In their March 12 Close to Home column ( "Promote understanding not scapegoating"), Jessica Jones and Michael Aparicio wrote about perhaps the foremost duty we have: educating our children so that they will become responsible, knowledgeable, productive members of society.
However, their essay didn't focus on providing the best education possible in our changing, more limited financial climate. They chose to emphasize a feeling of victimization on the part of educators.
A scapegoat is "one who bears the blame for others," according to Merriam-Webster. The teaching profession is one of the most important a person can undertake. And the rest of us who depend on teachers don't want to shortchange them, impugn them or in any way prevent them from fulfilling their commitments to their students. But attempts to raise the education bar (such as parents in Southern California who want to implement the "trigger law" to convert to a charter school) are not scapegoating. They are pinpointing where current educational practices are letting down their children and then working within the system to redress those weaknesses.
If a school is failing, dismissing the principal, for example, is perfectly reasonable. If certain teachers are unable to help their classes meet established learning benchmarks, it should be possible to replace them. Holding educators responsible for their own productivity or lack of it it is simply common sense.
Federal, state and local coffers are running low after decades of overspending. This is an undeniable reality requiring adjustments everywhere, including our school systems. To what are students truly entitled? A full school year, adequate materials and teachers who possess the ability to teach their subjects competently. When and if school districts are in a financial position to provide for more than the basics, those are welcome added benefits, but they are not indispensable.
California, as noted in a study posted online by the state Department of Education, "has the most students, a diverse group of students, more English learners than any other state and substantial numbers of students from low-income backgrounds. At the same time, the state has fewer school staff per pupil than all but one other state and spends less than the national average per pupil." The study also notes that "California has consistently ranked at or near the top in average teacher salary."
According to another study, also on the Education Department website, "More than four-fifths (82.9 percent) of statewide spending for schools goes to pay for the salaries and benefits of teachers and other staff."
So educators who really have the students as their first priority should consider that when there is a limited dollar pie, they might have to give something.
Jones and Aparicio write of upcoming events. First, on April 8, Assemblyman Jared Huffman will lead a panel discussion at Santa Rosa Junior College. Looking at the list of participants, the absence of any conservative perspective is glaring. Perhaps this could be remedied, if not on April 8, then at the two events that will follow in this series?
As for the appearance by Norman Solomon later in April, unless they are referring to another Norman Solomon who has advanced degrees in education and labor negotiations, the question ought to be what will a public policy author and activist add to considerations about the budget constraints we face in education?