We desperately need a clear, comprehensive, collective, transformative vision for public education, and we need it now.
We need a vision because strong public education is essential for individual and community well-being. Moreover, we need public school graduates prepared to tackle the pressing challenges of the 21st century (climate change, war, mass incarceration, poverty, inequality, etc.).
We need a vision because our federal policymakers haven’t provided a good one. President Obama’s recent call for high-quality preschool for every child is insufficient, and his major education initiative, Race-to-the-Top, is largely a continuation of President Bush’s failed No Child Left Behind.
We need a vision because the governor, the majority of the General Assembly, and their corporate and philanthropic cronies are pushing a regressive policy agenda:
• Privatize (vouchers and tax credits);
• Marketize (charter schools, school closings, and merit pay);
• Standardize (high-stakes testing and Common Core);
• Weaponize (armed volunteers and staff);
• Criminalize (school resource officers and security guards);
• Demoralize (elimination of teacher tenure and payroll deductions for union dues); and
• Minimize (budget cuts and ignoring the effects of poverty).
We need a vision to counter an agenda that is rapidly shifting the education reform debate to a much more conservative starting point. After proposing a billion dollars in budget cuts, vouchers, and armed volunteers, $500 million in cuts, charter schools, and more armed police suddenly don’t seem so crazy. We must be a counterbalance by providing a vision grounded in love, equity, and basic human rights and dignity – a vision that’ll resonate with the hearts of the masses.
So, what’s the vision? Try this on for size. What if, in unity, we repeatedly stand up and say, “Not only do we reject all attempts to dismantle or weaken public education, but also we demand all of the following:
• Adequate funding;
• Meaningful integration and racial and socioeconomic diversity;
• Schools and classrooms that are small enough to allow for individualized attention and a sense of community and interconnectedness;
• Democratic governance of districts and schools, with complete transparency and student, parent, and staff involvement in all key decisions;
• Fairly-paid, well-trained, highly-effective, experienced, caring staff who have support, instructional resources, high expectations for all students, and time to prepare, collaborate with each other and parents, and provide individualized attention;
• Rigorous, culturally-responsive curricula that include student-centered learning, a wide variety of electives, and a focus on critical pedagogy and developing creative, courageous, critical thinking;
• Limited use of high-stakes, standardized testing, and more diverse accountability tools, including observations, peer reviews, portfolios, and formative assessments;
• Adequate support staff, including teacher assistants, mentors, guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists;
• Positive youth development programs, such as social and emotional learning, bullying prevention, restorative justice, and service-learning;
• Parent involvement initiatives, such as resource centers, trainings, liaisons, adult education classes, volunteer opportunities, family events, advisory committees, and readily-available translation and interpretation;
This vision isn’t the musings of a radical; it’s supported by research. It’s not unrealistic; it’s reality in exceptional schools across the United States and in other countries. It’s not a condemnation of public education as it exists; it’s a blueprint for improving the system.
Whatever the final vision, I know two things for certain. First, it’s time for us to go on the offensive, to stop waiting for the next attack on students, teachers, and public education. Second, I have faith in North Carolina’s brilliant, committed community of public education advocates to both stem the tide of education deform and create a better system for future generations.Jason Langberg is an education justice activist. He can be reached at email@example.com
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