Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The State of Education

I have mixed feelings about this proposed budget submitted by the Texas House of Representatives for approval by the State Senate.  On the one hand, I abhor debt.  God knows, we should not be riddled with the kind of debt that we have as a state and as a nation. I understand and sympathize with the lawmakers' dilemma:  Cut spending or get us further into debt.  On the other hand, as a mother and hopeful teacher, I am distressed by the proposal to cut $8 billion from schools statewide.  Conservatives say the wildest things in print--where so many are capable of saying awful things without fear of reprisal.  On one conservative message board, one poster suggested that the budget cuts were necessary to get rid of the tenured, poor performing teachers.  I'm not sure where this guy was getting his facts.  Others have pointed to highly-paid superintendents; others suggest getting rid of school boards and the TEA (Texas Education Agency).

While I agree that generally speaking, education can be improved, I think that a lot of the folks--legislators included--who decry the state of education in Texas really haven't spent any time in the schools.  I've been substituting in the east side of our school district for just over 5 months.  In that time, I've been impressed by the majority of teachers.  I would never suggest that I am either an expert in education or that I have wide experience in the education system.  I can't even boast a lot of experience in my own district.  However, we've had children in the school system now for eleven years.  I am impressed by the knowledge that my children have gained.  Jesse, who is in second grade, has been receiving introductory lessons into algebra.  He has been struggling with reading this year, but thanks to remedial instruction and getting new glasses, his reading is on par with his classmates.  I understand that not all parents feel this way.  To be honest, since I've been subbing, I'm shocked with how well teachers cope given the obstacles that they often encounter.

In my experience, both personal and professional, teachers as a group are some of the most giving and generous people I've seen.  Most of the teachers that I work with purchase resources with their own funds.  They work very hard and spend a lot of their own time researching strategies to educate their students.  As a group, they are thrifty and resourceful.  In one special education classroom I have subbed in, the teachers were saving milk jugs to create an igloo for their students to experience.  For the most part, teachers are conscientious and want to make sure that the students in their care receive the best instruction that they can give them.  Most of them have families of their own, with responsibilities to boot.  They are involved in their churches and communities.  Most of them are troubled by the challenges that their students face and they try to mitigate them as best they can.

Yes, there are classrooms in which the teachers are unprepared.  Yes, there are teachers who have lost their joy for teaching.  But, those are the exception, rather than the rule.  Most of the time, when I see a struggling teacher, I see some underlying reason.  Usually, the teachers that struggle are those who are brand new to the profession.  In our current state of affairs, many school districts are offering incentives to teachers to resign or retire before May.  I read recently that 38% of the teachers in Texas have less than five years experience in the field.  So, we are going to encourage the teachers with the most to give to give up.  Does that sound right to you?

Recently, I subbed at a school that is designated as a Title I school.  This is a shorthand designation for a school that receives funds from a federal grant program, due to the fact that a large percentage of the school's population are low-income.  During the course of the day, I discovered (by accident) that one of the school's staff members was sending food home with some of the students who were most in need.  I don't know if the food was purchased with grant money or if it was donated.  Honestly, I have no idea.  I was truly humbled and touched by the compassion of the act.  I have learned so much about the needs of the children in my community.  Not only do teachers educate the children of our state, but oftentimes, it is put upon them to care for them and sustain them, as well. 

Much to the chagrin of the hard-line out there, the food programs exist because children in schools would go hungry without them.  Children suffer when we cut funds to programs like Head Start, Medicaid, and public schools.  Children.  There are legislators and Tea Partiers and liberals alike who will sleep in a warm bed with a full stomach.  I will, and I thank God for that.  But tomorrow, thousands of children will go to school hungry and will leave well-fed.  In graduate school, I learned that the cause of roughly 85% of mental retardation was environmental.  This is explained by poor nutrition, lack of medical care, and poor living conditions.  Are more children at risk now than ever before?  It sure seems that way to me.

Deuteronomy 15:11 says, "There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land."  Over and over again, I hear comfortable people complain about the poor bilking the system.  I've heard people say that there are too many free-loaders.  I don't know about that.  I really don't.  I don't know the circumstances of the folks out there who seem to be poor.  All I know is that God tells us to be openhanded to the poor and needy.  It seems to me that children from low-income homes definitely qualify as both poor and needy. 

I don't have all the answers.  Right now, I'd say that I have more questions than answers.  I do know that our government is obligated to provide a free and equal education to the children of our nation.  (And for those of you out there who just got your dander up and want to rail against illegal immigrants getting a free education, hold your wad.  I don't want to hear it.)  I'm curious to know how our legislators will propose to make that happen.

Many blessings,


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