I'm feeling pretty stewy these days when it comes to K-12 education. Our local school district is a mess and I'm close enough to it -- knowing a couple of board members, being on a school committee, attending as many PTO meetings as I can stomach, and watching my kids go through it -- that there is something every week that sends me into a fit. On the state level the funding system that was supposed to equalizes districts (but has not) and more threatened cuts makes the picture for the majority of school districts in the state pretty bleak.
I'm a pretty firm believer in public education and I put my kids where my mouth is. The problem is, as I said, the current crunch that can only get worse before it gets better is going to fuck things up for my kids. While the system is dissolving into crisis (where something like 60% of the districts in the state are in serious debt), my kids are in 3rd and 7th grade. Even if we fix the funding system and rework districts, pedagogies, and institutions within 5 years, we've screwed the kids who are currently in the system. Consequently, I think it is totally acceptable to run up huge amounts of debt to improve things in the short term while we work on those longer term solutions. The governor does not agree. He (a multi-millionaire) is taking a $1 annual salary from the state, which he seems to think justifies a budget that reduces K-12 funding approximately $800/student. That's his idea of sharing the burdens of our poor economy. I have my anger as a 'community member' pretty well sorted out, even if I have not yet found the right channel into which I can direct that anger.
My other role, however, is as 'parent' and that has me rolling around with much less direction. Our school system needs to do more to hang on to the bright kids. I am deeply concerned about what happens to the culture of the school when the motivated kids with motivated parents pull out because the short term prognosis is so grim. But, having just received more reports about E's stunningly good scores on the big standardized tests and looked at the unimaginative curriculum and overstuffed classrooms of her school, I have to wonder if I'm sacrificing her opportunities in the interest of my larger political beliefs. This is somewhat more pressing with this kid because she is rather Lisa Simpson-like. She likes to excel within the structure of school. She figures out exactly what she needs to do (no more) and does it and then basks in the good grades. Getting her to do extra "just to learn" or "for her own good" doesn't hold much appeal for her. She'd rather read fantasy novels.
So...tomorrow I'm meeting with her principal and the academic counselor at her middle school to hear what they have to say about all this. I'm going to ask them to give us -- and the others like us -- a reason to stay. Frankly, I'm not expecting much. The elementary schools are pretty good, but once kids hit puberty, the schools become obsessed with behavior (which is often times what is being graded) and all energy seems to shift to those who are academically or behaviorally at the bottom. When it comes to kids 12 and over, the district has been in a race to the bottom.
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