Public Education: NOT Too Big To Fail

Saving Oregon schools: Targeting the wrong areas for budget cuts

The job of destroying America's public schools, left unfinished by No Child Left Behind, has now been taken over by our economic recession.

In nearly every state, teacher layoffs, a shortened school year, class-size increases and elimination of vital parts of the school curriculum are in progress, So far, Congress has failed to respond. Apparently our public schools, unlike Wall Street banks, are not "too big to fail." Ironically, the business community, the leading advocate of school reform in recent years, remains silent.

To make matters worse, the only assistance the Obama administration has offered to states is a Faustian bargain: Allow the unlimited proliferation of charter schools that drain the most dedicated students, their families and funds from public schools; evaluate teachers' competence by their students' scores on flawed, once-a-year state tests; and accept national standards designed by people who haven't been inside a classroom or near any kids but their own since they graduated. Then -- maybe -- we'll give you enough money to keep school buildings open.

In the face of this national disaster, the public appears to be accepting the inevitable, perhaps thinking that it's all just temporary and soon, as the recession ends, all school losses will be restored. But will they?

Most of the teachers being laid off today are the young ones, who are also the ones most likely to change course and pursue other careers. Few will come back to teaching by the time the economy recovers. We can't count on public support for school rebuilding either because the people who vote and speak up most often -- the wealthy, the retired and parents with children in private or charter schools -- won't be affected by public school cuts.

Moreover, the public memory is short. A couple of years from now, hardly anyone will remember that schools once taught history, science, music and physical education, just as they've already forgotten that schools used to have nurses, art teachers and librarians.

Although I can't argue that states are not suffering a severe financial crisis or that big reductions in this major state budget item don't need to be made, Oregon is targeting the wrong areas. By looking for a few places where the most money can be saved with the least trouble, school leaders are about to sever vital arteries that nourish educational excellence and to miss opportunities to eliminate the real expendables in our schools.

Instead of laying off teachers, eliminating physical education and jamming more students into already crowded classrooms, the state and school districts should be targeting non-classroom personnel, delaying purchases of all textbooks and commercial materials, reducing sports and other extracurricular activities, eliminating teacher professional development programs, denying approval of additional charter schools and, above all, putting a moratorium on state tests.

Whether we like these things or not, we have to agree that they are nonessential and far more likely to be restored in the future than the people and programs that stand by all our kids every day.

Joanne Yatvin is an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University.
h/t JH

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