Our Progressive Vision: Our public schools must provide each and every child the opportunity to achieve his or her fullest potential in life. Children are not standardized; each one needs personalized instruction. That requires both fully qualified professional teachers and opportunities to learn outside of school. Every jurisdiction should: (1) provide adequate funding for public schools; (2) deliver instruction in a way that recognizes the differences in both the interests and needs of specific children; (3) create opportunities to learn outside of the classroom, including afterschool, arts and recreational programs, and libraries; and (4) make schools both safe and fair.
Adequate school funding
K-12 school funding was substantially cut due to the recession and most states are still providing less per student than they did in 2008. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi and Oklahoma each cut school spending by more than 15 percent. In addition, most states allow substantial disparities in per-pupil school funding from one jurisdiction to another. States and school systems should ensure that school spending is transparent (e.g., charter schools), that money is not wasted on consultants and standardized tests, and that universal pre-K is fully funded.
Personalized not standardized instruction
We must recognize that there are no standardized children; every child has different strengths and weaknesses. That’s why all schools must offer a complete curriculum provided by professional teachers who have the training to give the individualized attention every child needs. School systems need to deemphasize standardized tests and pre-packaged lessons, and instead hire and stand behind fully trained teachers who give each and every student the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life.
Opportunities outside of class
A great deal of children’s learning happens outside of the classroom. Kids learn from art, music and dance programs, from athletics, nature and the outdoors, from games and hobbies, from afterschool clubs of all kinds, and from independent reading for pleasure. States and localities need to fully fund libraries, and support nonprofits that provide afterschool and summer school programs for disadvantaged youth.
Safe schools, fair discipline
In order to learn, children need schools that are safe and welcoming. Harassment, intimidation and bullying are well-known to impede students’ ability to learn. Students who are bullied are far more likely to skip school and earn poor grades, and many states and individual school systems have implemented safe school policies to address the problem. Yet, it is also clear that some school systems overuse their discipline processes, often in a discriminatory manner. The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Education jointly announced national guidelines on school discipline that should be implemented at the state and local levels.
Transparency in school spending
With the rise of standardized testing, pre-packaged lessons and charter schools, there has been a noticeable decline in public awareness of how education funds are spent. School systems should disclose exactly what they pay for tests, pre-tests and test preparation programs, as well as consultants and pre-packaged lessons. Similarly, states and school boards should insist that charter schools, especially for-profit management companies, are held to the same transparency requirements as traditional schools. Tax dollars should be invested in classrooms, not in padding corporate profits.
Pre-K for all
Children in poverty often begin school already one or two years behind their more affluent peers. One clear part of the solution to this education gap is universal, high-quality pre-Kindergarten. Experts in early education overwhelmingly agree that children who have two years of a strong pre-K program start kindergarten with much better academic and social skills and that this improvement helps those children succeed later on in school and in life. Studies have also shown that pre-K programs return benefits to the community of seven dollars for every dollar invested. Yet, only about 40 percent of America’s four-year-olds and less than 10 percent of three-year-olds, are enrolled in public pre-K programs. The best Pre-K for All legislation would serve all three- and four-year olds and requires licensing and accreditation by state officials for both private and public pre-K programs. This legislation would also encourage the use of nationally recognized benchmarks to develop curricula that balance direct instructional and play-based approaches, which ensures that children develop the cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills they need.
Limits on standardized testing
In the more heavily tested grades, students routinely lose more than a month of instructional time because of standardized testing and test prep. Across the country, parents are rising up against this level of over-testing. States and school boards should commission an audit to see how much testing is done and determine the educational and financial cost. They should also limit standardized testing to the minimum amount required by federal law—and children younger than third grade should not be subjected to them.
Ban kindergarten and pre-K suspensions
In some jurisdictions, kindergarten and even pre-K students are suspended or expelled at an alarming rate. But putting a 4 or 5-year-old child out of educational programs is counter-productive and both states and localities can enact legislation to curtail this practice.