We must pay for what we gain from public schools

(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Barry Albertson is a Tigard-Tualatin School District board member.)

For several months now, a multitude of legislative priorities have been introduced by our state representatives and senators, representing lobbying efforts and political agendas from most, if not all, special interest groups and public advocates. And some of the most important of these revolve around public education, both K-12 and higher education, including providing for adequate and sustainable funding.

Supplemental to this, it appears that public education, specifically K-12, should be doing more for our kids. In addition to ensuring that our children master the 'three Rs,' along with all the other 'non-Rs' and extracurricular bits and pieces that encompass everyday life for the 5- to 18-year-olds in Oregon, there are some other 'expectations' that require implementation. Here are a few:

  • Ensure that all our children have adequate physical education classes (perhaps an hour a day) to make up for the cardiovascular and skeletal muscle workouts they don't seem to get at home.
  • Ensure our kids get a well balanced, nutritious, healthy meal at lunchtime (and, for some, breakfast) that shifts from the greasy, fried, high-fat content foods and fructose-laden beverages these children often get way too much of, to more fruits, vegetables, salads, lean meats, dairy products and milk (remember milk?).
  • Provide instruction/lessons in ethnic, racial, cultural and religious diversity so that 'things' that our students may have heard or have been exposed to somewhere in their young lives can now be re-examined, reconsidered and tempered with open-mindedness, compassion and understanding of everyone, regardless.
  • Provide psychological and social welfare assistance for the kids who are going through tough/difficult times (usually at home) that are expressed in any one of a thousand different ways when kids are at school.
  • Provide access, on school grounds, to health and wellness coverage (aka school-based health clinics) to be sure all our school-aged children have adequate health care, regardless or whether or not they have family health insurance coverage.

Putting all this in a different way: Public education should make sure all of the kids who come through public education's front door are, and will remain, ready to learn, no matter what.

Obviously, all of this is important, essential really, for our children's' education and general well being.

So public education, our teachers, classified employees, specialists and administrators can do this. Actually, they do this already for our kids every day, all school year long. The fact of the matter is that our teachers, classified employees and other educators have been doing or trying hard to do all of this stuff, and much more, for decades - quietly, unobtrusively and usually behind the scenes.

But, let's not confuse the issue here. What seems to be expected these days from public education is that our schools take up the slack, i.e., take care of society's problems, caulk shut the cracks in societies' dance floor. And, perhaps it makes sense, because from society's point of view, our public schools get and see these kids for a significant part of their young lives. Society's premise seems to be, 'You public schools have them, and it should be you who deals with all of this stuff.'

But remember, this is one great expectation to lay at the feet of public schools and our teachers, for the 560,000 or so children who attend Oregon's K-12 schools. Society's wish or expectation can't simply be granted by waving a magic wand or snapping one's finger. It's just not that simple.

Teaching our children and then filling the gaps that society sometimes heaps on Oregon's kids can't be achieved in a vacuum and at no additional cost. So here's the deal - this great expectation is going to have a price tag. For openers, it'll take input from parents, community leaders, our elected officials and more. And it will take money for more 'kid-magnet' teachers and teaching specialists, more schools (i.e. physical buildings) with much smaller class sizes (say 1 to 15 for every classroom, not the 1 to 24 or 1 to 35 or 40 we have now), more hours of classroom time (which might very well translate into a longer school day or longer school year) and more teacher training so these professionals can better deal with the baggage that society ties to these kids that they lug into their schools and classrooms every morning.

So, all of this can be done, and I know our state's teachers and other school employees are more than up to the task. And I also know they try to make profound changes in the lives of each and every one of the kids who walk into their schools each day. But, if this great expectation is destined to default to our teachers and others in our schools, then society must give them the wherewithal to tackle this monumental challenge. Society (whatever that is these days) will have to open its pocketbook and be prepared to make a big deposit into public education's meager checking account. And if and when society actually gets serious and does this, we'll all be able to sit back and watch what public schools can really do for our kids, for their parents and for the state of Oregon.