The recent focus by some “school reformer movements” has at its crux the idea that student academic performance should be directly linked to teacher ‘s salaries. The relationship being championed here is not only woefully inadequate when addressing the needs of under performing schools and their students, but is of insulting hubris in its devaluation of the task teachers are being asked to achieve from one distinct school site to the next. In courts across the country, the striking disparities across districts have been found to be unconstitutional. In California, Serrano vs. Priest found that per-pupil spending must be equalized. In Connecticut, Horton vs. Meskill in 1977 mandated that the state “provide a substantially equal educational opportunity”, and Sheff v. O’Neill in 1996 reaffirmed the same right. Why is is that we have yet to take this constitutional right seriously, choosing instead what amount to stalling tactics. Chief among them is “teacher bashing”, or the insistence that the education achievement gap persists due to the failure of teachers to do their job properly. Yet what these constitutional challenges implied, yet stopped short of truly addressing, is the extent to which the achievement gap can only be closed by first closing the gap in human and social capital of the students being taught in dramatically disparate environments with dramatically different available resources and most relevantly, in profoundly varied class environments and sizes.
Successful programs across the country, those who consistently bring poor students to real success, do so not by relying on one amazing teacher in a class of 40. They do it by pouring targeted resources in a comprehensive way into, not just our kids, but their communities as well. Are we still not Nationally aware that two thirds of our over 2 million inmates lack even a High School diploma, a cost to taxpayers of upwards of $60,000 dollars per year on average, with little to none of that being spent on rehabilitation. Imagine the socio cultural, much less economic benefit a similarly priced four year college education could provide a struggling student, while simultaneously preventing the demoralizing effects the incarceration of one more of our own citizen has on the stability of our, statewide, national and global community. As Americans, we incarcerate more individuals, particulary minors, than all other countries in the world combined. Additionally, of course, we also have the highest recidivism rates in the world. Imagine what this money could be used to do if spent properly on prevention instead of a false, temporary “cure” for the disenfranchisement and emotional, as well and economic poverty, a lack of education brings.
There is a reason that proverbs in the vein of “if you teach a man to fish he will eat for a day, but if you teach a man how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime…of more simply, “an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure”, have survived for so long, as do most truisms. The question is, fellow Americans; do we pay what is required now to provide the desperately necessary birth to adulthood quality education that will allow us to awake to a nation of future possibilities and stop looking for administrators, teachers, parents or the children themselves to blame for whatever we can fixate on as the latest short term problem and its tidy short term “solution”, or do we get to work making our own future that much brighter by whatever means required?