School reform, the public kind anyway, has always been met with skepticism by the population in general and by education experts in particular. They cite union resistance, tenured teachers’ reluctance to change, and the apparently poor results obtained by American students as compared to the power nations such as Singapore (5 million), Finland (a small country of 5 million), and Switzerland (another small country of 6 million people). South Korea and Japan are two more areas mentioned as having better academic results, but we forget that these two Asian countries are culturally homogeneous, meaning they don’t have to deal, in the classroom, with many different backgrounds and languages.
Apples to Apples
So let’s compare apples to apples, please; we have an incredible diversity of cultures and languages (yes, didn’t you know, we have more than 300, of which at least 100 are indigenous). We also have a large amount of immigrants coming in every year from all over the globe, of which close to 350,000 are from Mexico and Central America (the largest number). In total, approximately 2 million people come to this glorious country every year and many have kids. I can testify that our classrooms see fresh faces on a regular basis and quite a few have a limited command of the English language. I understand that this is happening in major cities throughout our country.
In Spite of Our Flaws
I am willing to admit, the facts are there for anybody to see, that we suffer from many ills in our educational system. I have written quite a few articles on the subject. But as a whole I sincerely believe that we are doing a good job and that the majority of teachers are not opposed to change; again, I offer my observations over the last 10 years in a district that has distinguished itself by national standards:
2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education, an annual $1 million award that honors school districts across the U.S. making the greatest progress in raising student achievement; 2008 Award for Urban School Board Excellence from the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE); award-winning chess program has been featured on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” and in the New York Times; the district earned 21st Century Community Learning Center, Cycle 7 grant totaling almost $15 million to support before and after school activities for qualifying students at 9 campuses.
Our location on the border with Mexico presents some peculiar problems not shared by districts farther north; we sometimes go on lockdowns when suspicious individuals appear on school property as they are chased by the Border Patrol. And , of course, 97% of our students speak Spanish at home, which means that we have to make a special effort to teach them proper English.
As a district located in a poor area of Texas, getting sufficient funds for 50,000 students is no easy task, hence the federal and private grants we obtain from time to time. So please do not compare us to rich small nations such as Finland and Norway where resources for education are abundant and where the culture emphasizes learning as one of the most important national goals. They don’t waste billions on foreign aid that could be dedicated to improving our own backyard.
We are doing a remarkable job in public education in this beautiful and mighty country and I dare anybody to do better on a level playing field.