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Arthur Schaper: RI Education: End the Pillage, Restore The Village

Friday, September 06, 2013

 

Public education departments need to refocus on what works best to help a student succeed.

"It takes a village to raise a child." So repeated Former first lady, presidential candidate, Secretary of State, and all-around liberal buzz-cooler Hilary Clinton. She was way off, at least in Providence. It takes a bureaucracy to raise a child, apparently, in Rhode Island Schools, and a well-paid one at that.

According to GoLocalProv reports from last week, the highest paid school administrators work in Providence. Pawtucket has a comparable enrollment, yet costs a fraction of the money.

Top-heavy administration in public education is a laugh-track which has run aground these past few years. While taxpayers get taken, they witness the layoffs of great teachers. Students receive an anemic education, if anything at all, which the upper-echelon of school leadership gets more money, more power, and just plain more of everything else.

Yet progressives, liberals, and anyone else who believes in the perfectibility of man and the preeminence of the state as the great equalizer will attest that schools need more money, more staff, and will then be able to teach more students.

Wrong.

Fail. You get an "F" if you think so.

Let me tell you about the Los Angeles County Office of Education, one of the largest public education institutions in the country (something to make you Rhode Islanders feel a little better), yet also one of the most bereft, corrupt, and downright dysfunctional (plus a window into tax dollars not at work).

LACOE teaches the most marginal populations (special ed, alternative ed, juvenile hall), because no one else can or will. Special education programs rent classrooms in local school districts, and the County Office pays for them. Yet a growing number of school districts are taking back their special education students. The costs of doing business with the county have grown too much to carry. In effect, local school districts are tired of getting "schooled" by higher-level administration costs.

Employment guaranteed

Routinely I would witness overstaffing in classrooms. One summer, I was assigned to cover a special class in South Eastern Los Angeles County. Three teacher's assistants were also assigned to that classroom, yet only one student showed up. State law requires a certificated individual to supervise the classroom (a teacher, a sub like me). Four professionals got paid to babysit one student. I just read must of the time, since there was literally nothing else to do. In another class, there were two assistants, with only one student. "We always request more staff because if the county finds out that we have fewer students, we lose money and staffing."

What?!

Juvenile classrooms are smaller, but also tougher. At least you are guaranteed a job, one teacher confided with me. Exactly. Public education has become "job guarantee", rather than guaranteeing a future for our youth.

Los Angeles Unified School District is one of the largest in the country, and they have an expanding administrative staff, yet the student enrolled has flattened. The number of directors, advisers, and coordinators is staggering. They even have inspectors to investigate waste and fraud: sixty-six of them. Are they investigating themselves? Forget "a village". In public education, the mantra has become "It takes a pillage to raze a child." Boy, are our students getting razed all right, all the way down to the ground, and we are paying for it.

Get real

The problem with public education resides with the very notion that more administrators and more money will make education "more better."

I will qualify the money issue with one distinction: teachers are underpaid. Under. Paid.

God bless Stephen Round, but even $70,000 a year is not enough. Not for the crap and corruption that most teachers are called onto cope with.

Most people enter education to help kids learn, to contribute to their communities, and prevent a generation of illiterate, unskilled criminals from taking to the streets and taking up space in local jails (or depending on taxpayer dollars). A few years into the contorted system, with tenure behind them and pensions before them, teachers cannot resist the temptation to stay. Frustrated, they seek administrative promotions, or join their union hierarchy to fight for better working conditions. Of course, unions are part of the problem, preventing the termination of bad teachers and opposing necessary reforms, like vouchers and evaluations.

One frustrated teacher (and union rep) called the public school-administrator coven "The Old Boys Club". Too many administrators going to meetings just to go to more meetings.

Refresh, refocus

There is hope in California, though, as in Rhode Island. In Inglewood Unified, in a working-class suburb south of Los Angeles, state emergency managers have stepped in, one of whom was dismissed within two months, while the other has a proven record of recognition, reform, and results. Inglewood enrollment has plummeted in the last few years because of charter schools, which give parents and students a choice. Choice really does make all the difference, even though administrators and school boards will insist "Get the right administrators, give us more money, and we can 'fix the problem.'"

In Rhode Island and California, local control and school choice will bring back the village and end the pillage in public education.

 

Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurCSchaper, reach him at arthurschaper@hotmail.com, and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.

 

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