I cannot count the number of times I have heard “now is the time to reimagine education!” in the last six months. While the majority of people who voice this sentiment are referring to better delivery of online instruction or disrupting our current teaching practices, I think we are missing the crux of our problems in education: the system itself is broken. Our public education system is still inequitable at its core. Before I can even fathom worrying about whether to use the latest teacher tool, we need to address the basics.
Our public education system is still inequitable at its core. Click To Tweet
The Digital Divide
We need to provide free or subsidized high-speed internet for every single person in America. Whether a student lives in a rural southern town, an impoverished urban area, a secluded reservation, or a typical suburb – they should have access to the internet.
A lot of concern was brought up with remote learning in many communities for this very reason, but this goes beyond our current circumstances. Districts had to scramble to make deals with local internet providers or spend money on WiFi hotspots for students, and in many places, the internet providers did not cooperate. Some students are still having to go to public wifi hotspots just to complete their school work. Meanwhile, other students are at home with the latest computer and the best internet package you could ask for. This is not equity.
Besides the consequences of remote learning, student internet access is necessary for their success. Without an internet connection, they are limited in applying for college, scholarships, and jobs. Plus, they may have homework that requires research or the use of Google Docs which require the internet. There are also plenty of benefits to making sure all people in our country have access to the internet, and it is something that our government needs to invest in now before we get any further reliant on technology.
Currently, much of our education funding is tied to property taxes. Obviously, those in wealthier areas tend to attend schools with more funding and therefore more resources, while those in low-income areas lack access to quality education. How can we say we provide quality education to every child in America when we know it simply is not true? It is time to decouple education funding from property taxes – at least the way it currently operates.
Instead, that money could be pooled and distributed to all schools in the state based on the number of students, current resources, and even other metrics. Specifically, those schools that are “failing” by seeing low test scores year after year should be allocated more money so they could acquire better resources, hire more staff, and bolster salaries to reduce turnover.
While many districts do release some sort of information about how their money is being spent, the information tends to be vague. For example, they may only show a pie chart of how they spent their money last year, but we don’t see what kinds of purchases were made. I am not advocating for complete transparency of all their accounting spreadsheets, but I do think districts are currently able to misuse money with too much leniency.
Districts waste millions of dollars every year, and we rarely even notice. They may spend a large chunk of money to build new sports facilities, including frivolous amenities that only a small sector of the student population benefit from. Ask yourself if they would do the same for the theater program.
Districts also spend millions on education “solutions” that end up being a waste more often than not. Some talented salesperson goes to the higher-ups and convinces them that the schools just need to have this solution. They end up buying into it for exorbitant prices, and the solutions tend to go unused, are ineffective, and are too complicated for implementation. If even one teacher had been present, they could have easily poked holes in the “solution” but of course, we are rarely at the table.
Teachers Need a Seat at the Table
It is well-known that teachers are rarely a part of any decision-making, whether it be at the school, district, state, or national level. If we want to fix education and allow it to continue to improve, teachers need to be a part of every conversation.
Most importantly, we need a diverse group of teachers at the table. That means including veteran teachers and some newer ones, teachers of color, teachers who work in non-traditional environments, SPED teachers, etc. How can we make decisions for millions of teachers and millions of more students without representing their diverse backgrounds at the meetings?
Every state needs to allow teachers unions because when we are able to unionize we are able to better serve our students. Besides defending our pay, unions across the country should take an active role in ensuring all students receive an equitable education. Teachers know what the gaps are, and they can be a part of the solution.
Instead of union negotiations simply being about this year’s raise or keeping teacher duties limited, let’s also use the leverage to help our students. Demand a seat at the table, demand student voices are heard, demand more resources for them, and union involvement will strengthen those goals.
Teacher Training and Pay
Every teacher in America is underpaid. We will continue to see problems in education unless we fix this. We have a terrible turnover due to low pay and burnout. We have fewer college students pursuing education degrees because they know it won’t be worth it. We have exhausted teachers who are underpaid and unprepared for what they are constantly asked to do.
Base salaries need to increase, but we can’t stop there. We need to see more significant stipends and bonuses for the extra duties teachers take on such as coaching, chair positions, certifications, credits, or additional degrees, etc. There is no logic in paying a coach $1,000 (pre-tax) for a minimum of 8-weeks of work or giving a teacher with a leadership position an extra $50 a month. It also makes no sense that teachers with advanced degrees see raises of only $2,000 a year. Ask yourself what an MBA gets paid over a BA in Management.
Teachers also need timely, relevant, and effective training. This pandemic showed us that districts will drop the ball when it comes to critical PD, but this doesn’t stop here. Besides more robust training for remote, we should have the training to help teachers work with the populations they serve. For example, many teachers in Title I schools have no background in educating students from trauma. They may seek it out themselves, but not every teacher has the access, time, or money to do so. The school should be providing training for that if they expect their teachers to be effective with those students. Teachers also need to be compensated for their time doing this.
Public Money Needs to Stay Public
This will be by far the most controversial solution I offer – but we need to stop providing any public dollars to charter or private schools. That means the voucher program needs to go. Money is going to schools that are not required to follow the same guidelines as public schools: if you aren’t going to play by the same rules, then you don’t get access to the same money.
The entire point of charter schools is to work outside the constraints of guidelines to do innovative and unique things in your school, and that’s great! However, these schools are often run by rich donors, and make huge profits (look into K12 schools for a great example), so why do they need federal and state money to operate? I have no issue with charter schools existing, I do have issues with them getting money that is meant for public schools that are already grossly underfunded. As for private schools, we shouldn’t be funding anything with an established religion, plus they collect tuition and should have absolutely no need for government money. Not to mention, there is plenty of evidence that charters and private schools widen educational gaps and more often cater to wealthier populations but that is a whole other conversation.
The real problem this brings me to is how vouchers have changed the role of parents in education. Parents have been empowered by the idea of the “backpack full of cash” – that if they aren’t happy, they can take their students and the funding to another school (usually a charter). But the problem with this is that there are parents who have weaponized this information.
Angry parents manipulate districts into doing what they want because the district wants to keep that pupil funding – and when districts bow to demanding parents they hurt the integrity of the school system. Public education serves all students, not just the ones with angry parents.
We can currently see perfect examples of this during the pandemic: parents are demanding schools open and telling districts they will leave the public school if they don’t. Many charters and private schools are not following CDC guidelines by allowing students to opt-out of wearing masks or are able to make decisions to open sooner because they run much smaller school systems. Meanwhile, districts with tens of thousands of students are being pressured to open too soon because they don’t want to lose enrollment and therefore funding. Many of those students are low-income and lack resources like medical insurance. This is a recipe for disaster, and completely avoidable.
We have so much work to do. But let’s stop talking about which LMS or incentive program to use for our kiddos, and let’s talk about the real issues. The system is broken, are we ready to fix it yet?
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