Heather L. Barmore
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    Change In Action at Babble Voices

    Friday
    Mar162012

    The State of Education (Part I)

    I'm leaning back in my office chair with a crushing headache. I look up at a shelf directly in front of me that holds several binders from past events and meetings but the two that catch my eye this afternoon are the education bills. Actually only one is a bill that eventually became public law 107-110 No Child Left Behind. It's dated January 8th, 2002. The other binder is the Miller-McKeon discussion draft of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The former I thumb through frequently. The latter has sat on that shelf since 2007. In 2007 it had been perused over and over again as it seemed that things on the education front were going to move quickly. There had been briefings that required emergency trips to Washington, DC and committee hearings, conversations with then Chairman Miller and calls to New York members on the Education and Workforce committee as this thing was coming. But as things in congress tend to go, the quick was replaced with a fizzle. Folks on both sides of the issue at hand - Education. - hated the bill. Never mind common ground it was a giant NO and so Miller, McKeon and their draft went away with the promise that they would return to the drawing board.

    That was September 2007. It is currently March of 2012 and there has yet to be significant movement on the education front. But what about Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants that were part of stimulus funding? Well, yes, they did introduce the competitive grant concept to education. At the time I, along with many education nerds, attempted to embrace the innovation that the Department of Education was attempting to bring to the education debate and they were at least doing something as congress continued to flounder. But grants? Pitting districts and states against each other? Education shouldn’t be a competition. There. I’ve said it because it shouldn’t be. That is why there are funding formulas so that children from the richest neighborhoods to the poorest are able to get the proportionate funding that they need. It shouldn’t be The Amazing Race: K-12. Children deserve better than that. They deserve equity and they deserve representatives in congress who are invested in their futures that instead of doing the Partisan Tango they put their differences aside to reauthorize a bill that is killing our schools, our teachers, our students and, inevitably, our communities.

    ****
    Discussions of education cause my jaw to clench as my mind wanders to the unfairness of it all. I know that life isn’t fair and that is perfectly acceptable things for an adult to understand but the flippant attitude that some have when it comes to educating (“Let’s get rid of the Department of Education!” “The kids should be janitors!”) cause an outpouring of anger; An anger that needs to be put into something more useful than 140 characters on Twitter of my dismay of the current Let’s Hate on Public School Teachers trend.

    ****
    I grew up in an average size town in Albany, New York. I went to an average sized elementary, middle and high school. In middle school I took both Spanish and French. The former would become my minor in college and the latter is really good if I ever need to tell someone that I am a pineapple and count to ten. I hated high school. I failed a few classes in the first two years and in the second two I flew through Advanced Placement, SUNY, and Syracuse University courses in the social sciences. By my junior year I knew that I either wanted to be an Economic Historian and write tales on Adam Smith and widgets or a United States Senator. This decision made after realizing that I could never be a doctor if I couldn’t tell the difference between meiosis and mitosis. I applied early decision to American University and got in, I played the clarinet, threw the shot put and everything was so very normal. Boring if you ask 16 year old me but normal.

    Or so I thought.

    One day my mother came home with a copy of Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities and that was my introduction into the cruelty of the achievement gap. There were children just 150 miles away who had educations that were a stark contrast to my oh so normal one.: Children born into poverty, struggling to get out living in neighborhoods riddled with violence and attempting to attend schools without some of - what I considered to be - the basic necessities. I cannot tell you how shocked I was to learn that not every school in New York State has a thriving arts program. One that I took for granted because who really wants to practice the clarinet, bass clarinet and bassoon seven days a week? Not everyone had access to AP courses. Not everyone who wanted to go to college could afford to do so. How could that be? The following year I made the decision to go into education policy. The rest, as they say, is history.

    ****
    It’s been well over a decade since being gob smacked by the inequality faced in education and realizing how un-average my schooling was. I was lucky beyond belief. Earlier this month I attended a Rural and Small City School districts forum where teenagers came to the stage to express their outrage at the education they were receiving. I know you already know this but it bears repeating: arts programs? Can’t afford it. Foreign languages? Can’t afford it. Sports? Well, maybe you can join the football team at a neighboring district. So on and so forth. Kids aren’t getting what they need and it seems like the adults are torn between making them compete for their needs and making draconian cuts because we’re all hurting. But should children be hurting too?

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    Reader Comments (3)

    Hi Heather! I came here via Kristen Howerton's blog and immediately thought, "Why does she look so familiar?" - turns out I know you from Curvy Girl Guide.

    I haven't read Savage Inequalities but I've read The Shame of the Nation. I'm looking forward to part 2!

    March 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

    I must say that I was already interested in education policy, but reading Savage Inequalities in graduate school sealed the deal. I love your blog and obviously no one has the golden answers, but I would love to see more ways people can help/be an advocate?

    March 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter(A different) Ashley :)

    Yes. YES. Exactly, that. A while back when you asked what we'd be interested to have you write about, I was one of the folks (I dearly hope there were many) who asked to hear your thoughts on education.

    Thank you!

    I volunteer in a high school where 40% of the students are on free/reduced lunch, in a district where 79 different languages are spoken at home. At the same time, we have a well-funded foundation supporting programs that would not be possible with state funding alone.

    Everyone is leaping back and forth across the gap, where some kids are significantly privileged, and others are ill-equipped for learning.

    Your question guts me: should children be hurting, too? Nope. Children of all ages should be respected and treated with dignity. With that as a guiding principle, many things would be very different.

    Respect and dignity. Pretty simple. Pretty complicated.

    April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJet Harrington

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