Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Your Educational Vision for PCS?

What is your vision for the PCSD (or public schools in general)?
This is another question that was posed to me by someone who signed my petition. My background... teaching, serving on the PCS board of education and other boards, raising three children (with my husband), reading and studying, blogging, and just living life have taught me many lessons and informed my perspective about how schools can better serve students.

  • Schools must put the students' interests first. It is easy to give lip service to how decisions are for the kids but all too often, the decisions are political. To that end, students should be surveyed annually so school officials and the public know the student perspective and so school leaders and support what is good and improve what is weak. In addition, compliance with FERPA must be elevated in importance. At the PCSD, no formal records were being kept about FERPA violations. That must change. Finally, data collection on students must become highly transparent for the public, made easily accessible to parents, and become well-understood by school officials. 
  • There must be proper funding of schools: Under current school funding methods in NYS, the wealthy are guaranteed a better education for their children. It is time for the have-nots to be given an equal opportunity. This is a civil rights issue. We can fund schools properly or we will end up funding prisons - an industry that is flourishing. "By 2007, states spent more than $44 billion on incarceration and related expenses, a 127% jump from 1987. Over this same period, spending on higher education rose just 21%." Bill Moyers. com   "Billions of dollars have gone from the public treasury into private corporations to design, build, and maintain prisons. This has happened while over 14 million children in the U.S. live in poverty." Lionheart.org   Such monies would better serve society if invested in education and problems related to poverty.
  • The role of unions in protecting middle class employees should be safeguarded: Since Pres. R. Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union, the movement to weaken unions has accelerated (think Chris Christie, Scott Walker, etc.). While union leadership can be imperfect or intransigent at times, unions are one of the last protectors of a dwindling middle class. Health insurance costs, for instance, are crippling school budgets for rural schools like the PCSD. Those in a position to negotiate need to work cooperatively to seek viable options. However, the underlying greed that is causing health care costs to be so high (thus creating sky high health insurance premiums) needs to be examined and addressed. One Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO had a base salary of $1.1 million and was given a $14.9 million bonus in 2012. She was just one among many. See: http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/pay-for-blue-cross-ceos-exploded-in-2011.html
  • Voters must take the time to vote and then elect those who place education high on their priority list. Right now, only one in ten eligible voters bothers to vote in school board elections. Students deserve an engaged populace.
  •  Education Leaders and the public must be informed about the movement to privatize education (via a takeover by charters). This puts education dollars in the hands of private corporations that have no requirement to be overseen by the public. Certainly, there is a role for charter schools in NYS and elsewhere but that role is not to supplant public schools. Failing and mediocre public schools need proper financing (think Campaign for Fiscal Equity) but they need more than money - they need administrators who are insightful educational leaders, teachers who are effective, schools of education that prepare competent novice teachers, and a learning environment that that is student-friendly and student-centered.
  • Schools leaders must break the mold.  The old adage that if someone fell asleep for a hundred years the only things they'd recognize upon waking would be prisons and schools says much about becoming entrenched in one educational and often outmoded model. Schools are mandated to provide certain courses but, in my estimation, it is time to re-think business as usual. For instance:

  1.  Finance Courses: Students should be taught a 3-4 year sequence of courses in finance and banking. Too many, possibly most, students are graduating from high school but have little understanding of banking, interest rates, mortgages, amortization tables, IRA's, 401K's, reconciling a checking account, credit and charge cards, predatory lending practices, the importance of saving, and the lifelong consequences of onerous DEBT. They should understand what caused the economic meltdown in 2008 and  how "too big to fail" banks knowingly engaged in unethical, high-risk practices to profit themselves. They should read what Sen. Elizabeth Warren and John Bogle have written about the financial sector. Bogle said that well over 90% of what's going on on Wall Street is akin to casino gambling. Economist Anat Admati has asked, "Why do banks, even under new post-crisis rules, do business with 95% borrowed money when no other business would dream of it?" It's time for financial reform. Students should not be graduating without the information they need to protect themselves from greed-driven, predatory practices in the financial sector. 
  2. Vocational Courses: All students, from grades 7-12 should be required to take some vocational courses. They will all be called upon in their lives to have a basic understanding of electricity, plumbing, HVAC, etc. In addition, too few people are entering the trades...try finding an electrician when you need one!
  3. Stop Requiring All Students to Get a Regents Diploma: This mandate is absurd. The only way it works is to lower the bar while those supporting it claim the bar is being raised. There must be different pathways to success, different choices to accommodate students' interests, abilities. We must know what jobs are available and prepare students for those jobs. 
  4. Stop the "strangling of the curriculum with standardized tests, drill-it-to-kill-it pedagogy, loss of art, music, recess, physical education..."  
  5. Require a meaningful course in ethics before graduation. 
  6. Require internships, job shadowing, mentoring, community service for high school students. 

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