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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.16.08




No on Measure 58

Both teachers and children would pay the price

By Michelle Maher 

Federal dollars to public schools have been steadily and increasingly cut for the past 37 years straight, since 1971. When measuring for inflation, Dr. William Lyons and Dr. Julie Drew of the University of Akron argue that the educational system itself is being punished. These professors of education wonder if the 1970s marked a time when education was too successful. There is a lack of public understanding of what is and is not educational equality. Educators know that one size does not fit all. 

As with anything that affects education, we all should discuss the hidden implications of Measure 58 (which limits the amount of education children receive in English-as-a-Second Language classes—including Foreign Language Immersion Programs—to one year K-4th grade, 1.5 years for 5-8th grade, and 2 years for high school). We can’t help but ask, why another educational cut? How about an education funded at 1970 levels including inflation? Almost every other Westernized nation has free university education to all who qualify and requires the mastery of two or three languages. We should be looking at why our social system allows such unequal access to education rather another cut to education.

First, Measure 58 is written as if it will create more teacher time for “everyone else,” but it instead will impede already stressed teachers to have students who simply need more than one or two years to fully master English. Teachers will be distracted by language instruction during math. Teachers will be unable to be confident that their assessments about students’ mathematics ability are correct when they know some students lack the understanding of math terminology — many teachers have no training in teaching those nuances either. They fail to serve all our students. 

Let’s face it, kids do not all learn at the same rate, and one to two years for full mastery is impossible for most children, and both teachers and all children will pay the price. 

Second, we must ask why Bill Sizemore lacks the support of educational experts such as: higher education Schools of Education, the Oregon Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, and Oregon School Employees, Lane ESD, Springfield School District and the Eugene 4J School District. Let’s learn from Sizemore’s history with Measure 5. We all know that Measure 5 resulted in devastating “so-called” unintended cuts to our schools right here, including a few school closings. Measure 5 used our good heartedness because the voters knew that funding schools from property taxes created inherently differential access of education: rich and poor school districts. But Measure 5 did not replace the school funding with anything. How could Sizemore miss that part? We must assume that if you write a state statute you would be smart enough not to miss that by mistake. We must ask who benefits when public education slides, class-size increases, dropout rates skyrocket and masses of poorly educated young people are hungry for a job? We want to know what (corporate?) interests does Sizemore represent? We must speculate about who would benefit from more children who don’t know English well, or when they do learn it, they are so incredibly far behind in reading and mathematics that they cannot catch up? 

Third, since this measure mostly affects children and young people who speak Spanish, we cannot ignore that it seems intended to separate the Spanish-speaking population in this state from other cultural-lingual groups. It is time to admit the significant role education has in replicating and reproducing racial and class-based social inequality. Educational achievement is a part of the free enterprise system. Seeming “achievements” which ignore that we all do not have the same starting line or access to opportunities, are seen as justification for competition over the means of survival and luxury in the U.S. 

Finally, such a measure removes local control of education from parents, educators, and school board members. Why is local control important? Local control of education is based on the notion that we, as a community, know what is needed for success in our community, and control by the state or nation is by definition fascist. What might be planned to come down the road that this measure is a stepping-stone to? 

The Lane County Commission for the Advancement of Human Rights (CAHR) supports educational equity for all students regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, culture and language. To that end, we oppose Measure 58 on the grounds that:

• It sets a dangerous precedent that removes local parent, community and school board jurisdiction and autonomy over curriculum content and form, 

• Restricting education at any level is inherently unequal and anti-democratic,

• It uses discrimination in the name of equality and rights, and,

• Educational struggle is never used to legitimate withdrawal of instruction, but rather the increase in educational services. No one should be punished with the refusal of education to children if they have not learned fast enough for Bill Sizemore.

We recognize and honor educational opportunities that recognize diversity in instruction, curricula, and in the forms of students' needs. We applaud diversity in instructional practices and language of instruction so that all children are offered educational opportunities that support their educational achievement. 

 

Michelle Maher is a Ph.D. candidate and former high school principal, writing for the Commission for the Advancement of Human Rights. Other members of the CAHR include Mark Molina, Jose Ortal, Mike Knefaty, Francisca Leyva Johnson, Tamara Wilhite, Andy Bracco, Belinda Beltran and Rosie Marquez