Education Under Attack
Let there be no mistake, public education
is in serious trouble. On the day after President Bush’s non-State
of the Union address, the New York Times carried three
separate articles (in addition to those on Bush’s address) on
education entitled: Board Votes to Revamp Bilingual Education
to Give Parents More Choice, High School Dropout Rate Rises, and
Levy Fears New Test Will Bring Huge Surge, High Court to Hear
After-School Evangelism Case With Wide Implications.
The President made education a focus of
his speech, second only to tax reduction. He emphasized that his
plan provides for additional federal funds for education, so as
“to leave no child behind,” and annual testing to see how the
schools are doing in spending this money. He made it sound like
the funding he proposed, which he would turn over to the states
with little federal control and which increases federal funding
from seven to eight percent of the total public school budget,
would somehow bring about a major change in student performance.
While discussing his plan, he failed to mention that it calls
for significant tax relief for middle-class parents of parochial
school students and does little for poor parents. It seems that
his real motivation is questionable.
Here in New York City, the School Board
endorsed Chancellor Levy’s plan to provide parental choice for
students who lack proficiency in English. While the plan is an
improvement—parental choice is desirable —Levy’s plan would still
leave too many students for too long in bilingual programs. The
Chancellor revealed that the dropout rate jumped to 19.5 percent
for the class of 2000 from 17.5 percent for the class of 1999.
According to the Times, “the report suggested that many
students were dropping out because they were demoralized by being
held back,” and noted that, “tougher requirements may be too discouraging
for some students.” Does the Times mean to imply that these
policies should be dropped? Hopefully, not. These statistics do
emphasize the magnitude of the failure of NYC’s public school
system. The Mayor took the opportunity to renew his call for abolishing
the Board of Education, instead of addressing the underlying issues.
And, just to round the day off, the Times
reported that upstate in Milford, a religious group is suing
for an evangelical club, lead by adults, to meet at the public
elementary school. This kind of suit, coupled with the President’s
aim to involve religious groups in social service and suggestions
on relaxing the rules for federal financing to parochial schools,
presages a major challenge to the Constitutional separation of
church and state.
Meanwhile, the UFT and the City are stalled
in contract negotiations, primarily over the issue of merit pay,
and an excellent principal was lost at Bronx HS of Science due
to Levy’s procrastination. The public education establishment,
it would seem, prefers to fiddle while the public schools burn.
Those who believe that public education is crucial to our democracy
had better face the real challenges of educating our kids, because
if we don’t, there soon won’t be much of it left.
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