Putting the Public Back in Public Education

What it would take to ensure that nobody’s child is left behind

| January-February 2009

  • Public Education Apple

    Image by istockphoto.com/Luseen

  • Public Education Apple

This article is one of several on fixing education. For more, read  The People’s Professor ,  America 101 , and the online exclusive  Educational Success: Stories of Innovation from the Utne Library .

The public schools have been bad and they deserve to be punished.

That’s the mantra Americans have heard for the past eight years as politicians have scrambled to appease citizens battered by apocalyptic headlines about the state of the educational system, stories that detail how public schools are both epic disasters and the country’s only ticket out of global decline, increasing poverty, and a coming society of dimwits.

And how did an administration hell-bent on warding off any responsibility for its own actions (torture, irresponsible war, a gutter-dwelling economy) react? They’ve assured us that failing schools will be held accountable. They transformed our society’s greatest obligation into its greatest sin.



In 2002, with support from both sides of the congressional aisle, President Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind, federal legislation designed to punish schools into delivering higher test scores. Reformers jumped on the accountability bandwagon, brandishing the joys of abandoning the public schools through homeschooling or providing families with government-funded vouchers for private schools.

The public and its politicians have spent so much time placing blame on unyielding teachers’ unions, stagnant administrative bureaucracies, and mind-numbing curricula that we’ve neglected to reflect on our own role in the problem. Americans need to reinvest, and not just by pouring more money into “the system.” Citizens need to rededicate themselves to the promise of public education, a tradition founded on the ideals of educating every child, unifying a country that’s been diverse since its inception, and instilling the civic-mindedness required of citizens in a healthy democracy (see “America 101”).

Kattia
1/30/2009 12:11:03 AM

Yes, it is time for a positive approach to educational reform. First on the agenda, however, is for everyone involved to acknowledge their own role in the current educational state of affairs. I am a teacher in a Title I school. Our population is primarily poor, African American and Hispanic children. All of the teachers at our school know that most of our students are struggling academically, economically, and often emotionally. Nevertheless, you don't know how many times I have passed by classrooms where teachers are talking on the cell phones, or just having students cleaning the classroom. Have they forgotten that these children rely on them (whether they know it now or not) to provide them with an education that will allow them to get out of some of the situations--ranging from mediocre to bad--many of our children are in? So why are they short changing their students? I hear teachers complaining regularly about 'all the paperwork', too much assessment, and about sticking to the union contract. I can't help but wonder: Whatever happened to having integrity and being part of something, something bigger than ourselves? How can a teacher sit and talk on a cell phone during a child's instructional time? If these were adults that could speak up for themselves, a teacher would be called out for that behavior and would probably change it because he/she would know that they'd get called out by students again if they pulled the same stunt. So, is it okay to take advantage of little kids because they are little kids who often times don't have parents that advocate for their educational well-being? Do administrators play a part in making teachers feel overworked and often demoralized, leading to some of the behavior exhibited by teachers working in poor schools? Yes. However, teachers need to start seeing that they are not victims, they have power, even with a small "p", within their own classrooms to get their children t


Kattia
1/30/2009 12:10:37 AM

Yes, it is time for a positive approach to educational reform. First on the agenda, however, is for everyone involved to acknowledge their own role in the current educational state of affairs. I am a teacher in a Title I school. Our population is primarily poor, African American and Hispanic children. All of the teachers at our school know that most of our students are struggling academically, economically, and often emotionally. Nevertheless, you don't know how many times I have passed by classrooms where teachers are talking on the cell phones, or just having students cleaning the classroom. Have they forgotten that these children rely on them (whether they know it now or not) to provide them with an education that will allow them to get out of some of the situations--ranging from mediocre to bad--many of our children are in? So why are they short changing their students? I hear teachers complaining regularly about 'all the paperwork', too much assessment, and about sticking to the union contract. I can't help but wonder: Whatever happened to having integrity and being part of something, something bigger than ourselves? How can a teacher sit and talk on a cell phone during a child's instructional time? If these were adults that could speak up for themselves, a teacher would be called out for that behavior and would probably change it because he/she would know that they'd get called out by students again if they pulled the same stunt. So, is it okay to take advantage of little kids because they are little kids who often times don't have parents that advocate for their educational well-being? Do administrators play a part in making teachers feel overworked and often demoralized, leading to some of the behavior exhibited by teachers working in poor schools? Yes. However, teachers need to start seeing that they are not victims, they have power, even with a small "p", within their own classrooms to get their children t


Gay Beaudet
12/30/2008 6:20:53 PM

I have sent this letter to all my senators and representatives, and to president-elect Obama; no response! Here's my opinion of where we need to take education: I am writing to inform you about a situation of dire straits here on the rural Oregon coast. We are in a crisis stage in the Nestucca district, which endangers our very existence. I teach in a high-poverty area; schools operate on a bare-bones budget unstably funded, in run-down, mold-infested buildings that should have long ago been abandoned. We are continuously attempting to mend our broken economic troubles by cutting staff back to numbers that make it impossible to serve our students; we are asked to do the unattainable to meet test standards set by folks who have obviously never set foot in a classroom. Yet, I have an idea that I believe can serve as a success story in the transformation of education and help alleviate rural poverty while promoting renewable energy. Despite our predicament, we do have some incredibly promising resources that could very well help to solve the myriad problems facing us; our district owns 20 acres of prime farm land, which receives plenty of rain, wind, and, just three miles inland off the coast in Cloverdale, we catch an abundance of sunshine too!. Here it is, my intention: to find a way, through grants and investors, and a few savvy politicians, to establish a true “Green School,” a “No Waste,” school, as an expansion of my 30 raised bed organic garden that I see as merely the beginning. I need you to help me pursue this vision into reality. Imagine a school operating on 100 % renewable green energy generated on school property using wind turbines, solar panels and rain catchers; a well organized charter school that teaches the kids, with hands-on learning, the green technology needed for the future success of our continued existence. We would maintain a large agricultural production on site, coupled with small animals to provide eggs, meat, and dairy produc