Politics of Decline?
Welcome, everyone, to this blog. The Politics of Decline was a tumultuous time in the history of public education in the United States. From 1971 to 1984, public school enrollment and funding declined causing a retrenchment or cutback period. Confidence in public schools waned, while personnel and programs were cut.
Thirty years later, teachers, school leaders, parents and school boards are facing a new period of decline. Through the failure of local budgets, teachers’ positions are being eliminated, academic and extracurricular programs are being cut, and the public is losing confidence in their local public schools. Media headlines blare policymakers’ want to reform education through charter schools and austerity. Aside from the lack of declining public school enrollments, it is amazing to see the parallels of decline between the 1970s and today. Here are a few:
Increased teacher utilization: Teachers are responsible for more students as staff members are cut. Administrators are still responsible to provide a quality education even if they have to jam 30-35 students into a class.
Lower cost employees: In New Jersey, Gov. Christie is capping superintendent salaries, which is creating quite a bit of upheaval in local communities. Consequently, superintendents are leaving their posts in droves, while some local boards are attempting to keep their superintendents and renegotiate their contracts before the cap takes effect next year. Meanwhile, teachers can expect a pay freeze as the collective bargaining units renegotiate their contracts. My worry is over time wages will shrink.
Cut non-teachers: Non-teaching staff members are crucial to the daily operations of schools. Custodians and secretaries are being outsourced in many districts. They are often the members that ensure a smooth daily operation of a building. Non-teaching staff members also often provide enrichment and extra-curricular programs for our students.
Recouping cost recovery: As schools shrink their budgets and hope that their communities pass their budgets, school boards are charging school fees to maintain programs. My concern is parents in higher socioeconomic districts can often pay these fees, while families in lower socioeconomic environments struggle. Within the new Politics of Decline, parents in moderate to higher socioeconomic environments are forming coalitions to fight budget wars with their local school boards. In turn, they are getting media coverage. I rarely see any coverage of parents’ voices in lower socioeconomic environments, which leads me to believe they are having trouble forming coalitions to have their voices heard.
Private education impact: As policymakers continue to push charter schools as the panacea to reform public education, principals and superintendents must be aware of how these issues show up in their schools. Undoubtedly, policy mandates and instruments will continue to be imposed on school administrators to enact educational change quickly. School leaders can expect mandates to come in the form of pay for performance. As Larry Cuban states, principals must be aware of how public rhetoric will be educationalized. The nation’s top policymakers will continue to dwell on the country’s ability to stay educationally and economically competitive in the world.
As our country debates economic austerity for the public sector, school administrators are living the ramifications of staff and program cuts. Just like the 1970s, interactions between teachers and their principals are intensified as there are clear winner and losers during a cutback period. No one wants to be on the losing end of decision making. Consequently, the usual politics in school settings are escalating.
This blog is an attempt, and probably a feeble one, to discuss how our new period of decline will impact public education and leadership practices in schools. This not an attempt to be academic, but a chance to talk about and dissect the state of public education, as it relates to the Politics of Decline. Please feel free to agree, disagree or contribute a perspective to this blog. I look forward to the conversations.