendent Whines About State School Funding, and Nobody Hears It, Does it Matter?

Just read another impassioned plea for more school funding in Oregon. Just another $2 Billion a year, and we will be there.

The large district superintendent posits that class sizes are up, offerings have been cut, and it is only going to get worse. Those of us on the inside of the game know this already, and have been living it for a long time. Frog in boiling pot, except we are a smart frog and know how it ends for public education.

Oregon ranks towards the bottom in the nation for spending, class sizes, etc. State-wide, our voters and their elected representatives have spoken –

” Take what we give you and stop whining”.

Meanwhile, as professionals we talk about providing a “world-class” education, if only the legislature would fund us adequately.

I will start running marathons tomorrow if you will buy for me a $500 pair of Nike’s – promise, even though right now I do not even run.

Most public education is comprised of solo teachers with huge classes, disconnected from community, in a rigid bell schedule which ensures that they stay isolated from community, relies on expensive textbooks, and teaches subject matter in discrete chunks. Sanitized content safely removed from real life provided from Texas and California, in a system with limited flexibility for student rates of learning.

I am experiencing first-hand what happens when you slow it down, get to know your students really well, tie in their learning to real life and community, and trust them to do the right thing.

My teaching partner and I have 55 students, who we share with our Instructional Assistant and our Secretary. We know EVERY KID!!! We talk to them each day. We just started a new school year in July, and we have the same kids we had last year, minus our grads, and plus the newbies. We get to watch them grow, and are them to guide and support them over time.

I used to teach in the factory model at a mid-sized high school where I was supposed to form relationships with 150-180 kids a day, who I would never see again after 18 weeks. Built in disposability – to borrow a phrase from my roomie Phil Dizon in Iraq – “Sounds like Crap-olay!” This model is not based on anything in the natural world- have you ever tried to have meaningful relationships with 180 people a day? For kids who need positive adult role models and mentors, they get just enough to not get what they need…

Many parents who have the means have not been getting what they need from public schools, which is why many of them pull their kids out for Virtual, or Private School, or Home-school. If you are paying tuition for your student to go to a Private School, the sexiness kind of goes out of imposing greater taxes on yourself to help out public schools, unless you feel that the extra money will be a magic transformation that will make them the best choice for your child. We end up with “public” schools for the other 90%, devoid of the social capital and talent that the 10% could add.

I am a hopeless romantic about public education – it could be amazing for all kids. I want it to succeed, but only if it is healthy, engaging and magical. Right now there are small pockets of greatness, surviving in spite of testing fears and the culture in districts that often prevails from that fear. When conversations revolve around individual students and not state test scores, we will be there.

Fear alone will not get the other 10%, who are the ones who know how to pass bonds and get people into office, to vote for additional school funding. Schools are waiting to make “changes” (in their minds they want to add more staff and keep the model the same as it has been for almost a century) until the extra money comes in.

The other 10% are looking for magic for their kids. Adding back more length to the assembly line is not magic. Creating a learning environment where every child is known, where the adults are not stressed out by high stakes tests, and where learning is authentic and tied to community, is one form of magic. There may well be others.

Public education administrators work their tails off, with most efforts trying to keep the ship from sinking day-to-day. Each year, another mast breaks, and the state pries off another chunk of the side of the ship to give to another program.

What would it take to make schools, under current budgets, so amazing that all parents wanted to send their kids there? To borrow from Peter Block, we do not ask “How?” until we have asked ourselves – “Is it worth doing?” If the answer to the latter question is Yes!, then we figure out how to make it happen. No excuses, no whining, no snivelling. We are talking massive change to how we currently do business. If the answer is “We could change, but the bus schedule, and our parents, and teachers and …..:” then we better get out the life-rafts.

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