Pandemic Increases Burden on already overwhelmed Public Schools...
America’s founding fathers knew that our nation’s democratic-republic form of government requires an educated populous to be successful. A strong successful public school system is essential to maintaining an educated public and has been the foundation of America’s greatness. I ran for the School Board to do all I can to continue our American tradition of great public schools that is so necessary for our country, state, and community to succeed.
Now our public schools have become the front line in our community response to the Covid pandemic. Over the past year Congress has sent close to $200 billion to schools to pay for Covid-19 response. Americans have been more and more asking our public schools to do more than they are funded or trained to do.
Anchorage School District Deputy Commissioner Dr. Mark Stock has called the School Board’s attention to author and public-school advocate Jamie Vollmer's analysis of the increasing burden on public schools. Volmer traces public schools in America back to 1640 when schools were established in Massachusetts to teach reading, writing, math and values that serve a democratic society. Vollmer points out that the founders of these schools “assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child.” Schools had a limited role. Over time, science and geography became standard additional curriculum, but for almost 260 years the duties of public schools remained limited and focused.
As immigration increased at the beginning of the twentieth century, schools assumed an important role in the assimilation of immigrants. Public schools became responsible for social engineering of the citizens and workers of the new industrial age. Curriculum and duties began to expand greatly.
Vollmer lists these new school duties chronologically as including:
From 1900 to 1910
• Health (Activities in the health arena multiply every year.)
From 1910 to 1930,
• Physical education (including organized athletics)
• The Practical Arts/Domestic Science/Home economics (including sewing and cooking)
• Vocational education (including industrial and agricultural education)
• Mandated school transportation
In the 1940s,
• Business education (including typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping)
• Art and music
• Speech and drama
• Half-day kindergarten
• School lunch programs (We take this for granted today, but it was a huge step to shift to the schools the job of feeding America's children one third of their daily meals.)
In the 1950s,
• Expanded science and math education
• Safety education
• Driver's education
• Expanded music and art education
• Stronger foreign language requirements
• Sex education (Topics continue to escalate.)
In the 1960s,
• Advanced Placement programs
• Head Start
• Title I
• Adult education
• Consumer education (purchasing resources, rights and responsibilities)
• Career education (occupational options, entry level skill requirements)
• Peace, leisure, and recreation education [Loved those sixties.]
In the 1970s, the breakup of the American family accelerated, and we added
• Drug and alcohol abuse education
• Parenting education (techniques and tools for healthy parenting)
• Behavior adjustment classes (including classroom and communication skills)
• Character education
• Special education (mandated by federal government)
• Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic programs for girls)
• Environmental education
• Women's studies
• African-American heritage education
• School breakfast programs (Now some schools feed America's children two-thirds of their daily meals through-out the school year and all summer. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.)
In the 1980s,
• Keyboarding and computer education
• Global education
• Multicultural/Ethnic education
• Nonsexist education
• English-as-a-second-language and bilingual education
• Teen pregnancy awareness
• Hispanic heritage education
• Early childhood education
• Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start
• Full-day kindergarten
• Preschool programs for children at risk
• After-school programs for children of working parents
• Alternative education in all its forms
• Stranger/danger education
• Antismoking education
• Sexual abuse prevention education
• Expanded health and psychological services
• Child abuse monitoring (a legal requirement for all teachers)
In the 1990s,
• Conflict resolution and peer mediation
• HIV/AIDS education
• CPR training
• Death education
• America 2000 initiatives (Republican)
• Expanded computer and internet education
• Distance learning
• Tech Prep and School to Work programs
• Technical Adequacy
• Post-secondary enrollment options
• Concurrent enrollment options
• Goals 2000 initiatives (Democrat)
• Expanded Talented and Gifted opportunities
• At risk and dropout prevention
• Homeless education (including causes and effects on children)
• Gang education (urban centers)
• Service learning
• Bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education
The first decade of the twenty-first century,
• No Child Left Behind (Republican)
• Bully prevention
• Anti-harassment policies (gender, race, religion, or national origin)
• Expanded early childcare and wrap around programs
• Elevator and escalator safety instruction
• Body Mass Index evaluation (obesity monitoring)
• Organ donor education and awareness programs
• Personal financial literacy
• Entrepreneurial and innovation skills development
• Media literacy development
• Contextual learning skill development
• Health and wellness programs
• Race to the Top (Democrat)
The full list in poster form can be purchased from Mr. Vollmer and he can be invited to speak by contacting him at www.jamievollmer.com. Vollmer explains this list does not include the addition of multiple, specialized topics within each of the traditional subjects. It also does not include the explosion of standardized testing and test prep activities, and new reporting requirements imposed by the federal government.
In the second decade of the Twenty-first century the trend has continued. Schools have expanded to include increased preschool operations, more career-technical offerings, increased Wi-Fi in schools, more gender-inclusive facilities, more mental health services, more IT support. Some Anchorage schools now have on site health clinics. Programs to support new immigrants and increase “equity” are being mandated. And new unfunded mandates continue to come from the State Legislature. And now our public schools have become the front line in our community response to the Covid pandemic. The past two summers Anchorage schools stayed open to provide thousands of free meals.
Voller points out that all this has been added to the responsibility of our schools “without adding a single minute to the school calendar in six decades” and that schools are now mandated to “not just teach children but raise them!” This is especially a problem in Alaska where our state law provides for the shortest school year combined with the shortest school day. In a previous article, I explained how this state law combination results in our students receiving possibly a year and a half less actual instruction time than students in other states during their K – 12 education.
Anchorage class sizes have unfortunately continued to grow as the ASD struggles with these ever increasing duties and labor cost pressures.
The Anchorage School District has lost thousands of students to other educational providers over the past five years. As our community deals with justifiable frustration with public schools, I hope we can have compassion for the people who keep schools running, and for the students they’re struggling to serve.
Perhaps most important, we need policies constructed with a full understanding of the all-encompassing role schools play in society.
Jamie Vollmer gave permission to include his writings in this article.
This communication is from Dave Donley as an individual member of the Anchorage School Board and parent; and does not represent the position of the Anchorage School Board or the Anchorage School District. Dave Donley is a life-long resident of Anchorage, parent of teenage twins, attorney, and served as a State Representative and Senator for sixteen years.