(The following is my latest blog for Huffington Post and my column for this week's Newton County News.)
Leaving politicians in charge of solving the problems that face American education is an endeavor that is doomed to failure since the politicians are the problem.
Evidence of that was seen in Missouri last week when an interim committee met in St. Louis to discuss the problems of students whose school districts have become unaccredited due to low scores on standardized tests.
Sen. Jane Cunningham chaired the committee, which for anyone who knows Missouri politics, is a clear signal that public schools were not going to receive a fair shake.
Sen. Cunningham is the same legislator who during the 2011 session introduced the following bills:
-The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which prohibited teachers from communicating with students through Facebook (and according to many would have forced teachers to close their Facebook accounts)
-A law eliminating teacher tenure and replacing it with a merit pay system based on standardized test scores. Each school would have been required to have a four-tier pay system with those whose students made the top grades receiving 60 percent more in salary than the next tier and so on down the line.
-A bill that would have repealed child labor laws. Apparently, in Mrs. Cunningham’s world, children have to be protected from hordes of predator teachers, but not from opportunistic businessmen.
During the interim committee’s hearings, Mrs. Cunningham discussed various methods of punishing public schools that will not accept students whose parents want them to transfer from the “failing” schools. Of course, it does not matter to Mrs. Cunningham that those schools do not have room for hundreds of students.
Her agenda is evident from this passage from Missourinet:
She plans to file a bill that reflects the testimony she heard during the Committee’s hearings. For her, that means seeking legislative approval for private schools to accept students living in districts that have lost accreditation. She says, “…we certainly have excellent ones out there who are willing to take these children and provide them an excellent education, and the other advantage that they noted to us was they’re in the city, or very near the city, so we would not have to spend the money and the time transporting the students out to county districts.”
She also anticipates lawmakers considering the expansion of charter schools, encouraging surrounding school districts to open their own charters in the St. Louis City Limits, expanding online virtual school options for parents who want that to help meet the needs of the number of students who will seek transfer.
Under Missouri law, the failing schools would have to pay tuition and transportation costs for students to attend private schools or for any of the other alternatives.
During the days Mrs. Cunningham’s committee was in session, not one witness was called to address the real problem that faces students in these schools- poverty.
The failing schools are invariably in the inner cities (in our state, in Kansas City and St. Louis) The students live with poverty, violence, abuse, high crime rates, problems that don’t seem to matter to Mrs. Cunningham and like-minded legislators who find it easier to put the blame on public schoolteachers and administrators.
During her time in the legislature, Mrs. Cunningham has filed dozens of punitive bills aimed at damaging public education. The records don’t show any bills designed to help alleviate the poverty that exists in our inner cities.
And sadly, Missouri is far from being alone when it comes to ignoring the plight of those in the inner city in favor of giving tax cuts and incentives to job creators who never seem to create any jobs.
Under the plans touted by Mrs. Cunningham and other legislators across this nation, the top students from inner city schools will be removed, in favor of private schools, virtual schools, or so-called public charter schools, with the public schools having to foot the bill at the expense of the remaining students.
Then as the scores continue to drop because the top students are gone and nothing has been done about the bleak existence being faced by many of these children, eventually the schools will be dismissed as total failures and shut down completely.
At one time, this country lived up to Emma Lazarus’ famed pledge- “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
For Mrs. Cunningham and the others who are introducing similar legislation across this country, the tired and the poor are expendable commodities, waiting to be sacrificed on an altar of educational reform.