America’s public schools fall victim to the crash


As the Washington Post notes this morning, most of Barack Obama’s presidential visits to private businesses have been paid to companies promising to market products giving us a cleaner, greener future.

We suspected that would be the case when Obama named Berkeley’s Steve Chu as his energy secretary, given that much of Chu’s tenure as head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was spent promoting green energy.

Chu was the fellow who did so much to land Berkeley the $500 million BP funding package for developing so-called green fuels, which really means the transformation of Third World farmland into plantations for growing fuel crops to feed America’s endless love affair with the internal combustion engine.

[The Post article also notes that many of the firms visited by the president of Hope™ have been corporations run or backed by folks who have thrown a lot of Change™ into his campaign coffers.]

So what does this have to do with schools, you might ask?

Simple. Clean tech jobs require an educated workforce, and less education is inevitable at a time when funds for America’s once great public school system are being pared to the bone.

Two stories this weekend illustrate our point.

Los Angeles schools face still more layoffs

Los Angeles Times reporter Jason Song has the latest on the Smogville layoffs:

Last school year, Carson High School students skipped 1,926 days of class. This year, the school reduced that figure by 20%, thanks to an aggressive intervention program that included tracking down students and meeting with parents.

Much of the credit goes to Sally Stevens, one of two school attendance counselors who are responsible for finding chronic truants.

“They’re the ones who deal with the hard-core students, and they find a way to get them to school,” said Ken Keener, Carson’s principal.

But Stevens is among a group of nearly 2,000 Los Angeles Unified School District employees who are in danger of losing their jobs as the nation’s second-largest district wrestles with a nearly $400-million budget shortfall.

Earlier this year, the district issued preliminary layoff notices to almost 7,000 employees. This month, however, the school board rescinded almost 5,000 of those pink slips after the teachers union agreed to a four-day furlough, which saved $42 million.

But that wasn’t enough, and some school positions were funded by federal stimulus money that has now expired. So campus administrators must decide whether to reallocate scarce funding to pay for those counselors, teachers and nurses who remain in limbo or to lay them off.

District officials said they are continuing to look for additional funding to protect as many positions as possible, but they began sending out final layoff notices Friday. Aside from counselors, others who are receiving the notices include teachers, social workers, nurses and psychologists.

Read the rest.

Los Angeles public schools have been struggling for years.

A few years ago, the district reported that a majority of white parents were sending their students to private schools, reducing the attendance numbers on which state funding is based. We have seen recent figures, but we presume the trend hasn’t changed that much — though with the crash, it’s likely that some families are no longer able to pay for private school tuition.

In addition, white flight meant that a large section of the electorate was no longer willing to vote for bond funding, leaving the schools even harder pressed for cash. Now, given the crash in real estate values, many homeowners — especially those who bought at or near the peak — are also paying less property tax, and, given the straitened circumstances, are even less likely to vote for new bonds.

School librarians, a vanishing species?

Our second story comes from Fernandas Santos of the New York Times and reveals another disturbing trend, nationwide layoffs of school librarians.

Way back in the early 1960′s esnl volunteered at the Fort Collins High School library, where we garnered a deep appreciation for the role school librarians can play in the learning process.

A good librarian can be the student’s best ally, pointing out alternative sources of information and teaching the best ways to seek out critical facts and context.

But now, Santos writes, “Budget belt-tightening threatens to send school librarians the way of the card catalog.”

The schools superintendent in Lancaster, Pa., said he had to eliminate 15 of the district’s 20 librarians to save full-day kindergarten classes.

In the Salem-Keizer school district in Oregon, all 48 elementary and middle school librarians would lose their jobs under a budget proposal that faces a vote next week.

In Illinois’s School District 90, which spans several rural and suburban communities in the southern part of the state, parent volunteers have been running the libraries in the district’s seven schools since September, in what the schools superintendent, Todd Koehl, described as “a last-ditch effort” to avoid closing their doors.

And in New York City, half of the secondary schools appear to be in violation of a state regulation requiring them to have a librarian on staff, with the city currently employing 365 licensed librarians.

>snip<

Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians, whose membership has fallen to 8,000 from 10,000 in 2006, said that. . .the Internet age made trained librarians more important, to guide students through the basics of searching and analyzing information they find online.

Libraries, Ms. Everhart said, are “the one place that every kid in the school can go to to learn the types of skills that will be expected of them when it’s time to work with an iPad in class.”

>snip<

[A]n analysis of state and city data shows there is one librarian for every 2,146 students this year, compared with 1 per 1,447 in 2005. At least 386 schools serving students from grades 6 through 12 do not have a librarian on staff, the records show. A spokesman for the Education Department said some of those schools shared librarians, though he could not say how many.

Read the rest.

So at the very time the White House is touting high tech solutions to the energy crisis, America’s public schools are devoting the fewest resources to educating the nation’s future scientists and engineers who’ll be responsible for developing and manufacturing all that clean, green tech.

Anyone see a contradiction here?

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