QUOLKE'S CORNER #148

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QUOLKE'S CORNER #148

WHY DOESN'T THE STATE INVEST IN OUR CHILDREN?

Last month, I had the opportunity to hear Linda Darling-Hammond speak at the City Club of Cleveland.  Darling-Hammond is an education researcher and expert focusing on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality, and educational equity.  Her knowledge and insight is impressive and highly regarded.

In the most recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), involving over 500,000 students in 41 countries, the United States was ranked near or at the bottom in several categories.  This, of course, is a great concern to all.  However, if you dig a little deeper into the numbers and make extrapolations based on poverty - a slightly different picture emerges.  When examining results from schools that have less than 10% poverty - the United States ranks number 1.  When examining results from schools that only have up to 25% poverty - the United States ranks number 3.  Poverty contributes greatly to the achievement gap in this nation.  The United States has the highest poverty rate of all developed nations - and this is having significant impact on the education of our children.  Tackling the issue of poverty and its impact on education cannot be ignored and should be a focus of anyone that is trying to "reform" education.

What are the top nations doing in their education systems that are enabling their students to succeed at such a high rate?

•   These nations take care of their children.  Housing, nutrition, universal preschool, etc.

•   These nations fund schools equitably.

•   These nations invest in teachers.

•   These nations establish meaningful learning goals (the United States is the only developed nation that tests every year, uses multiple choice, and determines student achievement levels based on one day of high stakes testing).

At the same time the top ranking nations in education have a number of things that they do not do.

•   These nations do not divest in schools.

•   These nations do not bash teachers (being a teacher is competitive and highly respected).

•   These nations do not manage by test scores.

I bring this all up now to put it in the context of Governor Kasich's proposed education budget.  This budget was purported to invest in students by providing funds to support children in poverty, with special needs, English as a second language, gifted, etc.  Yet 60% of the school districts in the state are flat funded for the next 2 fiscal years and then these school districts will have their level funding drop off a cliff.  Many of these districts are in urban, rural, and Appalachian areas.  The school districts that were named in the DeRolph case (the school funding on property taxes Supreme Court case) are among the 60% that will see no change to their funding allocations until 2 years down the road when the bottom drops out.

What does the proposed education budget do in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District?  It divests instead of making greater investment in CMSD.  It manages by test scores by adding provisions that require districts to return funds if special needs and ESL students do not do well on the tests.  It does not fund schools equitably.  It does not take care of children - our children -many of whom live in poverty and have unique needs.

What I think is needed in Cleveland is an investment in our students and providing real ability to improve student learning and growth.  What I would do:

•   Increase preschool.  Actually, if I had a magic wand, I would create universal preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds in Cleveland.  Preschool is one thing that everyone can agree on that works.  Research has shown that economically disadvantaged children can reap long term benefits from preschool.  Benefits that include lower rates of grade repetition, higher achievement test scores, and higher educational attainment.

•   Bring wrap around services into our schools modeled after the success reached in Cincinnati.  Wrap around services would help meet the needs of our students and their families.  This gets to the heart of some of CMSD's significant issues - poverty and health and we must begin to tackle that with force.

•   Bring specific programs to schools that will help children academically.  It is not enough to say we are leaving all conditions the same, just get better results.  If the school day and/or the school year is going to be increased, the key is what will happen during that time.  More time is not enough.  We need to look at research, technology, professional development, etc.  This requires an investment in educators and schools.

•   Linda Darling-Hammond did convince me that the summer gap is detrimental to student academic gains.  Reducing the summer gap would have huge benefits for our students.  This can be accomplished by adjusting or lengthening the school year or by providing enriching summer activities or programs for the kids. 

What do my ideas have in common?  They require an investment in Cleveland's young people.  An investment that I am saddened and disappointed is not occurring through the proposed budget.  Where is the investment in Cleveland's children?  Telling the school district to do more with less is unacceptable.  Our students deserve to succeed and thrive.  Other nations choose to invest in their children - why not Ohio?

In Union,

David