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The Choices We Have to Make for Long Island's Students

Long Islanders have two choices: Either we show our children that society is willing to invest in them or we place the futures of our children in the hands of those looking to profit from them.

This week's post is written by Danielle Asher, the Statewide Early Childhood Education Campaign Coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education and the Lead Organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

We have a tradition in this country of giving apples to our teachers to show appreciation for the work they do day in and out educating our children. Well, according to Wall Street Journal commentator Andrew Coulson those red deliciouses would be better replaced with pink slips.

This past Tuesday, the Journal ran an opinion piece by Coulson, of the right-wing Cato Institute, entitled "America Has Too Many Teachers." While one day I might try and have my piece, "America Has Too Many Conservative Think Tanks," published in the journal, for now I'll settle for a refutation of his flawed arguments.

Despite Coulson's imaginative title, he rehashes the same tired anti-teacher arguments that privatization advocates often make: that public schools have “warehoused three million people in jobs that do little to improve student achievement” and that these educators would be “working productively in the private sector if that extra $210 billion were not taxed out of the economy each year.”

I'll be the first to admit that Coulson is right on point that U.S. student achievement is lackluster. While there has been steady research published in the past few decades showing how our students lag behind other nations, let's just take one example.

According to the Department of Education, only 15% of Americans are fully literate. That's 264 million Americans who have some kind of shortcoming in "understanding and using" information from prose, documents and basic math, according to the DoE's comprehensive 2002 study. Worse yet, a large portion of those millions are "functionally illiterate", or unable to critically process written information given to them. If you accord weight to Thomas Jefferson's argument for free public education that "Democracy can not long exist without enlightenment", then these numbers should be enough to keep you up at night.

So if we agree it's critical to improve education, we're presented with some choices. Coulson's thought is that by bringing the profit motive into education, we can achieve greater results using fewer resources. Well, recent history provides us with some good example of how schools cope with reduced funding. 

In recent years, New York State has drastically cut school funding, in spite of being required by the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to provide additional funds for the neediest schools districts. Unsurprisingly, these cuts disproportionately affect low-income students. The Alliance for Quality Education found that in 2011, poor school districts had their funding cut by an average of $843 per student versus $269 per student for the wealthiest districts.

Less funding means fewer teachers, and fewer teachers means bigger class sizes. What's strange is that Coulson's article completely ignores the proven link between smaller class sizes and improved performance. Firing three million teachers would result in larger class sizes and weaken public education nationwide. In the school term of 2009-10, the percentage of school districts nationwide which fired personnel increased from 11% in 2008-9 to 44%. During that same year, the percentage of districts increasing class size more than tripled from 13% the year before to 44%. In light of these facts, Mr. Coulson’s proposal that we remove nearly half of America’s educators from our public schools is a prescription for the outright sabotage of public education.

While larger class sizes hurt all students, they hurt those from low-income families the most. For example, the Tennessee STAR Project found that while students in smaller classes reaped the greatest learning gains, this was especially true for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, the American Psychological Association has found that students from schools in low-income areas face additional challenges, leading them to enter high school an average of 3.3 grade levels behind students from higher income areas.

When Coulson points to private education as a model for public school to follow, noting the higher achievement of students in these schools, it is precisely because they're able to provide small class sizes, and cater to students from higher-income communities. By refusing to acknowledge this, Coulson and other supporters of a for-profit school system are willfully distorting reality.

We have to decide as a society what we want to prioritize. If people like Andrew Coulson truly believed education is a priority, they would put their money where their mouth is. Giving all children a solid education means giving additional funds to poor school districts where the children face additional hurdles. These additional funds can primarily be used to provide additional teachers, giving disadvantaged children the proven benefit that a smaller class size can provide. In our state, Educate NY Now, a project of the Alliance for Quality Education and other groups is working to help focus the state's priorities back on education.

Long Islanders have two choices: Either we show our children that society values them and is willing to invest in them; or we go against all available research and place the futures of our children in the hands of those looking to profit from them. We can't afford to have two Long Islands, where stark differences in education between places like Wyandanch and Roslyn make it hard to believe they're in the same country, let alone twenty miles apart. So, when faced with this reality, what choice will we make? 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Goin' Commando July 28, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Oh my, Vincent, you clearly don't understand sarcasm (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sarcasm). Now, that doesn't particularly surprise me, but it is troubling. When faced with idiotic comments by radicals, I often resort to sarcasm; and as to stability, I'd be happy to undergo any psychological test alongside you, knowing that I would be deemed a reality-based individual, while you would probably be deemed a fantasy-based individual. Or, are you simply afraid of elderly nuns? Have I struck a chord from decades ago in your life? Nuns today are not what they were in the 50's and 60's, so please remain calm; all will be well.
Alicia Palifka July 28, 2012 at 06:44 PM
@Nassau Taxpayer....If you are suggesting that Paul is not a thinker...You are certainly quite a fool ..
Chris Wendt July 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Dad, your post: Dad of Three-12:24 pm on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 was not referring to the KKK, the German-American Bund, the Communist Party, or the Black Panthers. Your appelation, "losers", was pasted on people you identified as being "radical right and radical left" based on ideologies that are different from yours. The discussion is really not about getting into your tent, as you put it. We all live on this planet, and labeling other people as "losers" based on YOUR ideology is as ignorantly intolerant as it is, bluntly, inaccurate. Unless you are running for some elective office, then I don't care or need to know what your ideology is, any more than I care about whether you are Mets fan or a Yankees fan. However, therein lies true grist for some more relevant back-and-forth about "losers" and winners, or, the differences between a team, a franchise, and a DYNASTY!.
Happy Daze August 08, 2012 at 09:02 AM
Bringing this one back. Progressives at work..... http://dailycaller.com/2012/07/27/obama-backs-race-based-school-discipline-policies/
Robert V. Rose, M.D. (retired) August 12, 2012 at 08:40 PM
With the economy the way it is, there is no doubt that teachers' unions must learn that enough is enough. If we give vouchers to the families of all school kids, say at 80% of what a public student's education costs, we taxpayers would save oodles of money!

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