Our public schools are the last real space where people from different classes and different walks of life come together to learn, to share ideas, and to be afforded a fair opportunity to reach for the American dream. At the same time, unless you work in a public school or have a child enrolled in one, chances are you don't get to spend much time in them.
Two years ago I founded Going Public.org, a site for those who believe that public education is the heart of our democracy. One of our goals is to educate the average American on what thechallenges and successes of public education really are. To that end, here are seven things you need to know about your local public school.
1. Most parents really, really like their neighborhood schools.
In a recent poll conducted by Hart Research Associates, more than 75 percent of parents surveyed said they are satisfied with their children' teachers and most would rather see their neighborhood schools strengthened and given more resources than have options to enroll their children elsewhere.
2. Parents are the single most important key to student success.
Henderson and Mapp revealed in an analysis of 51 studies that students with above average parent involvement had academic achievement rates that were 30 percent higher than those students with below average parent involvement. Henderson and Berla found that the most accurate predictors of student success in school were the ability of the family (along with the support of school personnel) to (a) Create a positive home learning environment, (b) Communicate high but realistic expectations for their children's school performance and future careers, and (c) Become involved in their children's schooling.
3. Your school has lost a tremendous amount of state and federal funding and has little ability to replace it.
If you are asked to contribute Kleenex, hand sanitizer, poster paper, markers, paper cups... it's because funding for teachers, textbooks, and school buses are just some of the areas that lawmakers are choosing to cut from public education. House Republicans have cut proposed funding amounts lower than in any year since 2004.
4. Too many minutes each week will be spent "teaching to the test."
Because of the relentless pressure to boost scores on standardized tests students at your local public school will lose the classroom time that has traditionally been used to engage in critical thinking, participate in the arts, music, and even physical education. Some parents are beginning to opt-out and are keeping their children from taking standardized tests.
5. Your neighborhood is as important as the school it supports.
Trying to fix a public school without fixing its neighborhood is like trying to clean the air on one side of your screen window. Families, neighborhoods and communities are inexorably intertwined.
6. If fewer than 10 percent of the children in your local public school are on free or reduced meals, congratulations!
You can count on the fact that they will rate at the top on any international assessments in math and science. The problem in our schools is not teachers. It's poverty.
7. If your school believes that the purpose of public education is to prepare students to be well educated in order to take part in our democratic society, go to the head of the class! Does your school invite students to weekly town hall meetings? Do students have a voice in some decisions? Are teachers part of a collaborative team along with parents and administrators? If so, your children are better equipped to preserve, protect and promote our democratic way of life.
Teachers throughout the country are marching, picketing, and joining others to inform the public about the dangers of corporate control of public schools. They cannot do it alone. They need the support of parents and other community members who will not allow the privatization of public education to happen right under their noses. We need to you to contact educators with your support and your time. It's the entire community who will, in the end, save public education for our kids. YES, WE CAN!
Want to volunteer at a public school? Click here to say you'll do it.