Saturday, May 12, 2012

Equitable Funding of Public Education

My friend and colleague Gamal Sherif teaches at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA.  We are both Teaching Ambassador Fellows for the US Department of Education (Gamal this year and me last year), and members of the Teacher Leader Network Forum, part of the Center for Teaching Quality.  We are both also union activists - I'm NEA and Gamal is AFT.  What I love about our friendship is the differences: I’m a rural elementary teacher and Gamal is an urban high school teacher, yet across these differences we share so much.  Gamal’s asked me to share his latest blog post and I urge people to follow his excellent blog ProgressEd.

Public education is underfunded because of:
1.       mis-management
2.       mis-use of our military in countries like Afghanistan
3.       warped emphasis on privatized wealth at the expense of the common good

Here are a few examples:
·         In 2001, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook reported that the State of Pennsylvania had taken over the Philadelphia School District. How has that oversight helped students and teachers be more engaged? What stability or efficiencies has state oversight provided? Most importantly, what are examples of effective school district organization? How can we help teachers create effective working conditions so that they and their students can flourish?
·         In 2011, The Washington Post reported that "[t]he U.S. military is on track to spend $113 billion on its operations in Afghanistan this fiscal year, and it is seeking $107 billion for the next." Are there better uses for that money?
·         The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that the outgoing CEO of Sunoco is receiving about $37 million in compensation for liquidating assets. How can we create a sustainable economy that honors labor and fosters a commitment to the social good? Individual excellence is essential, but we are all more effective when we advance social equity along with individual liberty.

If the explanations for inequitable funding of public education are accurate (numbers 1, 2 and 3 above), then what are the solutions?  Below is my list -- what's yours?

Federal solutions:
·         Reauthorize a modified ESEA that acknowledges "college and career readiness" with an emphasis on systemic creation of "school readiness." All children should arrive at school safe, well-fed, well-rested, and curious.
·         Re-visit the 14th Amendment and the Brown v. Board of Ed. decision with consideration of funding inequities that create a "suspect class." All schools should be able to fund education at equal (if not equitable) levels.
State solutions:
·         Ensure teacher representation on state-wide panels that roll-out RTTT.
·         Ensure equitable funding of all school districts akin to NJ's Abbott decisions.
District solutions:
·         Create real equitable choice options so that students can attend schools of interest anywhere in the city -- or across District boundaries.
·         Develop and sustain teacher leadership so that teachers lead the integration of curriculum, instruction, assessment and policy that engages students and teachers.
Union solutions:
·         Integrate the labor frame with professional and social justice frames for a enriched unionism.
·         Cultivate cohorts of teacher leaders who are connected and can advocate for effective working conditions, participate in teacher-led research, and foster democratic learning environments .
Administrative solutions:
·         Provide operational flexibility for principals to build community partnerships, coach teachers, know students, and build the capacity of learning organizations.
·         Require extensive support for nurses, social workers, therapists and counselors so that all students with diverse needs are recognized and supported.
Teacher solutions:
·         View teachers as experts and support the professional development needed so that teachers can effectively lead schools.
·         Create professional learning communities within and between schools and the community so that teachers are facilitating and modeling the collaboration necessary to life-long learning.


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