It is said what goes around comes around. That seems to be where we are right now when it comes to funding public schools in education.
Those who championed Gov. Cuomo’s slash-and-burn approach to public education two years ago, when he said we are spending too much on public education and getting little for it, applauded his cutting $1.2 billion from state aid to schools. Now they are rethinking their position. Editorials in newspapers, meetings in town halls, school district task forces and just about every other source are calling for more aid to schools and advocacy for school budgets. I guess we have hit that proverbial wall.
Every school district in New York state is facing a crisis in its budget. Cuts in state aid, spending increases over which the districts have no control, tax levies which have reached their maximum, and dwindling fund balances all contribute to a financial situation that is bad and getting worse. Unfortunately, the attempts to curb spending often involve cuts in the arts, activities and athletics. These “three As” (which together often total less than 3 percent of a total school budget) go hand in hand with academics to form what I call the “Four As” of education.
They are not extras or things we can do without. On the contrary, I feel that education that is not based on these four As is lacking. As a matter of fact, the students who participate in the very activities some would cut are the model of what we are trying to develop in schools: solid, well-rounded future citizens.
It flies in the face of sanity to cut the very programs that lead to the final results we are trying to attain. Take any athletic team in any high school, and the percentage of students on the school honor roll is usually 90 percent and higher, while the percentage of the total student body on the honor roll hovers around 50 percent, and this is true with all athletic teams, clubs and other school activities. Duh, as the kids say. Shouldn’t we be adding activities and sports and insisting that ALL students participate so that they can also excel in academics?
Our students must develop certain qualities that cannot be taught through a formal curriculum and cannot be tested on a paper-and-pencil test. These qualities include things such as creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, question asking, humor, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, civic-mindedness, self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, leadership, compassion, courage, resourcefulness and spontaneity.
We spend very little time on these qualities in the regular school curriculum, because we are concerned with preparing students for the tests that are based on content and facts. Ironically, we tend to develop the qualities noted above in the arts, activities, athletics and other extracurricular activities. While these three As of education are always on the chopping block due to budget crises, we always find room to add more tests to see how students are doing and to ensure their success. Let’s be honest, kids often learn a lot more about leadership and enthusiasm and resilience in sports or band or chorus than they do in academic classes.
I am positive that they learn a lot more about those qualities in their extracurricular activities than they do in taking a state test. You can bank on that. It is sad that schools have to drop programs in the arts, athletics and other activities because they just do not have the money to support what some consider extra programs. The very programs that are being dropped, however, are the ones that teach kids what they really need to know to be successful.
I always loved coaching kids in sports and watching them grow through the experience. Some kids just exude commitment, determination and drive on the court or field. These are the kids who will be successful in their future endeavors. When I see a kid play with reckless abandon and full speed ahead, I know that that youngster will be successful in his/her chosen career. I have seen thousands of them over the years.
State and federal tests determine success? Not really. I would say that a floor burn earned for diving on a loose ball in basketball is more indicative of future success than any written test I have ever seen. How about the kid playing her first solo with the school band? Do you think she is learning about poise and confidence and courage? I think so.
Oh, by the way, a lot of my former players are now very successful in myriad fields. Guess what? The ones who have met with the most success in their careers are not necessarily those who had the highest grades or test scores.
While deliberating the school budgets for our communities, we would be remiss if we did not find room for all four As.
John Metallo lives in Slingerlands and is a retired teacher and school administrator. Among the positions he has held are principal of Albany High School and adjunct instructor at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh.