Sunday, August 07, 2005

Disaster Day 1993 at Peoria School Dist. #150

This year went down in infamy for Peoria Public School District #150 on authority from a weak superintendent by the name of John Strand, hired by a pseudo-elite school board, acting on input from a select elite group of advisors, closed Home Economics and Industrial Arts and tried to replace these programs with academies at the four high schools. Board member Christopher Stewart opposed the move but the final full board vote was unanimous. The move was justified by the usual reason – lack of funds.

I am bringing this subject back to public scrutiny as Dist. #150 is seeking input to close a number of existing schools and build up to five new schools over a period of time.

Quoting from a book called “In Defense of Elitism” written by William a. Henry in 1993 (this book should be required reading of all school board members) “In the unexamined American Dream rhetoric promoting mass higher education was the implicit vision that one day everyone, or at least practically everyone, would be a manager or a professional. We would use the elitist of all means, scholarships, toward the most egalitarian of ends. We would all become chiefs; hardly anyone would be left a mere Indian (whoa, not politically correct!!) When half a century ago the bulk of jobs were blue collar, now a majority are white of pink collar.

But the wages for these jobs have been going down virtually as often as up. It has become an axiom of union lobbying that replacing a manufacturing economy with a service economy has meant exporting once-lucrative jobs to places where they can be done more cheaply. And as a great many disappointed office workers have discovered, being better educated and better dressed for the workplace does not transforms one’s place in the pecking order There are still many more Indians than chiefs. Lately, indeed, the chiefs are becoming even fewer. If, for a generation or so, corporate America bought into the daydream of making everyone a boss, the wakeup call has come. The downsizing of recent years has been eliminating layers of middle management-much of it drawn from the ranks of those lured to college a generation or two ago by the idea that a degree would transform them from mediocre to magisterial.

Yet our colleges go blithely on “educating” many more prospective managers and professionals than we are likely to need. In my own field, there are typically more students majoring in journalism at any given moment than there are journalists employed at all the daily newspapers in the U.S. A few years ago there were more students enrolled in law school than there were partners in law firms……inevitably many students of limited talent spent huge amounts of money and time pursuing some brass ring occupation, only to see their dreams denied. As a society we consider it cruel not to give them every chance at success. It may be more cruel to let them go on fooling themselves. In February, 1994 Bill Clinton asserted that America needs a greater fusion between academic and vocational training-not because too many mediocre people misplaced on the college track are failing to acquire marketable vocational and technical skills, but because too many people on the vocational track are being denied courses that will secure them admission into college. Surely what we Americans need is not a fusion of the two but a sharper division between them, coupled with a forceful program for diverting intellectual also-rans out of the academic track and into the vocational one. That is where most of them are heading anyway. Why should they wait until they are older and must enroll in high-priced proprietary vocational programs of often dubious efficacy-frequently throwing away not only their own funds but federal loans in the process—because they emerged from high school heading nowhere and knowing nothing that is useful in the marketplace?

If the massive numbers of college students reflected a national boom in love of learning and a prevalent yen for self-improvement, America’s investment in the classroom might make sense.”

At about he same time this book was published, Donald Kaul a respected columnist form the Des Moines Register wrote “You send kids to school for 12 years, making them carry heavy books back and forth. You make them sit in hard chairs for six of seven hours a day while people with expensive educations talk to them and make marks on a blackboard. You spend an enormous amount of money putting up buildings to house them and buses to carry them.

And what do you get at the end? Half of them can’t read; most of the other won’t.

Maybe it would be better for these kids to get jobs as soon as they can cross the street by themselves. Let them work their way thru adolescence. At least then they’d have some money to show for the time spent.

How about this radical idea? Make schools voluntary.

Imagine, schools filled with children who actually wanted to be there, who wanted to learn something.

Teachers who are not beaten down by trying to bring classes of rebellious zombies to erudition.

Administrators free to concentrate on improving instruction rather than acting as wardens.

What about all those other kids, all of whom might not be able to get jobs? Well, you could send the athletically talented to sports academies, where they could hone their skills without the distraction of literacy.

