Creating a successful school is not like building a table. If a person wants to build a table, he or she first buys top-quality wood. Then the builder lovingly crafts the final product, using the best tools and beginning with a tried-and-true pattern. From start to finish, the creator has the raw materials under his/her complete control. If the builder follows the pattern carefully, the finished product will turn out as desired. However, if poor quality products are used, or the crafter does not follow the directions, the outcome will not be so favorable. The builder makes those choices.
Schools, on the other hand, do not have control over the end results of their efforts in the same way. Schools accept everyone who shows up to be educated; they have limited control over their students. Schools cannot change what has happened in the student’s past: Was the pregnant mother well-nourished? Was the child exposed to a love of learning at an early age? Was the child fed a balanced diet? Was the child a product of a nurturing household? Was the child exposed to toxins? Was the child’s home a violent place? Was the child in a stable home without being moved from school to school numerous times? Were there positive role models in the family? Was the child required by the parents to attend school on a regular basis? Was the child raised speaking English? These are just samples of all the factors in a student’s life that the school and teachers have no control over. Studies have shown that success in school is much more dependent on the home life of a student than on the school itself.
Schools that teach struggling students must put forth more effort and costly resources to even hope to approach the success that they would have with students who are not facing challenges. The idea of giving so-called less successful schools a reduced amount of funding is outrageous.
Who can define what a “successful” school is? While standardized tests can indicate some mastery of a subject, the majority of genuine learning cannot be measured by bubbling in a response on a multiple choice test. The tests are especially problematic for students who are already at a disadvantage when measured against their peers. Even if they achieve two years’ growth in a single year, they may still fall far behind artificially set benchmarks for a grade level.
Increasing a child’s achievement is a costly initiative. Students needing extra help consume more of a teacher’s time, necessitating smaller class size; this costs money. Struggling students need to be assigned to the best and most experienced teachers; this costs money. Students who have fallen behind can benefit from after-school tutoring as well as summer school; this costs money. In fact, most interventions designed to help bring students up to grade level cost money. Depriving schools with underperforming students of much-needed funding would rob those students who are most in need.
The vast majority of teachers are already working as hard as they possibly can. They contend with large classes, students with varying learning styles, students who are at different levels of knowledge, students with disabilities, and completely unmotivated students.
Not only do the schools need funding to assist students who do not measure up to an artificial set of standards, but if these children are to learn well, additional funding needs to go to social and health programs so that all students arrive at school in good health and with a beginning academic background that can be gained from attendance at a high-quality preschool.
Awarding school funding to schools that already do well is the opposite of what needs to be done. The schools that genuinely need additional funding are the ones that are teaching students who have the most challenges to overcome. All schools need to be adequately funded so that they have the best physical resources and personnel possible. Punishing schools that are already at a disadvantage is the worst thing that our state Legislature can do.
Our young people are our future. They are the doctors and road builders and engineers and accountants of the future. They will be paying taxes and contributing to our economy. All of them need to have the best education possible.