Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thinking Like This Is How Our Schools Got To Be The Mess We Have

NY Times writes:
Randi Weingarten, the New Yorker who is rising to become president of the American Federation of Teachers, says she wants to replace President Bush’s focus on standardized testing with a vision of public schools as community centers that help poor students succeed by offering not only solid classroom lessons but also medical and other services.


“Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?” Ms. Weingarten is expected to ask in the speech, a copy of which was provided by the union to The New York Times.

“Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities, child care and preschool, tutoring and homework assistance,” the speech reads. “Schools that include dental, medical and counseling clinics.”
Ever since the "War on Poverty" we have been asking schools to provide more and more social services to the students. While I can see a pretty direct correlation between providing school breakfasts and lunches to poor students (a hungry student can't learn), I am not sure why a school needs to be providing many of the "social services" that we now ask schools to provide. We ask schools to provide psychological services, counseling, and other non-educational services under the rhubric of "it will help the student learn." I think that is a fine line, but I would be willing to listen to an argument.

But why does Weingarten think that schools should provide things like medical and dental clinics? Could free or reduced price clinics use the schools as a service point? Sure, just like many schools are used by churches to hold services. At my local school district, after school care is provided on sight by the YMCA, for which parents pay to have their kids supervised by generally minimum wage earning, and otherwise unqualified college students (at best) who are for all intents and purposes providing babysitting services for dozens of kids. Simply put, I have no objection use the school facilities for various activities, for a reduced fee or even free (ideally I would want some rental and cleaning fee).

What I object to is having the schools, i.e. school personnel provide the services and activities using taxpayer funded employees. In Weingarten's vision, I don't see an distinction between unionized teachers and unionized social services personnel who work at schools.

As for the mission of schools, when and if the schools are actually providing high quality education to every student, regardless of income or location, then and only then will I consider whether it is appropriate to add futher social services to the school's mission. Until, unless you can paint me a direct line between teh social services Weingarten proposes and increasing student achievement, then these services should not be paid for with taxpayer funds. Weingarten has no evidence, not even AFT manufactured evidence that even tangentially hints at these services helping a kid learn.

The problem is that Weingarten and lots of other so-called "social reformers" and advocates for "social justice" have failed to recognize the core mission of the schools. Since the mid-60's we have asked more and more of our schools to help close some socially worrisome gap, that the schools have forgotten how to do their basic mission--educating kids. Adding more "social missions" to the school's is not going to improve schools.

Weingarten can claim that NCLB has not improved American schools and she would have a decent case to make. However, her substitute certainly isn't going to work. Love it or hate it, NCLB actually talked about educating kids. Weingarten is not.


Anonymous said...

What a scary idea! Next we'll be building apartment complexes next to the schools to house the students and their families. Rather than embracing the idea of really innovating public education, public school advocates want to broaden the tottering system to include every aspect of a student's life.


Tracy W said...

Could free or reduced price clinics use the schools as a service point?

Am I the only one worried by the idea of combining a bunch of energetic kids with medical equipment that may be both expensive and dangerous?

Anonymous said...

What concerns me is that under the general banner of helping the poor and therefore promoting the social welfare for us all, schools have (as you point out) assumed more and more of the burden of parenting in this society, especially where parenting genuinely breaks down -- or we are led to believe it does.

How many poor people are currently in jail? Will it come to the point where we simply institutionalize everyone below a certain socioeconomic level? Sorry to sound like I'm ready for the tinfoil hat here, but articles like this one make me wonder.

DesertSurfer said...

I must admit that I yelled out when I read the article that you quoted because yet again unions are getting in the way of the purpose of what we are passionate about doing... teaching children!!

Another thing that gets me ticked off is just how demonized NCLB has become over the years. If anybody ever took the time to actually read the legislation they would see that the main premise of the law is simply to have schools be held accountable to certain standards. And the funny things is that those "standards" that schools are measured on are actually created by the state and not dictated by the Feds!!

ggggrrrrrrr..... there is so much about this profession that really torks me off. It is so funny how good we are at shooting ourselves in the foot.

Another great post...