The rest you could put in giant baby-sitting warehouses equipped with video games, sort of pre-jails where they could prepare for the boredom of their future lives.

The kids would want an education would get one and the rest would hardly notice the difference.”

These writings are dated 1993. Compare where we are 12 years later. Same stuff could be written today so somehow we are going wrong big-time with much of our public school systems. Somewhere between these two writers, lies the truth. The truth has always been there but our elitist leaders throw well meaning board members off track, and who, then in turn either have hired incompetent superintendents,( I could name a few since Harry), or hired efficient superintendents who were turned into functioning robots by well meaning boards.

I am greatly concerned about the direction our public school systems are heading, especially the one where I live. Last year, 64% of the high school kids in #150, were counseled into college. 14% were special ed leaving only 22% (these figures are from the departed Ed Bradle, he should know, he was Royster’s right hand man for vocational education) who were probably being counseled in how to get along with their parents, girlfriends, their truancy problems, drug problems or were listening to their “friends” who were probably trying to drag them down to their lower level. As the departed #150 employee, Ed Bradle, said “how many kids does that leave us to counsel for a non college career?” You are right, Ed. The blame falls on a well meaning but sometimes totally confused voter, parent, teacher, school board, school administration, state and federal government and community leader.

Ah, yes back to the academies. A grand total of approximately 280 kids were served last year by these academies. (When I visited an academy class two years ago, the teacher was a first year teacher who was struggling). First year teachers SHOULD NOT be teaching an “academy class.” Some kids were there because they wanted to learn, some were there because they wanted to go to a better school than the one in there neighborhood and some where there because of sports or to be closer to there boyfriend of girl friend Many were cross-town bussed away from their communities and families.

Informational meeting are going to be held soon about closing schools, building schools and turning schools into community centers. What, you say “community centers and schools” as we were told at the Kiwanis luncheon last Thursday??” Those words were anathema back in 1994. Roberta Parks, now an executive of the Chamber of Commerce said “don’t mention “community schools” if you want to be elected. We are into integration and busing.” Hmmmm.

I have been criticizing #150 for years for weak administrations and weak school boards believing the academies, Adopt-A-School, Perfect and a couple other programs would replace vocational training. They have not and it is costing this community millions of dollars and ruined many lives by not preparing these kids on how to get a job, hold a job and earn enough to keep a family together. What a disgrace!!

Always the lack of money comes up. I believe CONTROL of money and how it SPENT is a large part of the problem. It has been a long time since #150 has had a school board member who has ever met a medium sized company payroll and was PERSONNLY responsible for meeting that payroll. Meeting a payroll gives you a different perspective on how to manage a $150 million dollar budget than working for a major corporation or teaching school, cutting hair, or being an attorney or a doctor.

To the community, I advise you listen well. Most should agree that a new building will not change attitudes, reduce truancy, improve discipline, cause teachers to look forward to coming to work and not looking forward to early retirement and improve test scores. Look no further than the disasters at Kansas City in the past decade.

An article in the JS “Vo-Tech funding on the bubble”, Bush’s proposed budget eliminates Perkins funding for vocational education programs. That is what the elitist current administration thinks of Vo-Tech. Whether the $1.3 billion was ever put back in the Vo-Tech budget matters. of course, but the point is made of what the elite think of Vo-Tech. ($1.3 billion would be the cost of ONE military airplane) Check it out and go visit the billions of dollars worth of “same as new” surplus military airplanes parked in the Arizona desert, then ask any “hero or heroine” in Iraq whether he or she thought the money was well spent on these mothballed airplanes or could have been better spent supporting them in Iraq? Oh, I forgot. It’s all about “jobs”, isn’t it?? But remember, OUTSOURCING jobs is real!

Read my blog on “Wake up, Peoria.” Right now I say “Peoria, listen up” and ask questions before it is too late to ask the right questions. The board, I believe, is asking for your input as they make these crucial decisions. Don’t be carried away by the architects. They are being paid to do their job. The board isn’t paid and that could be a MAJOR part of the problem. However, all administrators are well paid to listen and implement the desires of this unpaid board. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it. But this is a system carried over for a couple of centuries. Time for a change, I’d say!!

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