#1 - Increase funding:
No matter what how you cut it, education takes money. Many Charter Schools and even high performing Public Schools receive extra funding from private donors, cooperate sponsors, or just wealthy parents. It is a shame that California is near the bottom when it comes to per pupil education spending. We must repeal backward laws like Prop. 13 which undermines funding public education. We also must cut the waste in Mega school districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District! There is a tremendous amount of waste happening in public schools and this MUST stop!
If we believe in public education we must invest in our children! More funding for our public schools is needed.
#2 - Lower Class sizes:
Its amazing that school districts get away with 42 to 1 students ratios. Students learn best in smaller classes, and yet when there is a budget crisis the first thing school districts do is raise class sizes! This is a great injustice. With such a diverse groups of students, ELL, Special Needs, high achieving, poor, disenfranchised, and historically oppressed student populations, we need small classes to pay attention to the diverse needs of these student groups. This has worked in K-2, but yet School District officials fail to include this in any reform package!
#3 - Project Based/Service Learning Yes! Standardized Tests NO!:
We are in desperate need of halting the culture of testing and teaching to the test! Our schools, especially those in inner city poor performing schools, focus all their time and energy in test taking. Testing strategies, interventions for low performing test takers, testing materials, and testing curriculum. Tests to test for the pretest to test for the test! Whew, I am tired of testing and so are many other teachers!! Many of our language learners must take the tests in English when many are not even fluent in the language yet.
So what is an alternative to standardized testing? Project Based learning and Service learning projects. Let's create panels of educators (we can even include peers and parents!) that grade students upon the completion of projects that test the students' knowledge and ability to apply the knowledge they have learned in the classroom. This is a much better way assessing student knowledge instead of standardized test. Moreover, if it is a service learning project it will also help the community as well and engage students in a way that a standardized test never will. Lets stop the waste of standardized tests and find better methods of assessing our students.
#4 - Social Justice Curriculum:
Education is the key to liberating our youth from the chains of the legacy and current oppression. It brings opportunities and opens doors that were not imagined a few years back. Curriculum, must build on student prior knowledge, historical and cultural memories. Education is NOT a neutral act and any teacher or curriculum that claims to be has a hidden agenda that can be quickly discovered by seeing things with a critical lens. We need a curriculum and pedagogy that focuses on abolishing historical inequities whose legacy plagues us today. Learning the skills necessary to make he world and better place is what is missing from our schools. What we need is an increase in Ethnic Studies, Dual Language programs, and interdisciplinary project based learning where students can study up power and inequality, learn about themselves, land analyze problems in their community to find ways to solve these problems. The focus must be on critical thinking skills and application. Education must be relevant and include multiple pathways that includes a college prep education that provides a career based program where the college prep curriculum can be applied.
#5 - School Choices and Community Control:
Parents and community members should have a choice of what school to send their children to. Families should not be forced to go to a poor performing school if they do not want to. Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District in conjunction with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, created the Belmont Zone of School Choice. At these Schools there is autonomy in curriculum, staffing, budget, governance, professional development, and school calendars so they can best explore ground-breaking models to improve teaching and learning. Parents can choose which of many small schools (Max Capacity of 500 students per school) their child can attend. School choice will force schools to be more conscious of the needs of the community or they will begin to loose enrollment and soon not have a school at all. This along with school site autonomy that ultimately allows for a council of Parents, teachers, Community Members and Administrators to work cooperatively to improve the school is the right path to follow. Lets empower the community to make the right decisions for our schools.
#6 - Accountability:
Let's hold schools accountable!! I am often perplexed but the blame game of failing schools. we blame teachers unions and sorority rights that protect "bad teachers," parents for "lack of involvement" and most often it's the "lazy culturally backward students" who don't care enough to pull themselves up from their own boot straps and get and education. However, at school sites, the buck must stop with the administrators. It is school principals, who are ultimately responsible for ensuring the proper management and improvement of a school. If a school is failing, then Management must be held accountable. However, even though many school principals are at will employees, they are rarely fired. Great schools MUST have great leaders. Those who aren't need to be held accountable.
Jose Lara is a Social Justice Educator who teaches at Santee Education Complex in South Central Los Angeles. You can find him on facebook or twitter by searching for screen name: JosedelBarrio Email the author