Closing Our Public Schools
Education... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.
~ G. M. Trevelyan (1876 - 1962), English Social History (1942)
Out with the old and in with the new.
So the saying goes. Is new always better? I guess that’s the big question. I don’t always think it is. What some may call progress sometimes seems down right stupid to me at times. We see it over and over again, tried and true methods getting tossed out for so-called new and improved. Yet many times these new improved methods do not succeed as well as the old tried-and-true.
There are examples of this all around us today and it makes me wonder - just because we can, does that mean we should. It is the examples in our school systems that bother me the most. Here in America, we spend more money, per student, on our public schools yet the overall success rates continue to drop. So the experts look at the highly successful public schools and see the statistics showing that more money is being pumped into these schools. So the conclusion then becomes to pump more money into failing schools so they can achieve higher success rates.
Definition of insanity?
They keep trying the same thing over and over again the same failing results. Their battle cry remains the same, ’We need more money.’ No matter how much money we give the schools, we are not seeing any improvement in the success rates. What is wrong with our public school systems that they can’t see that just providing more money is not the answer?
Is it the Teachers?
Much of the emphasis is now being put on teacher salaries. I don’t have a beef with teacher salaries at all. In fact, I think teachers should make a lot of money. They work hard for it. As in all professions, there are good teachers and there are bad teachers. However, I do have a problem with just throwing money at our public schools. I can’t speak for all of the schools in America, and perhaps not even all of them in Michigan, but I can comment on the schools here in West Michigan.
In the school district where I live, there are two high schools. Eight elementary schools feed two middle schools which then populate the two high schools. That works out to be 4 elementary schools feeding each middle school and each high school. Personally, I’d like to see more middle schools because that is where I think most of the kids get lost. Having kids go from the protected walls of elementary school to the free roaming halls of middle school has caused many a faltering student to get left behind.
East Elementary School
I would like to highlight one elementary school in our district. It is, or was, the oldest of the elementary schools with the smallest class size. It is being torn down today. Rubble, broken glass and fallen bricks are all that’s left. Years ago, my son, a senior in high school at the time, planned to be a teacher. As part of his studies, he helped out the kindergarten class as a student aid in this particular elementary school. The class size was limited to just over 20 students per classroom, which is considered a very small class in today’s public school system.
The school district always knows best
As is true in most school districts, declining enrollment and higher costs, have forced many districts to shut the doors of some of their schools. This is what happened in the case of our neighborhood elementary school. What we, as the tax payers in this district, found out about this particular school closing, took us all by surprise.
Of the four feeder elementary schools in our district, this elementary school scored the highest in every test that was done. From tests that measure student’s achievements to tests measuring teacher’s satisfaction, this school came out on top. Yet, this is the one school they closed.
They have their reasons for doing so and I’m sure it centered on money maybe because of their smaller class sizes or the costs to maintain the building grow as the building ages. Due to the closure of the GM plants that provided quite a bit of funding in this district, the budgets have dropped and the cost per student ratios have become alarmingly uneven.
That said, it is sad to see this school go. The building was alive with many happy faces every day. We could hear the kids playing and having fun during their recess time. Parents and students alike were very fond of this school being right here in our neighborhood. As for the students, who scored higher than all of the other schools in the district, they have now been plugged into those other district schools. So do we look to the test scores of those schools to increase? Just the opposite is true. The test scores of these schools have stayed the same and in some instances have gone even lower. Is it the kids? Are children dumber than they used to be? Who are we kidding?
Our schools do not reinforce the idea that students need to perform their best. Every parent out there knows that kids will do what is required and without any added incentive, very rarely will go above and beyond the bare requirements. Our schools only require the minimum from students and therefore, are typically only getting the minimum effort in return. Last time I checked, average was a C. When I was in school, if you failed a class you had to take it over. You were expected to pass the class no matter how many times you needed to take the class.
The first avenue the district took with the empty school building on the corner was to make it an alternative high school. Without passing judgment on anyone who attended or have loved ones going to such a school, I want to point out what this means. Some alternative schools have a focused education that labels them alternative, such as science, math or even a music centered curriculum. Others may have a non-traditional approach to teaching that pegs them into this category. For those who may not have heard of an alternative high school, this is also the kind of school where they send students who cannot make it for what ever reason in a normal high school setting.
The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.
~ Jean Piaget. Swiss Philosopher 1896 -1980
The particular alternative style high school that took up residence in our neighborhood was the kind of school where high school students who refused to conform to the rules at their own school are sent to ensure that they get a high school diploma, often times whether they deserved it or not. They would parade up and down our street before school, after school and during the school day. We would talk to these students. When asked why they are in this school they would respond candidly and say that they hated school and they hated the rules but the state is forcing them to attend this school in order for them to get their diploma. And being labeled ‘encouragable’ was a free pass in this school.
I may interpret these things differently than most but here is what I gleaned from all that I learned about the new school on the corner. Kids who decided they didn’t need to do homework or play by the rules got to go to a school where the school would bend the rules for them, make excuses for them, allow them to pass and get their high school diploma.
The schools would get these kids, now called statistics, off the books so to speak and onto the streets where they can finally contribute to society. But what have they learned? They learned that if they complain enough and don’t do their part that someone will come along and make things easy for them.
Really? Is that how it works?
It never worked like that for me. It seems to me, that we have set these kids up to fail. We, as the adults here, didn’t require enough from them nor did we help them to meet the goals that we, as a district, established for them. We allowed them to fall behind, to limbo right under the bar we set. We set this bar of a minimum requirement to pass high school. This is set for a reason and would grant every student reaching that goal to attend college. But then we stage a mass exit of hundreds of kids each year. We let them out of the coop with a diploma that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Sure it looks better to have this diploma than a GED but where is the education to back it up?
Do we want these kids growing up with a second class education, without job skills and without a viable future? Studies have shown that with the market turning away from manufacturing, blue collar jobs are becoming fewer to find, yet the amount of blue collar workers is increasing. What have we done to these kids? What have we relegated them to? From this perch where they now sit, the climb to the top may seem unattainable.
Just what we needed
The alternative school wasn’t working out due to budget concerns and ended up being moved to another location. This left our little school on the corner empty.
They sold the coveted corner lot for a new strip mall.
I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive. ~ John W. Gardner US administrator (1912 - 2002)
The last of the building came done today. It was sad seeing the building torn down.
I don’t necessarily consider elementary school paradise but Joni Mitchell’s song did come to mind.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
For more information on closing schools in other cities:
Information on declining enrollment: