Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An Epic Battle for Public Education: A Frontline View



Pixabay Public Domain
Pixabay Public Domain

Governor Tom Wolf is battling for fair funding for Public Education. It’s an epic battle in Pennsylvania and part of the war on Public Education across America.  It involves us all.
In spite of the facts that legislators have failed to propose an acceptable budget, and that the budget is 7 months overdue, Governor Wolf is standing strong against politicians’ attempts to further slash public education.

It’s not just about the money.  It’s also about how the budget is allocated to districts.  It’s also about politicians trying to link requirements for their increasing micromanagement of individual schools.


Politicians have failed in Philadelphia Schools.  So…close schools?    


State-­level politicians have a clear, 15-year track record since they took over the School District of Philadelphia.  Their record is one of stunningly consistent academic starvation with simultaneous fiscal disaster.

Fifteen long years ago, the State created the ‘School Reform Commission’ (SRC) to eliminate local control in Philadelphia.  The State appoints the majority of SRC members.  The SRC has hired multiple “outsider” CEOs with multiple organizational structures.  CEOs have come.  CEOs have gone.   Teaching staff is at all-time lows.   Vacant positions remain unfilled.   Substitute teachers decline to work here.   Class sizes increase.  Course offerings only decrease.  Teachers have been working without a contract since 2013.  Building conditions are atrocious,  even dangerous.  Charter school approvals mushroomed to one third of total schools, draining public funds disproportionatly, without public consent.  School District bonds are now junk. Equal access for children is ignored.  Politicians’ persistent, precise underfunding of Public Education, in Philadelphia in particular, is a prime cause of our condition.  A contrived disaster.

Now, part of the Senate’s latest “solution” is to amend the State School Code (H.B. 530).  It’s part of the illogical wrangling in backrooms over our State Budget.

Senators’ amendments to the School Code would require the State to directly takeover or close five individual schools every year.  This further political invasion of education ignores input from thousands of troops, or “boots on the ground.”  An arrogant, punitive attack on our one district.  Politicians making decisions and laws about academics and schools instead of the experts:  educators?

Representatives separately propose also destroying  the ‘fair funding’ formula developed by the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC).  More HERE.  The BEHC’s fair funding formula was an overdue response to Pennsylvania’s  allocation  system,  which ranks worst in the nation for fairness.  Nevertheless, Representatives are now trying to strip fair allocation, of whatever budget, via their amendments to H.B.1327.

It’s not like we’ve asked for Cadillac funding.  As one example from ‘base funding’: my elementary school students haven’t had a new reading curriculum or textbooks for more than 13 years.

Nevertheless, inept politicians want to force more and more state-level bureaucracy into sectors where the State is ignorant and has in fact, already failed.

It is impossible to continue silently enduring simplistic views of learning and teaching practice (by non-­practitioners).  Politicians’ simplistic “solution pills” to “fix” education, instead continue generating more and more collateral damage:  academic damage, systemic damage, financial damage, social damage, personal damage, and more.

Is the School District better off today, or worse off, after 15 years of State management?



Flickr amboo who
Flickr amboo who


I ask, “What secret solution does the State have?”

Newsflash:  There is no simplistic, quick fix, or someone would have done it long ago.

There are no capital programs, no curriculum programs, no materials or supplies, no teacher incentives or punishments, no longer hours, no charter business plans, and no “common core” or “standardized” testing program, nor even school closings that start at the core of the learning process.  Instead they all focus on the periphery.


Teaching is an expert achievement of experienced professionals.


Learners, the children, are the center.  Children are people.

Learning is a complex, personal process. The learning process and its timeline for children varies infinitely, as does human experience.

Facilitating learning, or “teaching”, the wide range of learners and learning styles and learning paces which can be found in a typical Public School classroom is an expert’s art, a “practice” of experienced professionals.

It takes highly trained, highly competent people to work with people —  work with 30 people, every day, in one room, all day, day­-after-­day, facilitating ever faster learning.

Whether we choose to accept the truth, or adopt the pol’s simplistic view of children and teachers (people) as ‘widgets’ defines the battle.


Complexity:  Widgets or people?


As one single example of one key complexity (there are many others), children in our Public School classrooms have massive rates of trauma, described by a U.S. Department of Justice report as an “epidemic” and by past Surgeon Generals as “national crisis.”

The Center for Disease Control(CDC) says it is critical to understand.

One part to understand is that childhood trauma affects all classrooms. Childhood trauma includes childhood abuse, neglect and household dysfunction.  For a narrative view (“Jasmine”), click HERE.

Childhood Trauma is an injury to a child.   It is not an issue of good/bad behavior.  It is not poverty.  It is not an ‘urban issue’.  It is not a ‘color issue’. The CDC’s own prodigious study was fielded in beautiful, suburban San Diego.

Further, neuroscience tells us that it can be physiologically impossible to learn for those children in ‘fight or flight’ mode, defending against complex trauma.


Frustration Pixabay, Public Domain
Pixabay: Public Domain

Public health research illuminates shocking rates of childhood trauma.   Rates as high as English Language Learner (ELL) percentages and as high as those students with Individual Education Plans (IEP).  Across our city, the rate of childhood trauma is higher than the combination of IEPs and ELLs.  Tens of thousands of trauma-impacted children. Dramatically more than can be accommodated by individual ‘504 Plans’, given current staffing.

Students with IEPs and ELLs are funded and accommodated. Childhood trauma is not.  Ignorance or inaction is reality for tens of millions of children, nationally.

The result:  trauma-­impacted children are blocked from equal access to an equal quality, public education.  That is morally wrong.  That is a blatant civil rights violation.

Just one example of complexity.

Political action would be correctly served by protecting civil rights of children now being denied equal access.



Pixabay Public Domain
Pixabay Public Domain

All these children are coming to our classrooms in a few hours.

We need training, resources, strategies and support to teach each of them.  Putting politicians from the state more directly in charge has not — and will not — solve anything.


We are Public Education.   Stop shooting at us.   Join with us. 


Governor Tom Wolf is making a courageous stand to defend public education.

Governor Wolf is an amazing breath of fresh air in a national ocean of “contrived failure” claims about Public Education.

Wolf’s battle to restore Public Education, as a vibrant, funded, civil right is our battle; a national battle.  It’s crucial that we all support his principled stand for Public Education.

Now more than ever.

Flickr - Governor Tom Wolf
Flickr – Governor Tom Wolf

We can do it. Write the politicians in this battle.

Ask them to defend Public Education, stand with Governor Wolf and reject amendments to H.B.s 530 and 1327.

From out-of-state? write the Co-chairs of the BEFC HERE.

More ways to join the battle:



Twitter: @GovernorTomWolf

Sample note:

“Dear   politician,  or Dear BEHC,

As an ardent supporter of Public Education, I enlist in Governor Wolf’s epic battle to defend Public Education and to forge fair allocation of adequate funding.  It’s a battle for us all.  Reject amendments to H.B.s 530 and 1327.  It’s time to get to work.  Submit a fair budget.  

Sincerely”

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