It’s All About Education: Transforming Children’s Lives and our Nation’s Future

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

 

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Lauri Lee

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear professor and writer David L. Kirp speak on the topic, “Is Public Education Dead?” His answer was that, while our public schools nationally are, for the most part, not meeting the needs of the majority of our population, there are some schools (and school systems) that are serving students quite well; and we can learn from them to improve the educational experience for all. 

With an extensive background in law, public policy, and education, Mr. Kirp has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, served as the founding director of the Harvard Center on Law and Education, and is currently a professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He writes for numerous publications and has authored several books, including Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children’s Lives and America’s Future

Professor Kirp believes that we have both the knowledge and the wherewithal to improve not only our schools, but also children’s lives and our nation’s economy. He says there is no secret, and that many of the success stories in schools are based on W. Edwards Deming’s theory of continuous improvement. However, the process of reform takes time and patience, both of which tend to be in short supply in our political landscape. 

In the book Kids First, Kirp posits that the United States needs to adopt a new paradigm for how we think about kids. He refers to its underlying strategy as the Golden Rule: “Every child deserves what’s good enough for a child you love.” In this model, all children deserve to grow up in a nurturing environment that gives them a chance to learn, grow, and succeed, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds or the resources of their communities.  

Kirp suggests five big ideas that would transform children’s experiences “from crib to college” and impact our nation’s future:

  1. A parent support program for all new parents;
  2. High-quality early childhood education;
  3. Coordination between schools and communities to improve program offerings;
  4. Mentors for those children who need access to a caring, stable adult;
  5. And a nest egg for every child that could be used to help pay for college or start a career.

Each of these big ideas has been proven to be effective, will promote equity and decrease the achievement gap, and is a sound investment in our future. 

In fact, according to Kirp, every aspect of this model is already happening in various places throughout our country. Every one of the items above has already attracted bipartisan support in Congress. If children’s advocates were to mobilize and coordinate efforts, putting aside their individual programmatic concerns and rallying behind this “Kids First” agenda that would enhance a range of opportunities for all children from crib to college, this vision could become a reality. 

What would this Kids First agenda cost? Mr. Kirp estimates that the whole program could be underwritten for about $50 billion per year. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually less than two percent of the $3.9 trillion federal budget. In fact, government spending on children’s programs has dropped to less than 8% of all federal spending, according to the First Focus Children’s Budget 2015

The Kids Share 2012 report on federal expenditures found that the United States spends seven times more on the elderly than we do on our children. Its authors state that under current policies, beginning in 2017, “the federal government is projected to spend more on interest payments than on children.” Since most citizens agree that children are our future and that America’s success depends upon the success of our children, this seems shortsighted. 

Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus, states, “Since kids do not vote, we need an informed electorate that will translate its long-standing support for children into votes. This requires that advocates for children, including parents, grandparents, educators, etc., work together to build a grassroots movement to educate the public and demand from policymakers that they put forth a real policy agenda… that would improve child well-being and then hold those policymakers accountable for real results.” 

We know how to eliminate the achievement gap. We know how to improve children’s lives for the better, providing support for families and a high quality education from birth through college for every child. We have the financial ability to make this vision a reality. We talk about how important children are, but we don’t always put our money where our mouths are. As David Kirp writes, “When the topic is children, Washington is often long on love and short on cash.” 

We can change that. As voters, we need to demand more from our politicians. Although the benefits of a Kids First agenda might not be fully realized for fifteen to twenty years, longer than the life cycle of most political careers, that does not mean those benefits should be ignored.  Our children, and our nation, deserve better. They are worth the investment. 

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs at http://www.AllAboutEducation.net; and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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