Recent ISNS Issue


Copyright 2021 by James M. Broadway, all rights reserved.

ISNS Volume 27, Number 27, June 21, 2021


Schools are best windows to their communities

By Jim Broadway, Publisher, Illinois School News Service


The Illinois House and Senate seem to have tied up all the loose ends last week. Correcting the budget bill - SB 2800 - was the major achievement, of course. The 3088-page appropriations bill establishes a budget for FY 2022 (starting July 1) of more than $42 billion, plus it includes supplementary funding for the current fiscal year as well as a capital budget that will fund roads, bridges, other transportation - and much building and renovations of schools.


As is often the case, the final version of the budget bill was cobbled together from previous versions in the final day or two of the spring session that ended June 2. Gov. JB Pritzker did not veto any line items in the budget, but he imposed an "amendatory veto" on the bill to correct "effective date" flaws that would otherwise have had disastrous effects.


Three-fifths majority votes in each chamber were needed for Pritzker's changes to be effective; the Senate gave it that on Tuesday and the House followed on Wednesday. The bill then took effect without further action on Thursday. All budget-shaping actions last week were taken without support from the House and Senate Republican caucuses - yet another indication that gridlock would prevail without super-majority Democrat caucuses.


The legislature ultimately passed 664 bills this year - 347 originating in the House and 317 in the Senate. Just 7 House bills and 10 Senate bills have been signed into law. By far most bills are still in the custody of a legislative chamber. But by the end of the month, almost all of them will be on Pritzker's desk. He'll then have 60 days in which to take action on them.


A major action last week was the passage of HB 2908, which starts a process leading toward a 21-member elected board to govern the Chicago Public Schools. Currently, the CPS board is appointed by the mayor - an ardent opponent of HB 2908. Gubernatorial action now is held up pending negotiations on a "trailer bill" to codify compromise language. It seems likely that this policy change will be tweaked regularly for a year or two.


An update of the ISNS bill-tracking web page is here.




What about schools as windows? This has been perhaps the major theme of ISNS for the last quarter-century: schools are windows to their communities; educational achievements within a school are influenced most by the social culture where it exists. Schools reflect the strengths, but also the weaknesses, of their communities. Education flourishes where it is prioritized by the population; educators experience deep frustration where it is not.


An example of the former: Years ago, students at a school in Naperville - a wonderful town where I lived in the 1980s - did so well in an international assessment of academic ability (the PISA test, as I recall) that the school was designated "the best in the world." I attended a news conference in which the late state Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw - who represented Naperville and was a leader in Illinois school policy - responded to media questions about this feat.


My friend Mary Lou congratulated the students and the school for their achievement, but she also honestly attributed the achievement mostly to the community. Naperville is located in a "research triangle," she noted. It boasts one of the nation's densest populations of world-class mathematitions and scientists. "They speak math at the dinner table," she told reporters at the state Capitol. So it's mostly culture, not DNA, and not just great schools.


Internationally, of course, Finland is another example of academic excellence documented regularly in PISA and other academic competitions. It also reflects the culture, the esteem to which education is held by the population in general. No high-stakes tests. Just gather the best possible teaching corps and trust administrators and teachers to do their jobs. Yes, schools can be greatly improved, but as a rule it takes the whole village to do it.


What is the point in all this? We live on the verge of multiple social movements that will affect every U.S. community - including yours - movements that will be reflected in the schools, in events and incidents, some clearly positive but many controversial and negative. They will continue for years and will alter the shape of your country's social fabric. Educators will not be able to avoid their students' yearn to learn. I always recommend truth.


In my lifetime, today's America reminds me of the 1960s. I thought that decade would never end. It started with a close election - one in fact decided by the Chicago vote (but which the loser did not contest) - that set the nation's course. But our young president was assassinated in 1963. (I listened to live coverage of it on Armed Forces Radio through the middle of a Korean night. Most Americans still believe false conspiracy theories about that.)


The "Black Power" movement of the 60s and 70s roiled America racially. Its results were good, but difficult to achieve. Many Black leaders did not survive the struggle. For all the progress, much more has been needed. Black Lives Matter has picked up the baton, bravely engaging a society that seems capable of stepping backward toward the overt racism of the past. In this key movement, we still have miles to go before we sleep.


The "Women's Liberation" movement, launched by the realities of the 1960s, and boosted significantly by the publication of a book - The Feminine Mystique - authored by housewife Betty Friedan. While, yes, there are still miles to go in this as well, women did make progress on many fronts. Still, it took 50 years for Friedan's hometown - Peoria, Illinois - to recognize her influence. (The status of women also seems to have back-slid recently.)


Finally, the Anti-War Movement of the 60s and 70s caused the most tumult. I avoided Viet Nam by enlisting in the U.S. Air Force to do electronic intelligence as a Korean linquist. Presidents Joe Biden, Donald Trump, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton all found other ways to make others do the fighting. The war cost 58,000 American lives, mostly in Viet Nam but a few on college campuses, like that of Kent State.


Will today's schoolchildren grow to maturity under the influence of social forces as strong as those that made the 1960s the worst decade ever for Americans of my age? My guess is this is probably the case. Occasionally, deep disturbances rise like magma to the top of a volcano and spew a deadly pyroclastic flow on the communities down below.


What happens "out there" in the community will be reflected within the classrooms. And how the educational system responds to the students - especially to those who are just a few years away from young adulthood, from vigorous social interaction, from potential military service and almost certain political engagement - will influence the nation's future.


Far be it from me to heap a huge burden of responsibility on the heads of educators, mostly those in the early years of their careers, those who have felt that things will go more smoothly now that they're getting the hang of it. Depending somewhat on the characteristics of your community, I don't things will be going more smoothly for most educators in the coming years. Events with far-reaching implications for the students are approaching.


More than the practitioners of any other profession, educators do their work at the nexus of social reality and the point at which students' understanding of that reality is vital. Educators are the interpreters of social reality for their students. Some voices will ask, "Shouldn't that be the parents' job?" As events unfold, you'll see frightening implications of that question.

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Links - Education Organizations

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