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Show Us the Money

March 18, 2010

On the same day that State Superintendent O’Connell announced in my classroom that I was a 2010 California Teacher of the Year, I received a text message from my brother, a public defender.  It said simply:  “In trial.  Another meth addict.”

Since 2008, 3.5 million American students have dropped out of school, one every nine seconds.  In 2007 alone, law enforcement agencies in the United States made an estimated 2.18 million arrests of youth under the age of 18.  And the discussion continues about how much we spend on incarcerating Californians as compared to educating them.

We live in a society that is founded on the ideal of equal opportunity for all.  Yet this principle is not a reality for far too many students.  We have all seen the devastating examples in our teaching careers.  The fifteen-year-old girl who knows that, in a few short months, she will most likely need to drop out of school to care for her newborn child.  The battered boy who has stopped dreaming of success because he constantly hears “you’re no good.”  The frustrated student who cannot see the benefit of the daily classroom challenges.  There is a look in their eyes, a spark that is no longer there. The doors in our society often slam hardest in the faces of those who are not academically prepared for the complexities of our global community.

However, at my school, and many other schools throughout our great state, we can see the power of a functioning educational system; a system built around faculty, administration, parents, and community members who offer constant encouragement, belief in potential, and unfailing support.  Such a system can transform a student from one who has all but given up to one whose passion to learn is ignited and whose future is reclaimed.  We have the power as teachers, administrators, parents, and community members to make that difference in a child’s life and not let any student slip away.

Yet, we cannot expect our students to enter classrooms determined to work hard and be responsible if we do not actively demonstrate the same as a nation.  We must effectively model what it is we are asking our students to do in their own lives through the efforts we exert, the academic rigor we instill, the standards we fulfill, and the funding we support.

All students need to hear the message that their teachers care about them and will provide skills needed to fulfill their dreams.  They also need to hear the message that their community, their state, and their nation care about them as well.  But many adult stakeholders in our country fail to see the clear connection between their tax dollars and student achievement, quality teachers, and a healthy nation.

Achieving our nation’s critical goal of reaching all students requires adequate funding.  Helping each student successfully navigate the education system to become college and career ready is every bit a matter of national security, public safety, and civil rights.  Yet, in the last two years, over $17 billion has been cut from public education in California.  That is over $3,000 per student.  As a state, we have not seen a similar cut in education spending since the Great Depression.  The impact of these cuts is widespread and the ramifications are serious.  We will lose our next generation to mediocrity and worse if we do not commit to spending money where it is needed the most – educating each and every child in a true learning environment with well-trained and effective teachers.

Is the state allocating its limited revenues most effectively?  Are we spending our education dollars wisely?  Let’s discuss.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 11:08 am

    Great post, Kelly. I agree with you on every point.

    The tragedy is that when we “lose our next generation to mediocrity and worse…” what we’re really talking about is the kids in the next generation who are growing up with academic and financial disadvantages at home. Kids who have well-educated and well-connected parents come out of a 38-student class just fine, in my experience.

    Public education’s most important role is offering opportunity to those who might not otherwise have it. It should level the playing field, and allow kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to become young adults with every option in front of them.

    There are those who think that a great teacher should be able to make that happen regardless of the class size, available resources, and standards. They’re wrong. Teachers can’t do it alone.

    • Kelly Kovacic permalink
      March 19, 2010 5:53 pm

      Absolutely. Great teachers can’t do it alone. Adequate funding must be provided to sustain effective programs and teaching as well as develop new programs and training. It’s devastating to see the impact these cuts are having.

  2. March 18, 2010 5:39 pm

    Kelly, I read your line “We live in a society that is founded on the ideal of equal opportunity for all. Yet this principle is not a reality for far too many students” and it reminded me that I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my freshmen.

    In Atticus’s closing argument in his defense of the falsely-accused Tom Robinson, Atticus makes a statement which at first shocked many of my students. Atticus says, in effect, that the premise that all men are created equal is an utter fallacy.

    Atticus speaks the truth–we are not all created equal. Yet, in this country, we persist with an education system whose overseers (policymakers) seem to often believe that yes, all people are created equal, and that thus all people are capable of the same thing if they are all simply passed through the system. If we give them all the same test, the same curriculum, the same experience, they’ll all turn out the same: 100% pass rates under the old NCLB.

    We all know this isn’t reality. Our students are not all created equal. It is much cheaper to treat everyone the same, of course, and that’s where such drastic funding cuts will take us. The more they cut away, the more that schools will simply become warehouses through which students pass. Not all students are created equal–therefore each deserves his or her own education based on his or her own needs. This is impossible when we’re operating on the last thread of a shoestring.

    • Kelly Kovacic permalink
      March 19, 2010 5:54 pm

      Thank you for your comment. As Atticus Finch said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Until all stakeholders in our nation’s education system consider things from the point of view of our nation’s most at-risk students, true equity in education will be hard to achieve.

      One size does not fit all, whether we talk about education models, standards of student success, teacher evaluations, funding, or any of the other significant issues facing our profession.

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