I am old as dirt. I was born in 1940. Do the math. I lived through the recovery days of the Depression, World War II, the drought in the 1950’s, the Bay of Pigs crisis, Viet Nam, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, 9/11. Well, you know. For 41 of those years I was a classroom teacher and then an asst/assoc superintendent for curriculum. I dedicated my practice primarily to large, diverse urban school districts: Ysleta (El Paso), Waco, Austin, the state of Delaware, Kansas City (KS), and Little Rock.
It’s predictable that I would believe so strongly in the power and importance of education. I grew up on a dry-land cotton farm in the Texas Panhandle. Until we moved into town when I was in elementary school we had no indoor water, electricity, or gas. My mother went through the 4th grade, and my dad through 6th grade before they were pulled out of school to help work and raise their younger siblings. We knew poor.
I did not have the opportunity to attend prek or k. My teachers were primarily the wives of farmers or farmers who also taught. We went to school with people pretty much like us. I can’t tell you it was a great school–except that they believed in us and encouraged us and disciplined us as if they were our parents. We had lots of workbooks, I remember. I had never once written a composition in school when I enrolled in college.
That I have three degrees and worked in a respected profession is nothing short of a miracle.
I became a teacher because I believe that education is important to help lift people out of poverty (although schooling itself is not enough); because I fervently believe in democracy, and I don’t believe we can have one without educated voters; and I believe in the future–and our responsibility to invest all we can in today’s kids!
Even though I was a school district leader for more than 20 years, I left lobbying up to the superintendent and board members. I was too busy trying to make sure the kids learned how to read–with joy! We organized Texas Kids Can’t Wait ion 2011, so in 2013 we did everything we could to encourage our members and social media followers to communicate with legislators on fewer than 20 bills. Then we used legislator votes on those bills to hold them accountable when we published our Legislator Report Card in 2014. (See if at www.texaskidscantwait.org. Then click on “Media” on the menu bar.)
This session, 2015, we decided to include a larger number of bills so that we could get a better picture of how legislators vote on our issues: equitable funding, adequate funding, elimination of high-stakes testing, a locally developed accountability system, and opposition to all privatization efforts–charters, vouchers, opportunity school district, parent-triggers, online courses, etc. I stayed up until 2:00 am this morning updating our list–and the document is now 79 pages long!
And that’s when I decided to write this blog today. When you see the whole list of bills that have been filed relating to education issues, it is indeed overwhelming. And one cannot help but feel under siege! There are lots more privatization bills on the list than bills designed actually to help schools do a better job–the community schools concept, for instance. There are tons more bills designed to dramatically cut or repeal business taxes than to consider obeying Judge Dietz’s ruling that our schools must be both adequately and equitably funded.
The blatant attacks on teachers are also hard to understand and tolerate. Use scores on a flawed and meaningless test to evaluate their performance? Cut their base salary to $2700 a month, regardless of experience or advanced degrees? Yes, that bill has already passed the Senate.
Research; very credible, many-times-replicated research; peer-reviewed, independent research proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that kids’ learning improves when they have great teachers who are supported and respected; when they have access to full-day preschool from age 3; when they have small classes; when there are interventions for any struggling learner; and when curriculum is engaging and meaningful with appropriate resources to deliver it. (See the publications “Money Matters” and “Money Still Matters” that I wrote for the Equity Center. www.equitycenter.org.)
Where are the bills to ensure that ALL Texas kids have these opportunities to learn?
Research is also clear that poverty harms children’s cognitive development, their health, and their social skill development. Texas has the fifth highest child poverty rate in the country. And the United States has the second highest poverty rate in the developed world. If you are a poor kid, one of the worst places in the world to live is Texas! More than 60% of our kids are eligible for the free/reduced lunch program. Texas refuses to extend Medicaid, so tens of thousands of kids don’t have access to health care.
Why don’t we have as many bills filed to address opportunities to learn and the poverty of our kids as we do bills filed to reduce or eliminate franchise taxes? Why don’t our state leaders spend their time building support for these inspirational, practical, critically important ways to make Texas strong and wonderful?
All the really good bills for kids in those 79 pages wouldn’t fill even one page. Are we just going to sit quietly and shake our heads? Or are we going to do something about it? We can’t ignore this crisis. We can’t leave it to someone else to do. Take a stroll through those 79 pages and see if you don’t agree that these attacks on public education are the worst we’ve ever seen in Texas! Click on “ISSUES” on the menu bar of www.texaskidscantwait.org to see the list.
Kids are kids for a very short period of time. If we adults ruin their opportunities for a good future year after year after year, we doom them. Their time is today. Kids can’t wait for us to get our act together. We have to do better!