Thursday, December 10, 2009

Charter Schools, New Buildings And Other Panaceas (Part II)

Well Mayor Jones proposed it, the School Board accepted it, the City Council approved it and the Richmond Times Dispatch gave it its blessing. The “it” I am referring to is the plan to spend $175 million of our money to build a new high school, a new middle school, and two new elementary schools in the City of Richmond. The mayor proposed the construction plan at a meeting with Richmond’s School Board on October 20. On November 16, the board voted to substitute the mayor’s plan for the construction plan it had approved last year. And, on November 23, the City Council went along and approved the new plan. All of this despite the fact that the new construction plan will cost us $25 million more than last year’s plan. The mayor said he will find the extra money. Hey, it’s only a 20% increase.

Members of the School Board and the City Council as well as the mayor are ecstatic about the new building construction. They all seem to think that building new schools will fix what ails Richmond Public Schools. And our beloved RTD agrees. In their editorial dated November 13 the RTD editors state:

Physically attractive plants can help to lure families who live in the city but whose children attend schools outside the local public system. The Jones plan offers Richmond an opportunity to rise to the occasion not only academically but artistically. 1

Gimme a break, RTD. Do you really think that parents are opting out of Richmond Public Schools because of the absence of physically attractive plants? You need to give Richmond parents more credit than that. The fact is that Richmond parents are opting out of RPS because they do not believe that their children can get an adequate education in city schools. As they should be, parents are more concerned with what goes on inside the schools than with what they look like. If RPS were educating Richmond’s children at the level they deserve, if Richmond’s students were performing at a high level rather than just passing (that’s what accreditation means, dear reader, just passing), if the bulk of our students were graduating from high school, if our graduates were all being accepted to the country’s best colleges or all getting the best jobs, I assure you that Richmond parents would not care if it was all happening in old schools.

Reader, I received a wonderful public school education in New York City. All the school buildings I attended were 20 or 30 or more years old and it didn’t affect the quality of my learning. And you know, my elementary and junior high schools, with renovations and upgrades, are still operating today when they are obviously much older. Last year, when I was vacationing in Edinburgh, Scotland, I saw students attending schools that were considerably older than any school in Richmond and they seemed to be doing quite well.

Look, I have nothing against new school facilities. If we can afford them, we should build them. But we must not think for one second that new schools will solve RPS’s problems. Sure, our new schools will make us feel better when we see our richer neighbors in the counties building new schools. But they will not give our children the superior education that we owe them. That will take a lot of fixing of what goes on inside our schools and what goes on in RPS administration.

Mr. Mayor, members of the City Council, members of the School Board, it is time to seriously tackle our public school problem. We have to stop the constant abandonment of our city by parents who believe that there children can receive a quality education only in Chesterfield, Hanover or Henrico counties. And we need to do that on a school-by-school basis. First we have to make sure that each of our public schools is, in fact, providing at least as good an education as the schools in the counties. Then we need to go into our communities and sell parents on their local neighborhood school as the best choice for educating their children. And, we need to do it now.


Scott said...

Remember that the Richmond School Board, as candidates, made promises to make RPS buildings green- more energy efficient and environmentally run.

How are they doing that with new buildings? Will they be LEED certified? More importantly, how are they doing that with the older buildings that need to be renovated?

paul_h said...

Well put. I still recall the court enforced building program in Kansas City, MO 20 years ago, 150 million at that time. Beautiful new schools were built, advanced curriculum was added (Latin only) with little effect. Today KCMO schools have been taken over by the state continue to be 90% minority.

Are there any successful urban school districts operating in the country? If so we need to study what they are doing and replicate that here.

A couple years ago I called for the abolition of the RPS, not because I hated the schools, but because we have two award winning school districts surrounding the city. Why duplicate their bureaucracy, waste money and punish students and families for living on the wrong side of the city limits. This is not such a radical idea. Countywide school systems are the norm in many parts of the country. The archaic Dillon Rule divides city from county and keeps us from having a regional school system that could provide equal educational opportunities no matter where you lived.