Monday, March 9, 2009

No Child Left Behind, My A$$.

As ya'll know, I'm pretty serious when it comes to issues of education, especially as pertains to K-12. I've mentored and tutored because I really believe education is the great equalizer. Good grades, combined with a solid work ethic can take you many places, including the White House.

Of course, not all schools are created equal, which is something I can personally attest to. My rural/suburban town's only high school was typical of many in the South in the early 90's. Friday night football ruled. There were no AP courses. The CP courses were exclusively white. Despite having the highest GPA of any black student in my graduating class of 170, I was never at any point urged to take a college preparatory class. This was okay actually, because they only offered English and Math. I knew I'd be an engineering major in college, so I didn't even bother pressing the issue. I coasted and finished 12th in my class, then basically got a full ride to the school of my choice, so who cared?

I found out the error of my ways the first day on campus at my Negro College HBCU. In our engineering freshman orientation, a professor addressed our class of nearly 500 and asked us to look left, then look right. Only one of us would get an Electrical Engineering degree in 4 years. I scoffed at the notion. A week later, as a struggled to understand my ELEN101 course notes, the issue became clear. Here I was competing against other freshmen who'd taken this same class as high school sophomores. Some of these kids went to school just 10 minutes from me. Chew on that.

And no, just as the wise professor predicted, I didn't get that EE degree, and neither did the other two folks. I nearly failed out of school before wising up, changing my major to Computer Science, and graduating with honors. So, happy ending to the story, but don't miss the forest for the trees. Reality is, the public school you attend can fail miserably to prepare you for your future, and you might not even know it until it's (almost) too late.

The other day I'm reading the paper and I come across an article about a 2005 documentary called The Corridor Of Shame which focuses on the bigtime issues that a stretch of I-95 in South Carolina have been having with equal educational opportunities for generations. Did ya'll know about this movie?

Obama promised to fix this while he was campaigning. Oddly, this story was only covered on AlJazeeraTV. Go freakin' figure.

While I agree that parents need to be more involved, teachers need more latitude to teach, and we need to focus more on math and science, one thing that every education debate seems to miss is the biggest problem of all: Funding.[1] Namely, because school funding is largely determined by the local tax base, poor folks are more or less screwed from birth. The solution: get pregnant in a rich burb'.

Many will say that schools can't be fixed by "throwing money at a problem" and that school vouchers are the solution. Some politicians love them because they absolve them of all responsibility for fixing schools, and as a double bonus, vouchers are generally less pricey than the typical per-student expenditure. It's a win-win. You save money and help the child succeed.

I think this is total BS. Vouchers only benefit the kids lucky enough to get them. The other kids who aren't so lucky are still stuck in a bad school, now with even less funding. Vouchers seldom provide enough funding for the private schools they are supposed to allow the students to attend. Perhaps worst of all, students using vouchers have as a whole shown no demonstrable academic improvement in their new schools.[2]

So really, what's the point?

The Obama Education Plan, to be administered by Arne Duncan isn't exactly full of details right now. There are plans for improving early childhood education, lessening the obsession with standardized testing, and making college more affordable. But as a whole, I don't see much that radically differs from Bush's NCLB, which Obama plans to revamp in ways yet to be fully outlined. I can't really say this matters either way, since no politician would have the balls to seriously address the real problems with the way education is funded. Doing so would be political suicide.

Too bad to those kids living in The Corridor Of Shame.[2]

Question: Would any politician be ballsy enough to take on the issue of equitable (not merely adequate) school funding or is this too much of a powder keg? Did your K-12 educational experience adequately prepare you for life after 12th grade? Do you think the Obama administration will change anything significant about the state of education in the US?

[1] Before anyone goes dredging up figures, yes, I know many inner city school districts get a lot of funding (ie: DC), but so much of that money is spent on(poorly) maintaining antiquated buildings and infrastructure. Not computers, books, and classroom materials.

[2] And yeah, I know... what about the parents? Unfortunately, you cannot legislate good parenting. This is the proverbial 3rd rail that no gubb'ment program can fix.

[3] In case you were wondering, yes, the young lady who sat with Michelle Obama at the recent Obama address was from this school district.

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