History teaches us that education, which leads to knowledge and innovation, has been the key catalyst for human prosperity.
As we are slowly emerging from the Great Recession we see more clearly that we are indeed competing in a global economy, and that we have lost our way. People around the globe have caught up, are highly educated, and foreign nations and companies are aggressively investing in research.
In order to successfully compete and prosper in the future, we must chart a path to the next American economy, one that is driven by exports, powered by clean energy and fueled by innovation. We must start making things again, right here in America, things that other countries want to buy. All of this will be built upon and possible only with better education for all. We have to get much smarter, real fast.
Now contrast this with the reality on the ground.
We believe that all men are created equal, a truth we hold to be self-evident. Yet, when it comes to providing equal education for all children, our collective failure to provide consistent quality schools is appalling. How can we accept that the outlook on life is fundamentally dependent on the ZIP code of a young person’s birthplace? Watch Waiting for Superman on Netflix, and weep.
Demographic shifts further complicate the matter. Over the next several decades, African Americans and Hispanics will grow from about 25 percent to nearly 40 percent of the working-age population. Yet the rates of educational attainment are lowest among these fast-growing groups. In 2006, only 13 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of African Americans held a bachelor’s degree, contrasting sharply with the educational attainment figures for whites and Asians.
What does this mean for education in Riverside? After all, our schools are good, and our children are enjoying a safe and nurturing learning environment in a vibrant community.
In this increasingly interconnected and hypercompetitive world, we must come to terms with the reality that the success of our own kin alone will no longer be enough. Educational inequity used to be a moral issue alone. Today and in the future, upgrading the education of our children and the skills of our diverse workforce is an issue of national competitiveness and security.
In Riverside, we can no longer afford to be protective of our status of privilege and defend the educational status quo. We must find ways to share the success of our schools with neighboring communities, to make sure that every corner of the city, region and state has schools as good as ours or better. Additionally, we must reform school governance in order for school districts to deliver higher-quality services with limited resources.
The time is ripe to consolidate school districts. We can lead the way right here at home.
Considering the district boundaries of Riverside-Brookfield High School, it is a logical step to consolidate the three feeder districts, Komarek D94, Brookfield D95 and Riverside D96 into one single district with RBHS.
The financial and educational benefits of such a reorganization are significant. As a state with one of the largest numbers of local school districts per population, established for the needs of the 19th century rather than the 21st, the fiscal efficiency is obvious. Administrative fragmentation and duplicate spending would be curtailed, resulting in a reallocation of precious tax dollars that would benefit the many students rather than a few adults.
Educationally, a single school district in lieu of four would inherently increase the coordination between curricula, which in turn would benefit all students as they transition into RBHS. Every school within the consolidated district would also retain a principal and the same teachers, so that the change would be next to imperceptible to a student or parent.
The taxpayer, on the other hand, would get more value for every tax dollar invested.
Plans to consolidate are already underway. The Illinois state legislature is currently working out proposals to reduce the number of school districts statewide from 868 to approximately 300, based on an ambitious and visionary goal formulated earlier this year by Gov. Pat Quinn.
The time to think in silos is over. I look forward to hearing ideas from our local school board officials about how we may contribute to shaping public school reform.
Tom Jacobs is a Riverside resident, architect and founder of the Riverside Sustainability Council.