A teacher’s viewpoint

While large numbers of young people now start school in August, Labor Day weekend still marked the “official” end of summer vacation for hundreds of thousands of others. For too many of these youngsters, the excitement of a new school year will wear off quickly as they feel the impact of underfunded schools forced to deal with the emphasis on high-stakes testing.

Those new to the struggle for adequate and equitable funding for schools are often awestruck by the incongruities that exist: The richest country in the world does not provide quality education to all its children. In spite of the “all men are created equal” principle, kids in poor neighborhoods get poor schools in inadequate facilities, where a librarian or a music or art teacher are all considered luxuries. Schools in wealthy neighborhoods offer small class sizes and a full range of programs.

Even more damning to this “system” is the reality that it’s the kids in the neighborhoods that lack stable homes and have to deal with problems resulting from a high concentration of poverty who need more, not less. While many urban and rural districts report dropout rates at 50 percent or higher, the solutions presented rarely have to do with fixing the inequities, creating fair funding formulas, taxing the wealthiest corporations to help pay for this essential public service or even considering what kind of education may make sense for children growing up in the 21st century.

Instead, the solution offered is the No Child Left Behind legislation which mandates tests to show “adequate yearly progress,” with no offer of funds to make progress possible. In this climate, privatization schemes abound. Private contractors and “education management organizations” are paid enormous sums to run schools with public dollars, bribing districts with false promises of testing success.

The challenge of engaging disenchanted and marginalized youth in educational endeavors is enormous. We have played games with enough “solutions” to finally focus on the real ones:

• Put adequate tax dollars to work offering small class sizes in areas of most need.

• Offer programs that tap into the creative arts and special talents of our children.

• Engage youth in thinking and planning for their future.

• Open up the world to all of our children, not just those who can afford to pay for it.

This is the new freedom struggle. Instead of the excitement of a new school year wearing off, it should continue to reverberate throughout the year.