The Elephant in your Child's Classroom
We seem to hear a lot of negative press about public schooling - let's face it, few things make for a catchy headline like school discipline, teacher's unions, or now, the handling of the pandemic. Despite all of that, schools and their staffs do an amazing job. Teachers and paraprofessionals are some of the most innovative, creative, and caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. They have good intentions for their students, they are experts in their field, and they are committed individuals who sacrifice their own time, money, energy, and even, personal well-being to ensure that they can do their best for kids every day. Sure, some seem to have a natural intuition for teaching while others don't, but by and large, teachers are real-life heroes, making miracles happen in students' learning every day.
But if that's true, then why aren't all kids successful in school? Just as in any organization, there can be some human error, some variability between teachers' styles, classroom environment, experience. Some children seem to have a natural aptitude for "learning". (Let's be clear, all children have an aptitude for learning, some just seem to fit the mold of public education in our country better than others.) However, teacher experience and student aptitude can't fully explain the struggle that our educational system experiences. Other, more complex social factors have a correlative influence on student success as well. To name a few: socio-economic status, availability of parents in the home, access to healthy food and healthcare - the list is as long as our society is complex.
However, I'm going to let you in on a secret that has a profound impact on students' success, or lack thereof. The "elephant in the room" that most people don't want to address because it seems too big and too unsolvable: limited resources. Simple economics are the other piece of this puzzle. There's too much demand for things like curriculum materials, consumable resources, individualized time and support from specialized staff, and access to mental health, behavioral, and adaptive services. There's simply not enough supply of human resources, effective teacher training, and resources - and the missing link is money. In the United States, we fund our public education system at a rate of 5 percent of the total GDP compared to 4-6 percent of the total GDP in other first-world nations[i]. While our country funds education at a rate similar to other high-income nations, the fact that we largely fund schools at the local level, means that huge disparities exist across our country. The situation is particularly dire in Colorado where we rank 47th for school funding[ii] despite having a growing economy that ranks 1st in the country.[iii] Additionally, Colorado currently ranks 50th for teacher salaries meaning that attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is incredibly difficult, especially in rural and hard-to-serve areas.[iv]
So you're asking, "what does this have to do with me and my child?" If you're a parent of a child struggling in school, you need to understand this aspect of the system because limited resources mean one thing for your child: limited access. Teachers and administrators know it - they continue to achieve amazing, innovative results, working around that giant elephant standing in the middle of their classrooms. Every year is a game of moving around their limited resources, getting creative to try to meet all of the demands. Tough decisions are made regarding staffing, training opportunities, programs, and curriculum resources that ultimately mean that not every child will experience the same level of access as his/her peers. For children with learning disabilities, social-emotional needs, or academic struggles, this impact is felt more significantly because they require even more individualized support and services provided by specialized staff.
If this makes you as angry as it makes me, it's important to know where to direct that frustration - especially when advocating for your child. These are big, systems-level issues that have to be addressed at the state and federal level with legislation that changes the way tax dollars are earmarked and spent on education.[v] Understanding the imbalance of supply and demand in schools means that we must recognize that school staff, teachers, and administrators are not trying to withhold from your child. They want to provide your child access to the supports, services, and people necessary for their success. However, in so doing, they may have to take those same supports, services, and people away from other children who need them too - because there simply isn't enough to go around. That's why, when you come to the table to advocate for your child, it's important to know exactly what it is that you're asking for and to understand whether that request is in the realm of possibility for what the school can reasonably provide. As a parent, this balance and focus can be difficult to accomplish because your brain and your heart are hardwired to want the very best for your child, to demand the sun and the moon if it means your child will succeed. An advocate can help you narrow down your requests to ensure that your time spent advocating for your child is effective, yields real results for your child, and is feasible for the school to provide. Interested in learning more? Contact me today for a free initial consultation! Want to read more articles like this one? Subscribe below to receive updates and new posts.
[i] Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2016) - "Financing Education". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/financing-education' [Online Resource]. [ii] (2016). (Updated in 2019) - "Elementary and Secondary Public School Expenditures as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product". Published online at nsf.gov/nsb. Retrieved from: 'https://ncses.nsf.gov/indicators/states/indicator/public-school-expenditures-to-state-gdp/table' [Online Resource]. [iii] (2019) - "Economy Rankings: Measuring States' Economic Stability and Potential". Published online at USNews.com. Retrieved from: 'https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/economy' [Online Resource]. [iv] Courtenay Stevens (2020) - "Best-Paying States for Teachers in 2020". Published online at Business.org. Retrieved from: 'https://www.business.org/hr/employees/best-us-states-for-teachers/#:~:text=New%20York%20offers%20the%20best,country%20at%20%2485%2C889%20per%20year' [Online Resource]. [v] (2020) Colorado School Finance Project. Published online at csfp.org. https://cosfp.org/#gsc.tab=0 [Online Resource].