Tina Repetti-Renzullo - McKinley School
Education Issues and Trends
I have worked in education for twenty-one years, and as a result I have experienced times of prosperity when school budgets afforded substantial resources and extensive professional development, and times of scarcity when difficult decisions about what to cut from the budget dominated school board meetings. Along the way the debate over what constitutes a high-quality education has remained in the center of public discourse. I think the two biggest issues facing public education today are the negative impacts caused by the instability of funding, and the pervasive negative perception of our nation’s public schools.
An interesting trend is noted in the 2009 Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude Towards Public Schools. The poll showed a continuing discrepancy between public opinion of the quality of local public schools versus those of the nation’s public schools in general. Fifty-one percent of respondents gave their local schools an A or B grade yet, only nineteen percent gave national public schools a grade of A or B. This wide disparity of opinion is also evident in news media, in commentaries, and in political debates when campaign cycles bring forth discussion over the success or failure of our schools. I suspect that part of the problem is that we are not comparing apples to apples. I think the root of this discrepancy lies in the fact that our data points for measuring school quality are not standardized nation-wide. There are multiple variables which influence school success, of which student achievement is one. Since all students do not work towards mastery of the same standards, nor take the same tests to measure their progress, there is an entry point for inconsistent opinion to take hold. As a nation, we do ourselves a disservice by persisting in this manner of discussion. We need to speak about school success using universal assumptions. The Common Core Standards Initiative is a positive move towards clarifying what those universal assumptions should be. By establishing national benchmarks for student learning we also build cohesion in our national dialogue concerning education.
The severe cuts to education funding in California place unfair burdens on our children and remove resources essential to their academic success. In recent polls, sixty-two percent of Californians expressed concern over the impact of budget cuts on education and thirty-two percent of national respondents identified funding as the largest problem their local public schools face. This is a national problem with serious local implications. The cause of California’s current education budget crisis is rooted in the state scheme for funding education and how it has been driven by the fluctuations in state revenue. The effects of the budget crisis on students include increased class sizes, the elimination of tutoring, summer school, arts, elective and sports classes, and the lay-offs of teachers and support staff. The immediate impacts of these cuts manifest as reductions in services to students but the potential long-term impacts are what most concern me. Years of bare-bones services will risk lost opportunities and diminished life-long success. Larger student-teacher ratios mean less time for individual student-teacher interaction. In my own school district, kindergarten class sizes are increasing from a current ratio of 22:1 up to 27:1 and first through third grade class sizes are increasing from 22:1 up to 29:1. This equates to discernible time-reductions for meeting the different needs of students. The loss of remedial support and the personnel who provide it will leave students who struggle to master the curriculum far behind their grade-level peers. Canceling arts, elective, and sports classes stifles emerging talents which, with cultivation and development, could potentially lead to fulfilling careers and lives. Eliminating music classes also eliminates the cognitive benefits music training provides beyond the talent development in a particular instrument. The solution to this problem has evaded our elected representatives and is the topic of extensive analysis and debate.
As we reconcile our fiscal realities with our vision for California’s schools, it is important to keep our focus on how our children are affected. This budget crisis presents communities with a unique opportunity to deepen their partnerships with local schools. Businesses can participate in school-based ventures such as providing guest speakers or academic partners in classrooms, employee time-off to volunteer in schools, internships for high school students, and funding for school initiatives, field trips, and classroom projects which benefit the local community. Parents and families can volunteer to help in their child’s classroom, join the PTA or School Site Council, attend school board meetings and engage in discussion around decisions that affect their children. These are industrious ways of tangibly reducing the negative impacts of budget cuts while at the same time demonstrating to our children that we value their potential.
 Baldassare, M. et, al. (April 2010) Public Policy Institute of California Statewide Survey: Californians and Education. Retrieved, July 23, 2010, from http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/survey/S_410MBS.pdf
 Bushaw, W., McNee, J. (2009) Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes towards public schools. Retrieved, July 23, 2009, from Phi Delta Kappa International http://www.edweek.org/media/2009galluppdkpoll.pdf
ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from Science Daily http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060920093024.htms