It’s hard to believe my grand-daughter is one year old. It seems like only yesterday I held her in the hospital and gave her her first kiss on her furrowed brow.
We attended the obligatory birthday party at a place I wouldn’t normally be caught dead in. You know, one of those ‘pizza parlors’ devoted to excesses of noise, lights, games, screams and grandparents who wish they were somewhere else. (The grandparents might have been the ones screaming, I couldn’t tell.) So much time, energy and money expended in the name of celebrating our children; the mind boggles.
And yet almost simultaneously across the nation, our children are being short-changed in one of their most critical areas of growth; we have severely cut back our funding for education.
Right now children are returning to school and finding things changed. There are fewer teachers, less educational materials and more children per class. Can we reverse this? Joy Resmovitz writing in the Huffington Post, says that there is hope that we may see the situation improve because President Obama is also sounding the alarm. 1) The White House has released a report entitled: “Investing in Our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom.” in it this administration finally seems to have realized the potential damage that can occur if the trend of laying off teachers and underfunding education continues. 2)
One of the most common problems that is cited by teachers is that they are expected to do more with less. They are also being expected to teach more with less. Class size continues to grow. There have been many in administrative and legislative positions who have pooh-poohed the notion of smaller class size being important. Our current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has publicly supported the concept that a teacher will be just as effective with 20 students as they will with 25 or more.
When asked to explain his comments further, Duncan told The Huffington Post that he’d rather have better teachers in larger classes. “My point there was that I think the quality of the teacher is so hugely important,” he said. “I’ve said things like, give me the parent, give me an option of 28 children in a class with a phenomenal teacher or 22 children in a class with a mediocre teacher. If I was given that choice, I would choose a larger class size.” 3)
Randi Weingarten, head of AFT, responded that Duncan’s comments were disingenuous because wouldn’t he rather have both a phenomenal teacher AND a smaller class size? It only makes sense to say that if we improve one factor impacting our education system, improving two would be better and therefore working to improve all elements of public instruction must then be even more desirable.
Duncan recognizes the risk we take in ignoring the needs of education. He knows that the government impact on educational funding is limited. Most of the money is in the hands of the individual states legislatures. His comments on class size were given in reference to where we must allocate our rapidly diminishing resources that are still devoted to education. 4)
Since that time Duncan has also backed off his other position somewhat, admitting that reducing class size is important too but it needs to be coupled with improvements in teacher skills and better retention of effective teachers. 5, 6, 7)
Here is my shopping list Mr. Duncan: better training for teachers, improved compensation for well trained instructors, ensuring that every child has access to those well trained teachers and adequate materials in their classroom, also ensuring every child has a chance to learn effectively by supporting early education programs, school breakfast and lunch programs, health care for all and since it takes a minimum of two incomes to adequately raise a family these days; before and after school programs to allow parents to go work to support their families without concern for what their children are doing.
If we wanted to, we could do this. If we truly believed what we say about our children and their importance to us, we would do it. But perhaps even more importantly, if we as adults, want our children to be the inheritors of a better life and a stronger America, shouldn’t we do this?