My father and I are the only non-educators in my immediate family. My mother and my siblings were once or are all teachers. And since my father sees every conversation as a "teachable" moment, I guess he could qualify as some sort of "teacher."
But I digress.
As a child, I watched my mother come home, check our homework, prepare dinner for five, and then grade her assignments. Without fail, she ended each night by calling the parents of every kid who'd either missed homework or was failing her English class. Didn't matter if it was two or 200, those calls were made and most times in enough time to tell each of us good night.
She was rare: one of the good ones. To her, education was the single most important thing to a child's future. She demanded the best of us and likewise demanded the best of those who were our teachers and administrators. She was harder on her peers because she expected them to care as much as she did. Quite frankly, some did and some didn't. But in all my years of public schooling I never heard her put down public schools or the quality of product they were producing.
Times have changed, oddly enough, and every child isn't getting a fair shake. Teachers, our greatest resource, are being spread thin. They're underpaid, over worked and sometimes ill-prepared to handle their workload. And those are the good ones, like my mom.
Then there are the unqualified, lazy, "just drawing a check because I had no other job leads" teachers: the ones who are "too busy" to call parents; the ones who don't go the extra mile, but barely go half of it. They are one reason why public schools have become a pseudo-scapegoat.
Admittedly, some schools are underachieving, poorly run and poorly staffed; however, the playing field is still skewed, and without a good start we can't expect our kids to make a decent finish right?
That brings up the debate of charter schools. Are they indeed effective? Or are they just a way to further alienate the struggling student in the struggling school? Are they a means to rescue some of our kids or get rid of them?
I haven't developed a firm opinion yet but one thing is clear. There are nearly 200 failing schools in Mississippi. Our state continues to languish near the bottom in education. And when our legislators need to make cuts, what's the first place they look? Yep. Education.
Summarily, our kids suffer. Clearly what we're doing is not working. Now is the time to open a dialogue. Our children's future depends on it.
And that's the truth ... sho-nuff.
Great Job, Kaze, in highlighting what I believe is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, access to high quality education for all.
So far in MS, people know the disparities and the overall rankings of the educational system. Many weigh in on causes and solutions. But, it seems the overriding sentiment from the leaders and major stakeholders in the public education debate in MS is that districts that struggle are solely to blame for their predicament, mainly due to inept leadership.
While I agree that the leadership in these districts is lacking in expertise, I also submit that these districts are in communities that are ravaged by social, economic, and political injustice from state leadership, mainly the state legislature and the governor.
For generations, it was the primary objective of the state government to undermine the human development of black citizens so as to maintain a permanent underclass to exploit for menial labor. For instance, the MS Constitution, drafted in 1890, never mentions the concept of equal protection from the state to all citizens. Specifically it states in Article VIII section 201 of the state code pertaining to the establishment of public schools in the state
" The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe."
Notice that it makes no mention about the adequacy nor efficacy of such a school system. This left (and leaves) the door open for the state to allow for local school districts to have as disparate a public school educational experience for their children as they have housing and access to other resources and opportunities.
In order for us as a state to be proud of our educational efforts, we must rectify this situation and make it illegal to settle for education that is as good as these local communities can afford. After generations of depriving these communities of rights and development, to come back to them and demand the same level of educational outcomes as we do in affluent neighborhoods, comprised mainly of citizens who benefitted from the deprivation of others in neglected communities (check the practices that sent tax dollars from black communities to schools that were for whites only), and we can begin to see the seeds of the disparate inequalities that we observe today. For example, the state as late as 1960 funded white student education 48% more than black student education (according to an inquiry from the case US v. Mississippi)
How, then, has the state redressed these injustices? By simply funding every district at the same, “adequate” level? Does that make up for not funding them the same for almost a century?
For every district the state takes over, the state needs to apologize to the community of those districts by offering as much aid, resources, and innovation that it can muster. As much as the leadership in those districts are to blame, so is the State of Mississippi for helping to create communities where sustaining a high class educational system is almost impossible.
- Renaldo Bryant
We cannot wait for other people to do for us what we can and ought to do for ourselves. We certainly cannot wait for a train from Washington or expect more money to solve the problem. The Washington, DC schools have one of the highest levels of per child expenditure and some of the worst outcomes for children. Let's stand up for CHILDREN first. Whose fault is it that our children don't even know their own history? Let's start with the folk in the mirror. Our children don't even know who they are!:
“Oh, how disgusting life becomes when on every hand you hear people (who bear your image, who bear your resemblance) telling you that they cannot make it, that Fate is against them, that they cannot get a chance. If 400,000,000 Negroes can only get to know themselves, to know that in them is a sovereign power, is an authority that is absolute, then in the next twenty-four hours we would have a new race, we would have a nation, an empire, - resurrected, not from the will of others to see us rise, - but from our own determination to rise, irrespective of what the world thinks.” --- Marcus Garvey
We need more education leaders who are willing to take on the established systems and go to war (metaphorically) to eliminate (separate from the districts) folk who are not serving the best interest of children. The following may be an example of what needs to happen:
Like Kaze, I was also blessed with a mother who was a public school teacher. I know that a good teacher can make a WORLD of difference. In the same vein, a bad teacher can crush a child's spirit. The mechanisms for weeding out the bad ones are not working in too many instances. Communities need to mobilize and INSIST that any teacher or adminstrator who is not up to par must get to steppin' (out the door)!