It’s the Priorities, Stupid

EDUCATION POLITICS-When I toured middle schools I was struck by the relative ratio of computers to students at local institutions. The local private highly-desired school boasted, by approximation, 2.4 computers per kid. That’s not an official number, but there were computer labs galore and special computers for graphic arts and another set of computers for a different highly specialized fancy endeavor. It all looked luscious and like something that everyone’s kid should have, everyone would want. 

 

Meanwhile down the street at a rather excellent local district school of nearly 2,000 children, there were next to zero computers. There was a set of decrepit ones in the library and a computer lab that was rare to glimpse but extant. With some associated controversy a parent group had arranged for another few dozen iPads to be shared about among classes. Again, without any official numbers I cannot know the actual ratio of computers to kids, but it was well, well, well below 1 to 1. 

But rather than immediately concluding that the fix is to buy everyone more computers, there are in fact some less blatant points to be gleaned from this comparison. 

Namely, rather than decrying the actual ratio of computers to students, or wondering what is the ideal distribution of them, it seems to me that what is really upsetting is the disparity in resources, sustained by poor funding priorities. All that computing power is really attractive, the institutional equivalent of extreme sexiness. The kids just wanna have it, as do their adults too. But computers or computing power is not the essence of the sport of education, it is but one arrow in a quiver-full of the components that bolster education action. 

Sure, I would like all kids everywhere to be afforded their own personal computer to work on and a specialized machine or two to share for good measure. But not as long as there are insufficient and unsanitary bathrooms for those 2000 children to frequent during their brief, not-staggered lunchtime (the entire school breaks for lunch during one single 30 minute period, a staggering choice that favors, presumably, economic efficiency at the expense of comfort or sanity for the school’s denizens). 

Nor would I favor massive computing power while the children, their teachers and staff must endure days immersed in rooms caked in grime and dust and filth because there are insufficient numbers of custodians working to clean the surroundings. 

Here’s another comparative choice that makes absolutely no sense at all. There is room upon room upon room across this district stuffed full of books, another of those components that bolster education action. But the books cannot be accessed, or are accessible for highly restricted periods of time, with subpar services; the lights are out and the doors are locked on perhaps as many as “most” of the district’s libraries. 

I cannot countenance opting for high-maintenance, extremely ephemeral electronics as long as room upon roomful of perfectly functional collections of durable, already-purchased, information-stuffed books lie fallow all across this district. Our school district opted first to fire its librarians, followed by their assistants and now even specialized, trained non-librarian aides are barred from operating libraries.  There is no scenario that can support wasting resources like this; it is indefensible. 

Moreover this is a comparative choice that promotes resource disparity between one set of kids in public schools and those in private. It is being made consciously, by our District Superintendent and it is not one that I can possibly accept. The issue is not that one set of kids has more toys than another, such that just purchasing sufficient toys for both sets would equalize the imbalance. The true underlying inequity is that one set of kids has their resources optimized for them while another set of kids has their resources squandered. 

Just so long as our public district children are being made to endure near-prison-like conditions, with increased police presence and indifferent physical maintenance followed by ever-fewer teachers and librarians and records clerks – the actual components of an educational institution as opposed to institutionalized time-marking — until the choices made for our educational institutions favor the tools of learning over the tools of entertainment and containment, there will remain inequity. 

The people who have advocated these unfortunate priorities, for incomplete electronic gadgets over catalogued halls of stored wisdom; for lecture-hall-sized classes stuffed within deteriorating classrooms over more teacher-hires to mitigate class sizes approaching 50 — the people who have championed such anti-intellectual, educationally destructive practices should be held accountable. 

The disparity in educational resources that is rampant across our school district between charters and district schools, and between district schools and private schools, should never be tolerated. Those who foster funding choices that sustain under-resourced, impoverished educational institutions, ultimately undermine democracy. 

We must remove the leadership among us that champions disparity in practice if not in word. Merely stating affinity with the politics of civil rights does not equate with addressing its imbalance. 

We need a superintendent of our public schools who maximizes educational opportunity by championing best educational practices, rather than materializing corporate opportunity by championing lucrative corporate contracts. 

We need to prioritize our children’s limited educational resources. And that means starting with limiting the influence of the people in our district’s administration who have shown their priorities to be not in our children’s best educational interests.

 

(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com

-cw

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 11 Issue 84

Pub: Oct 18, 2013