The following essay was written by Tina Beveridge. Tina is a veteran music educator of 17 years and is currently a 2nd year PhD student in music education at the University of Miami. It was first posted on her own blog Insert brilliant title here…
Reader, I’m not going to lie. I felt an enormous weight lift when President Biden was sworn in last week.
But, as my next-door neighbor while discussing the events of January, “Now the work REALLY starts.” As a music educator I felt that statement in my bones.
Education at the moment is a mess, not least of all because of the inconsistent hodgepodge systems being used for the pandemic. But public education is also suffering from four years of deliberate sabotage and twenty years of “reform” policies, which all stem from either a misdirected goal of erasing inequality through education or to completely privatize education.
It’s ironic that the reformers all claim to want the same thing — better educational opportunities and outcomes without spending more money! — but have wildly different definitions about what that means, or which children they mean to help. And, of course, the pandemic has exacerbated all of these conflicts, with one result being a record number of teachers leaving the profession. Because who wants to be blamed when the policies fail and not even be able to fully support yourself from the salary? Or to receive derision when you finally say, “…but I’m not willing to die for it“?
While a poisonous houseplant would have been an improvement over Betsy DeVos, I have not set my mental expectations bar at that level. Incoming Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona certainly has his work cut out for him. I’m optimistic that those of us in education can use this moment of upheaval for eventual good. It is encouraging to me that Sec. Cardona has actually taught in a classroom, and isn’t a businessperson who thinks they know better than the people who actually work with kids.
Here’s a bit of what I hope to see:
- An acknowledgement that, if they want schools physically open, it’s going to require teachers/staff to be moved up the priority list for vaccines and funding is going to be needed to reduce class sizes. Additionally, it will require action to support that, preferably action that doesn’t hold schools hostage to an unrelated agenda to receive the money.
- A moratorium on new charter schools, since that interferes with equitable funding, promotes segregation, and do not have better results than traditional public schools (except when they selectively choose their student populations).
- Accountability for existing charter schools equal to the level required of traditional schools. Mostly to prevent THIS. And THIS. And THIS. You want public money? You get public oversight.
- A reversal of all of the discrimination policies that have been put in place the last four years.
- A ban on federal money going to K-12 religious schools.
- Overturning “right to work” laws that hamstring collective bargaining, though I acknowledge this might not be possible at the federal level without some serious arm twisting.
- A federal educator “minimum wage” of at least $60,000 a year. My pie-in-the-sky wish is that they use the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) zip code formula to adjust that number to geographic area.
- Finally, closest to my heart, a renewal of federal support for a holistic curriculum that considers Arts, Science, Foreign Language study, History and Civics equal to Language Arts and Math.
I don’t know how much of my optimism will be borne out. But the time for educators to push for these things is now. Our kids can’t wait for us to decide if we want to be reactive or proactive. Thankfully, we finally have an administration that might be able to make some positive changes.