Madison High School student Charles Spencer plays a tuba held together by duct tape. His school is too broke to fix the instrument, and with pending budget cuts, the prospect of Spencer—who was featured in a recent story by the online news website Voice of San Diego—having a music class during which to play his bandaged horn is looking grim. Whether you have a child or not, every adult should be alarmed when it comes to the state of education in the Golden State.
In case you don't know, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is in a world of hurt. Stimulus funds are headed our way, but, apparently, the mystery amount SDUSD will receive is not enough to pull it out of the already in-progress nose dive. And you thought that fiery streak in the sky was a meteor.
The No Child Left Behind farce is one culprit in the evisceration of public education. But add Prop. 13, the state budget crisis and a recession, and San Diego children become diminishing apparitions in the rearview mirror of “progress.”
Now facing a stratospheric deficit, our local school board has put two tourniquet-like plans on the table.Plan A, according to Voice of San Diego, includes a nearly across-the-board increase in class size, principal-sharing among certain schools, slashing of transportation for magnet schools, cuts to employee benefits and an unpaid four-day furlough for all employees.
Plan B is even more depressing, with cuts to “school supplies, landscaping and elementary school counseling,” areas in which previous cuts have already left the city's schools in disarray. Also included are “options such as closing small schools, shuttering programs in Old Town and Balboa Park” and nixing altogether arts and high-school athletics. I personally think the school board should require foot binding for kids who are actually succeeding under these ever-worsening conditions just to level the weed-infested playing field.
In addition to all that misery, the free lunch program is broke while roughly 2,600 more kids enrolled this school year than last. High-fructose corn syrup is cheap, so serving less nutritious meals is being talked about as a cost-cutting solution. Good thing American kids don't struggle with obesity and diabetes or this “solution” might be something of a health concern.
California spent $2,000 less per student than the national average prior to budget cuts, and students here are more likely to attend overcrowded schools and receive less personal attention, according to UCLA's California Educational Opportunity Report released in late February.
Somehow, I can't envision Plan A or B improving these statistics. So I'm offering my own plan, which I'll just call Plan WTF.
Plan WTF includes three ways to generate money for all of California's public schools with enough left over to buy textbooks published in this century for the state's poorest kids. Imagine! These predominantly brown babes will get to read revisionist history just like their wealthier counterparts.
My plan begins with the decriminalization of weed. Regulate it like alcohol, tax it like cigarettes and smoke it like you're being water-boarded and are gasping for air. The idea-challenged what-about-the-children crowd should pack a bowl and take a seat. They'll likely say that kids will smoke it if it's legal, and they may be right. But kids are going to smoke it anyway; they still deserve a solid education with access to counselors between bong hits.
Part 2 of Plan WTF is to stop building the third border barricade. Walls are expeeensive. Just get a bid on a 3-foot-tall stucco wall to surround your tiny front yard. You'll see. Turning our country into one giant gated community is a losing policy. If two didn't work, certainly three won't halt the determination of the human spirit.
Finally, and most expediently, there must be a Just Say No To Testing mantra. The policy makers can call the expensive exams STAR or WRAP or whatever silly acronym their high-paid consultants come up with, but they're not fooling anybody.
Each year, students in the SDUSD face a battery of state-mandated tests that include the National Assessment of Educational Progress, California Standardized Testing and Reporting, California Alternate Performance Assessment, California Modified Assessments and the California High School Exit Exam—because passing grades are no longer enough.
There's the English Language Development Test and the Physical Fitness Testing, which all the kids hate since they're fat and wheezy and not allowed to run at recess and they don't have P.E. anymore because the schools are broke and, anyway, they're too busy preparing for tests.
There are the district-mandated tests, too: the Benchmark Exams, the End-of-Course Exams, the End-of-Year Exams, the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test, the On-Demand Writing Exam, the Standards-Based Assessment in Mathematics (your eyes swirling yet?), the Writing and Reading Assessment Profile and the Practice California High School Exit Exam—because they have to practice taking the test just in case they don't know by this time how to take a test.
Don't forget the slew of “voluntary” tests that are generally required for college admission and all the regular day-in and day-out testing. Holy mackerel, are you tired? The whole thing makes me want to put my head down on my desk and drool for a while.
It's crushing, what's been done to education in California, and everybody loses if this is the future. Plan WTF is the only viable solution. Implement it yesterday and maybe Charles Spencer will have a new tuba before he sits for his SATs. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.