Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Public Education: Yes It's Broken, But We Can Have Hope

Budget shortfalls are the norm here in the state of New Mexico as it relates to public education. Budgets are being slashed, salary raises are being frozen, and staff is being cut at schools all across the state, especially here in the southern part of the state.

Yes, things are bad, and it does not have all to do with the bad economy. Years of mismanagement or outright shady business practices by central office administrators all over the country (especially here in New Mexico) have put us in this mess. In my short career, I have already seen numerous snake oil salesmen come along, unloading their programs upon my district, all because one person downtown was impressed by what they had to say. I've seen millions of dollars spent on a program and a year or two later have seen that program forgotten. I have seen more and more kids crammed into classrooms, while the same central administrators who tell us that there was simply no more funds to hire another teachers gives themselves hefty raises. I've seen school funds funneled into new schools and schools where the wealthier students go while poorer and older schools literally fall apart.

There's no way around saying this, public education in New Mexico, and the United States, is in perilous disrepair. The people who actually do the educating, and the students, who are the point of this whole education thing, have been shelved so far down the food chain that they've been all but forgotten. In this age of standardized testing, with the multi-billion dollar testing industry banking in, and with the government happily playing along, there's not much left to go around. And what is left has been pilfered a dozen times before it reaches the classroom.

So yeah, things are screwed up, but there is hope. Hope lies in the fact that central administrators really don't do much (trust me, their decisions have minimal impact on classroom instruction, they could just sign paychecks and make sure the money is divvied out evenly and everything would work fine). Hope lies in the fact that there are many great teachers out there, who can make a difference without Reading First, Nancy Fetzer, Malcolm Baldridge, Reading 180, and all the other flavor of the moment programs. Hope lies in the fact that there are people out there who care, and who don't appreciate seeing tax money thrown away on nonsense.

There are a lot of reasons to think that public education is faltering, and I would agree with many of them. But that doesn't mean we give up. Public education teachers, support staff, and other interested people will keep caring, will keep working, and will do it even if there is 50 kids crammed into a class and there's not enough money to run the air conditioner. Because after all, at least we know that the head honchos can afford another year of membership at the country club, right?