Laurene Powell Jobs Commits $50 Million to Create New High Schools
Ms. Powell Jobs has ventured more into the public sphere since her husband, Apple’s Steve Jobs, died in 2011, and now she plans to finance an experiment in overhauling education.
Every time some high-profile non-educator starts talking about large sums of money into education–but apparently divorced from the current education system–I feel my hackles rise.
Do we really need new schools? There are thousands of struggling schools across the country that could use an infusion of cash, educators who could use the open support of prominent persons with fat wallets, and children who could benefit from additional services and innovative programs. Why create yet another new school system, which as we’ve seen with the charter movement, only serves to further segment and segregate the student population, with the best and most advantaged students going to the best schools, and the students with the most challenges languishing in schools which are increasingly underfunded because cash is being diverted away from their schools as the “easy” students leave.
I’m glad Powell Jobs seems to have some awareness that whatever schools she “creates” need to be public, but the question is how do you do that in the current system, and especially how do you do that in a way that is equitable and provides equal access? Currently the biggest thing hamstringing public education is the crushing weight of draconian laws that stifle any possibility for creativity, customization, or even real education. With an intense focus on standardized testing, and school funding and at times teacher pay tied up heavily in test score performance, traditional public schools do not have the freedom to change their curriculum, their offerings, their services, their strategies. How can you create a new public school with a totally different approach that will still meet the heavy requirements for public schools?
Right now, most charter programs that have succeeded have done so by excluding students with disabilities, academic and behavioral problems, and who present any sort of challenge. They have high expulsion rates and very low enrollment for students with disabilities. How would these schools avoid excluding these students who need the most support while still providing innovative curriculum and passing all the standardized tests?
I guess it’s nice that there are people out there who want to improve education and are willing to dump large sums of money into schools, but I feel like there’s a certain degree of naivety here about what’s wrong with schools today, what the problems are, and how they can be fixed. You want to support public education? Support broad social safety net programs, like ensuring students have food, housing, and access to healthcare, so students don’t come to school every day tired, hungry, sick, and worried. Support more services for students with disabilities. Support higher teacher pay, innovation in teacher education, and improve teacher recruiting. End the system where teaching is viewed as a 2-3 year stopover on the way to a better career and where leaving the field after a few years is incentivized by low pay, poor benefits, long hours, and zero autonomy for quality career teachers. Dismantle NCLB and other state laws that tie funding to testing and that dictate a rigid curriculum and advocate for policies that allow for greater educator autonomy and innovation in the classroom. Give teachers the resources they need to teach, and students greater flexibility to determine their own education. Ensure that all schools have access to the same resources and the same caliber of resources, which means completely revolutionizing how public education is funded, where poor communities have poor schools and rich communities have rich schools, and the degree of difference in the quality of education received at either is staggering.
There’s so much that CAN be done within the existing system to drive improvements. I don’t know if dumping cash into creating yet another new system is a useful solution that will reach the most disadvantaged students and thereby solve public education’s biggest problems.