Friday, December 08, 2006

Where's the urgency?; If I were czar

As I wrote the last two emails (sorry for so many today -- catching up!), I gotta say that what really drives me crazy is the lack of URGENCY around reforming our schools so that they provide a decent education for EVERY child.  Why is this?


I think there are many reasons.  It’s partly because there’s a fierce and unresolved debate about how to fix the system – even reasonable, well-informed, well-intentioned people have very different views about how to approach this.  But there are many other key reasons: one is that the system, while failing millions of children, works very well for the adults.  Over time, the trends have been toward more pay, fewer hours worked and greater job security – and it’s not just teachers who are benefiting; it’s principals, administrators, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc.  The adults are well organized and extremely politically powerful, especially in large cities (where, not coincidentally, the schools are the worst).  These powerful entrenched interests benefit from the status quo – and fight fiercely to preserve it. 


But even this wouldn’t be enough to maintain the status quo, year after year, in the presence of catastrophic failure of the schools “serving” millions of children, UNLESS the victims of the failing system weren’t the most marginalized, powerless people in our society: the poor and minorities.  I hate to play the race card, but let’s not kid ourselves: if wealthy white families had to send their children to failing schools, there would be a hue and cry and the schools would be improved FAST!


So, if I were czar, here’s what I’d do: starting with the President, then all senior staff in the White House, every Senator and Congressperson and their senior staffs, then every governor and state rep, and finally every mayor and city councilor in the country – ALL of them would be required to send their children to a randomly chosen public school in the city in which they live or serve (e.g., the President’s children would go to a randomly chosen public school in Washington DC, etc.).  Now THAT would fix the system in no time!  (I'm kidding, but you get the idea...)

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