More than once this year the D.C. Public School System has been cited for having students in its high schools who cannot read effectively. Our public school system and its students' achievements are frequently compared with parochial and private schools. Such comparisons are short-sighted and full of ambiguities.
The public school system in Washington was created to educate the child from age 7 to 16. It no longer relegates itself to that task. It has become a social surrogate parent for the children of the city. It disciplines, feeds, counsels, oversees immunization mandates, provides clothing, provides crossing guards, finances sports activities and tries to have time left to teach the academics and the culture and politics of the nation. All but academics, however, are overlooked when measuring the schools' success. Presently, many in the city also wish the school to become a provider of summer jobs and to provide the salary for those jobs.
Whenever there have been deficiencies in the society, it has been the public school's duty to fill in the gaps. And as long as the school did not resist, the problems became its problems and everyone could forget about them and cite them as solved.
Years ago this city passed a law concerning compulsory school attendance. To ensure compliance of that law, it is the school's duty not only to enforce it but also to be responsible for teaching attendance awareness and to establish truancy programs. Many parents have decided that their obligation is over once the child is put outside the door and told to go to school. There is little evidence that they daily communicate enough with their own children to discover how and where the child's day was spent. It is the obligation of the school to work with the child and parents to overcome this deficiency. The court is rarely made a part in complying with the law.
In answer to community pressure, our public school system incorporates not only pre-kindergarten to 12th grade education, but also adult education, community education, special and handicapped persons' education, bilingual education, career development and vocational education. Due to the social inconsistencies and needs of its students, it must employ counselors, social workers, food service workers, psychologists, attendance officers, librarians and many other classifications of workers.
Another example of a problem heaped on the school system had to do with teachers. The board of education gave its teachers the right to have unions to help gain fair practices. But the past agreements with the teachers' union included working conditions that were requiring hundreds of additional teachers in the elementary schools. These additional elementary school teachers did not cut down on class size or allow for more teaching time for the basic academic subjects, nor can it be proved that they added to the total academic learning of the children.
Very recently, the administration of the school announced a summer job program for graduates. The majority of the board did not want our administration to begin an "employment agency." The board wants an extensive summer school program, needed materials, equipment and building repairs.
The graduates of our system do not need superficially created "jobs" that will misconstrue the work ethic. If the public school system used its money to pay outside agencies to take its students or graduates into their offices, the results would be disastrous. The expected jobs cannot be created. Those students who have the finished skills should seek a job through the usual channels. Our students do not need the money as much as they need the skills. We should not teach our children that work is easy and money is going to be paid in spite of the product. It seems this city really only wants to pay to keep the students off the streets during the summer.
The problem of this community is not the need for summer employment, but the need to create a society that desires its youth to know that knowledge and learning are the work of the children, and stable, well-paid jobs come from the results of hard productive work.
Our board of education should constantly examine the role of the public school in this society, decide what that role is, how much it can do effectively with the funds it receives, what people it needs to do the job and limit its scope.