Where do I even start? From school safety and funding to teacher compensation and curriculum, our education system here in NJ and across the country is a mess and in desperate need of change. My own two children attended and recently graduated from NJ public schools, so my views come mostly from the position of a parent, and that, ironically, is what gives me the greatest hope for education in our state.
The most expensive item by far of our New Jersey Property tax bills is the school tax portion. New Jerseyans paid $16 Billion dollars in school taxes last year. Healthcare premium charges account for a large portion of that bill. There are reports that school security could become the largest expense in the future, even surpassing compensation, as we need to protect our children from gun violence. New school construction is designed with active shooter deterrents in mind, curved hallways, fortified closets, etc. and the cost to retrofit existing schools will be passed onto taxpayers.
There are many problems to be sure, but from what I have seen, the strong foundation of our education system is very much intact.
I am speaking, of course, of our teachers.
I know this from multiple personal experiences through the years with my own children. I know that our teachers are indeed heroes and every day they respond to a job description that does not capture everything they do, and they are not adequately compensated.
I look at Education the way I do every other issue, which is how it affects people. For most, education is the pathway to long term health, economic success, and citizenship in our democracy. Unfortunately, current policies have worsened already existing health disparities and inequities in educational opportunities, which are closely tied to socioeconomic status. Our current system deprives already disadvantaged communities from attaining a good education.
All schools should provide more flexible opportunities for learning instead of teaching to a set of uniform standards. Some children adapt and can manage and even thrive with current requirements, but many cannot, and they become disillusioned. Because we do not adapt to meet their needs, they struggle and become frustrated. This leads to many issues, including, but not limited to “failure”, truancy, drop outs, drug use and anxiety. I know personally what it is like to struggle in school and the frustration that comes with it. If there are problems at home, this is compounded. The challenges are great, but we need representatives willing to use resources to better serve our schools.
I am no expert in this field, but I believe that we need to look to include teachers and students in the discussion. They know best what is needed, and if we trust them with our children, we certainly can trust them to lead us with the challenges we face in our public schools.
- The expansion of charter schools has been rampant under the current administration.
- They are inherently discriminatory because they can be selective which lead to students with special needs being overrepresented in public schools who then get funding sanctioned away.
- They do not have credentialing requirements, can hire anyone, and have little to no oversight of their curriculum because they can select their student population, which often leads to denial of students with special needs. As a result, that population is overrepresented in public schools, which are losing out on funding that is redirected to charters.
- Modern day “white flight” into charter schools worsens inequities for communities of color.
- It is important that our schools are safe and secure for students, but the costs for security must be balanced with investment in counseling and mental health programs, especially in low income school districts.
- Armed police in our schools can create an environment of intimidation and punitive discipline.
- There is overwhelming evidence that DARE programs are totally ineffective at preventing drug abuse, but many schools still implement this outdated curriculum instead of researching more effective options that would create better relationships between students and authority.
Inequities highlighted by COVID-19
- The relationship between property taxes and school funding is inherently inequitable and produces many disparities among school districts.
- Large class sizes and inadequate facilities in some low-income schools may create more challenges to setting up classrooms to be safe for possible reopening. In some cases, students may be forced to attend school anyway, placing their health and that of their teachers at risk.
- There are huge technological disparities across the board. Technology is crucial for students to develop the basic skills they need in life. We need a 1 to 1 laptop-to-student ratio in every school. Students are put at a huge disadvantage for remote learning that needs to be addressed before schools reopen. We also cannot require online assignments without making sure every student has access to the internet.
- Many families rely on school meals for their children and the school shutdown has highlighted these nutritional inequities. We need to make sure healthy food is available to everyone, but especially children who need proper nutrition to learn and grow.
Anti-Racism in Schools
- We need to reevaluate the New Jersey State Standards which are heavily Eurocentric
- New Jersey needs to involve teachers and staff to examine state curriculum standards for bias and exclusivity. Districts should provide anti-bias and inclusiveness training for staff. Mechanisms should be in place to support teachers when they are confronted with bias in school districts.
- We need to recruit and support teachers of color and make sure that staff and administration in school districts are representative of local communities and society at large.
- In many districts, students are tracked into academic levels from middle school on, which can lead to segregation in schools across racial lines that create an opportunity gap.
- Some districts are attempting to correct the disparities of tracking by transitioning into “de-leveling”. This has to be done with proper training, teachers may struggle to include students who have been historically marginalized and less represented in those academic spaces.
Emphasis on Athletics
- Going to school should be about building academic skills and knowledge to prepare children for their roles as citizens in our democracy. Sports have their place in development, but prominent athletes in public schools should not receive special treatment, nor should excessive funding be funneled into athletic programs.
- The need for higher education to succeed in a post-industrial economy cannot be denied, but one size does not fit all. Many students have been convinced they must attend college at a time when the cost of that diploma has increased six times faster than inflation. As a result, we have an entire generation of young adults who graduate deep in debt.
- We need to expand educational and career opportunities and present all options to students who want to pursue needed careers in a trade.
- We need to explore ways to reduce the out-of-control costs of higher education.
- We need to eliminate student loan departments promoting predatory loans and re-route these resources to include job and career placement assistance along with impartial “all options” financial counseling services.