NAPILI — One of the modern day tragedies created by the enormous budget cuts taking place across our entire nation is the impact it has had on the ability of our K-12 schools to provide the same level of enriched educational opportunities that previous generations enjoyed.
In the educational landscape of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and drastic school budget cuts, students face the disappearance of many of the programs that make school most engaging for them. Recess, visual arts, music, drama, physical education, athletic programs, day and overnight trips and numerous other enriching electives have been eliminated, leaving just the shell of what were, in the past, rich educational experiences for our kids.
Many school districts have shrunk or eliminated programs in order to provide additional time for test preparation to meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for NCLB. Some have instituted Saturday classes and extra sessions for students who have not performed well on these tests in the past. The emphasis on preparing students to perform well on standardized tests is a complex issue for both school districts and also individual schools striving to avoid a federally mandated takeover.
The media is filled with discouraging news about huge problems facing states as a result of what many are referring to as the “great recession.” Job losses, home foreclosures, business closures and declining tax revenues for state governments place many key services in jeopardy. As states trim their budgets, there are not many governmental services that have not come under scrutiny and been cut. The unfortunate result is that school programs and kids suffer as states attempt to address these huge budget deficits.
What does this mean for the quality of the school experience? In Hawaii, high school students taking Advanced Placement classes are struggling to complete the coursework that will enable them to pass the national exam and receive class credit in the college admissions process as a result of “Furlough Fridays.” Kids who would normally have two to four field trips per year related to their class curriculum and/or to the arts just miss out altogether and no longer enjoy those engaging connections outside the classroom. In many places, athletic programs are being taken apart piece by piece, affecting student opportunities to compete at the state level and, possibly, to earn college athletic scholarships. Other program cuts eliminate the opportunity to develop an aesthetic appreciation and rich understanding of art and music and, for some students, decreases their chance to develop skills that they would carry through life.
Education is a complex process of in-class and outside-of-class experiences intended to build students’ skills and confidence, develop their talents, prepare them for the real world of work, ground generations in social consciousness and conventions and enrich their lives.
Despite the roller coaster effect of the economy, most private and independent schools continue to provide these diverse and essential opportunities for their students. Their commitment to student growth through the integration of art, music, drama, dance, community service, athletics and travel provide the foundation for the development of the whole child, equipping the next generation with the skills to succeed as confident and competent citizens of the 21st century.
The failure of our society to provide essential educational opportunities and experiences to all children is a modern day tragedy that will have a negative effect on our society for years to come.