“Constitutional Right to Literacy” Lawsuits: Another one of public education’s well-intentioned but terribly flawed and distracting pursuits.

“Constitutional Right to Literacy” lawsuits are one of many public education’s ‘wasting time’ things that we do; like distractedly chasing social integration. A wrongly predicated idea that black behinds must sit next to white behinds in order for Black minds to perform well academically. How about doing something really daring and dangerous; why not try to racially integrate and distribute the quality of instruction that the nation’s entitled and privileged public school kids enjoy!

Let’s Start…Raise your right hand…Do you swear to tell the whole truth (or just half of it)?

To the best of their physical capability:

(1) Should every elementary school child leave their public elementary school having mastered the English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum learning standards for the elementary grades; and be totally prepared to engage the middle school ELA learning standards? (short basic version for non-professional educators): Can they read an elementary reader by the 6th grade?) Yes__ or No__

(2) At the end of every public middle school student’s time in their middle school, should they have mastered the middle school’s ELA learning standards, and be totally prepared to fully engage (able to read high school course materials) with the ELA requirements they will face in high school? (short basic version: are they able to read a high school textbook by the 8th grade?) Yes__ or No__

(3) Any student who graduates from a public high school, must be ELA ‘ready’ to read, speak and write competently for a successful adult employment job, a Career Technical Education (CTE) apprenticeship program, a career in the military or federal, state or local civil service employment; and they should not be forced (to waste money and time) and the college’s time by being forced to essentially take a “13th” year of high school ELA courses? (short basic version: Can they read a CTE construction trades or college level textbook, or the questions on a civil service exam?) Yes__ or No__

Everyone’s answer to all of the above three questions should be: Yes! Yes! and Yes! But if your answer is “NO” to any of the three aforementioned questions, which essentially means “No” to all three (that’s another topic for another post!), then you could probably save yourself a lot of time and grief if you stop reading this posting right now; because you are definitely not going to like where I am heading!

But if you are still with me, here is the problem… Who does or does not get adequately educated in our nation’s schools is a political, and not an educational decision. Trust me, I think by now that we have a good handle on how to teach a child how to read (do math, science, history, etc.); we even know how to accomplish that ‘feat’ if when we start the process, the children (and/or their families) speak little or no English…

The previously laid out three (elem., middle and high) school level learning objectives should not need to be legislated or legally established into existence. They are, wait on it, what public schooling is actually supposed to do; which it does do, for a ‘selective’ group of students (I did say no half-truths!) Legislating and legally forcing a government/public agency to fully fill its stated mission obligation, suggest to that agency that there are ‘other options’ available to not fulfill its mission. It’s sort of what we principals tell ‘newbie’ teachers: “Any option or choice outside of your authority and decision making, that you give to students; be prepared to not be shocked if your students select that option or choice, no matter how educationally self-harming their decision is to their safety, educational well-being and success!”

Imagine for a moment that hospitals had to be forced legislatively to not try to kill the majority of patients who come to them for medical assistance; what if firefighters had to be taken to court because they refused to put out any house fires; and the US military services would require a law that would legally compel them to defend the nation! Can the goal of getting the courts (as was the case with NYC) to force more money the school system’s way be accomplished; sure, but just ‘more money’ for ‘more money’ sake is not a good academic improvement and achievement strategy; alas, we can’t keep throwing good (taxpayers) money at bad education and expect something positive to happen!

The fundamental problem that so many parents face when trying to get their child a fundamentally sound basic and good education; is that the system itself is not structured to provide it. And when ‘nullifying’ the mission statement is the driving operational philosophy of an organization, then simply feeding it more money is not the best ‘fixing’ and improvement agent. In fact, the present legislative and statutory profile of public education insures that it won’t work for most students because the existing laws, statutes, workplace rules and regulations are structured for adult employment success, comfort and enjoyment, not student academic success.

There are just too many children (in Detroit, Chicago, NYC, etc.) who are doomed educationally by virtue of their zip code (aka race, finances and ethnicity). If these students are exposed to one or more years of ineffective, incompetent, low-expectations, lacking in compassion and efficacy school administrators and/or teachers*, they will suffer very difficult to reverse educational harm. Therefore, the systemic solution and power to ‘fully educate’ those children is already in the hands of local, state and federal legislators and executives. Also in their (elected officials) hands, is the power to provide the type of serious funding that Title-1 (poor) schools need in order to effectively and properly address the social, economic, health and ‘hurdles-to-learning’ needs that most of our students bring to school each day; without the necessary support these students don’t have a fair chance at learning how to read or learn anything else for that matter while they are in school.

What we can’t continue to do is what we always do, and that is throwing a lot of good taxpayers money ($773 million in the case of NYC) at bad tried and truly failed before educational enrichment practices, and expecting something magically different to happen, and then act shocked when it doesn’t!

And so perhaps, instead of trying to get your state or federal judges to make laws like: “the department of sanitation should collect and dispose of our garbage”; and, “air traffic controllers should keep planes a safe distance from each other”! Maybe the solution to ‘fixing’ a broken public education system, is to hold your local, state and federal elected officials and executives accountable; after all, they already have all of the powerful tools they need to solve the problem!

*it was recently reported in one NYC paper that the NYC Department of Education ‘carries’ (as in keeps on the payroll) a boat load of unassigned tenured teachers, for close to a cost of $100 million dollars; but in fairness to the present Chancellor, this is a very, very old practice that even predates my 1990’s NYC principal years.

You may also want to look at:
On Education: If you are waiting on a judge… https://www.ourtimepress.com/on-education-if-you-are-waiting-on-a-judge-to-rule-that-your-child-should-be-able-to-read-write-effectively-by-the-12th-grade-well/

Michael A. Johnson has served as a NYC public school teacher, principal, school district superintendent and as an adjunct professor of education at St. John’s University. His book on school leadership is titled: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.” [http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/]