Funding in education, especially in Colorado, is a hot topic of discussion. With half a million teachers on the march in Denver on April 26, 2018, and possibly a million marching on April 27, how the state will fund education in the future is a huge issue for voters.
Primarily, we all want education to happen in “a school that has low cost and produces high achievement” (Schilling & Tomal, 2013, p. 2), but this pipedream of efficiency is almost impossible to find in the real world because the model requires nearly perfect students, perfect teachers, and perfect administrators.
What we can achieve with outstanding teachers and administrators is an adequate public education. An adequate education will provide students will essential skills and knowledge for either their choice of a career or a college education; this goal is not only attainable, but it’s affordably attainable as long as all stakeholders take responsibility for their role in the model and collaborate for the success of the students in their diverse community.
In any given community, diverse students will enter the school at tiered levels of knowledge and skill; their playing field is NOT equal; they have neither social, financial, nor opportunistic equity prior to their experiences in school. “Some students may be under-prepared and must play ‘catch-up’” to be successful “because inadequate funding made them ‘resource disadvantaged” (Ikpa, 2016, p. 469). The school can differentiate their education, which also costs a different amount for certain students, in order to ensure EQUITY for those students, providing enriched experiences for those, who need them, to equalize their playing field. An outstanding teacher will provide an equitable lesson within one classroom by differentiating her explanations and even her time per student. She will not provide an equal lesson. An equal lesson would be ridiculous to the genius, who already understands the lesson and is talked down to during even a challenging lesson. An equal lesson would be ridiculous to the ELL student, who does not even speak the same language; Colorado has one of the highest number of English Language Learners in long-term studies, a factor commonly correlated with inequitable education and with long-term poverty in the future of a child (Della Sala & Knoeppel, 2015, pp. 16-18). An equitable lesson would provide these two students with entirely different lessons so they can receive challenging content, too, and continue to learn, while most of the group receive a group lesson, work together to engage as small teams as they inquire into their new learning, and help each other discover new ideas about their knowledge.
Nothing about this model works, however, if the rest of the community beyond the walls of the school won't help, as well. Parents MUST engage daily with their children about their education. Otherwise, their children will fail to thrive educationally, and they won’t receive an adequate education. Professionals in the private sector must volunteer as mentors and guest speakers; they must share their expertise, or students won’t receive an adequate education. Legislators must pass beneficial laws and provide proper funding, or students won’t receive an adequate education. The model won’t work, period, without EVERYONE doing their required part, and if anyone doesn’t take personal responsibility for their part in public education, then the model will fail.
Blaming others for what they are doing wrong is like drowning in a sinking boat instead of saving your own life. I’m a swim coach, and I’ve been a lifeguard for nearly 30 years. I’ve seen drowning victims nearly kill their rescuers a number of times in an emergency. We’re in a sinking boat today in Colorado, and a lot of victims are pointing fingers at teachers while they’re bailing water; those fingers could plug holes. When we’re all in the water, a lot of those same finger pointers will be choking lifeguards to death in the water. Here’s the thing about lifeguards. We’re experts. We’re trained to push drowning victims away and save ourselves. When all the schools close--when the ships go down--we’ll survive. But adequate education may be gone forever. Every other career on the planet will disappear without the lifeguards in the model. We can educate ourselves to do something else. We know that one essential skill--how to teach anyone anything, even ourselves.
As so many tired teachers head to the capital in Colorado this week, maybe thankful members of the community, who remember good teachers, should head with them, so we can continue to work on this model of adequate education, and fix what’s broken in the boat together before it really does sink completely.