250,000 Tubas!

Not since 76 trombones led the big parade have a bunch of brass instruments caused this much buzz – or perhaps it would be more fitting to say caused this much oom-pah.

For you see, at the core of the Biden-Harris Administration National Effort to Support Student Success is a call to action to provide our nation’s students with an additional 250,000 tubas.

And you know that they are seriously serious about this because the pre-announcement to announce the announcement was made by Susan Rice, and not someone from the U.S. Department of Education who didn’t take a vacation this week.

That sounds like an awful lot of tubas, never a very popular instrument among schoolkids, but it makes sense. As noted in the White House release, initiatives to support student learning in reading and mathematics “are most successful when paired with initiatives that support student well-being and mental health, like arts and music…” No question schools will benefit from the strong foundation that a solid bass line can provide.

So, let’s roll out that pork barrel and buy us some tubas!

Music to My Ears – Or was it?

When I first heard the news story, I was sure that my ears were playing tricks on me. After all, my hearing is pretty much shot after all of those years in band sitting in front of the trumpet section. Plus, my transistor radio never comes in too well this time of year. I think that it has something to do with solar flares.

Maybe the call was for an additional 250,000 tubers – you know potatoes. That would make sense with the uproar over the ending of the universal free lunch program. President Biden does come across as a meat and potatoes kind of guy. A Potato Program would certainly help the economy here in Maine. Do they still grow potatoes on Long Island or has that land all been developed? But the best potatoes come from places outside of the US like Prince Edward Island and Idaho.

250,000 tunas?  Tuna would also help with the free lunch issue and also support our Maine fishing industry.

250,000 Tudors?  Bring in a bunch of British people to tutor our kids. Oh, wait, was it “tutor”?

No, it couldn’t possibly have been a call for 250,000 additional tutors. I mean, that’s like so NCLB. Been there. Done that.

250,000 Tutors

Let me begin by saying that I have nothing against tutors. They can be very fine people. Some of my best friends are tutors. I may even have a few tutoring stories of my own to share in future posts or in my upcoming memoirs.

A call for tutors can certainly be a small, but important, part of the public relations effort supporting an education reform initiative. Back in 2001 in Massachusetts, there was a public call for tutors for high school students in danger of not meeting the new high school graduation requirement. The chairman of the Board of Education was one of the people who answered that call. I still remember the day, after test items were released, when he showed up at the Department, playfully demanding to know why there wasn’t an item on the math test that year related to the area of a circle contained within a quadrilateral. He had nailed that topic with his student.

The potential benefits of one-to-one tutoring are well-documented, especially when it’s high-quality tutoring as called for in this initiative.  And nobody disputes the CDC when they report that students benefit from connecting with an adult at school – so let’s bring in more adults.

But an additional 250,000 tutors and mentors?

For 130,000 P-12 schools in the United States.

For 49.4 million P-12 students.

Of course, not all of those schools and students will need a tutor.

On the other hand, the call was for 250,000 tutors over the next 3 years, so there’s that. And there will be some time needed to get the tutors up to speed on the curriculum, and on how to instruct kids. Not to mention the time needed to take all of the fingerprints and to run all of the background checks. It’s not like you can just walk up to a public school and volunteer these days, you know.

Do kids need support? No doubt.

Do teachers need support? Sure.

But aside from stating the obvious and listing well-known initiatives that work (e.g., high-quality summer learning and enrichment, high-quality tutoring, high-quality afterschool programs) the only real “solution” offered as part of this program was an additional 250,000 tutors – high-quality tutors. They really do like that phrase high-quality. I hear it’s the new research based.

Sorry, sorry. They did say that IES “will use monthly surveys to track schools’ continued progress in providing summer learning and enrichment, tutoring, and afterschool supports.” Great!  I’m sure that a few of the questions on those surveys will ask for confirmation that the high-quality programs were “implemented with fidelity” by the school and teachers and tutors.

Is going down the “call for tutors” road really that the best that we can do in 2022?

Fun “fact”: The majority of kids enrolled in P-12 today have parents who graduated high school during the current era of education reform.

Can we do better?

Can we fully fund public schools?

Can we have an economy and society where perhaps families can provide their kids the additional support and connection that they need because parents don’t have to work multiple jobs seven days a week?  That would be nice.

But for now, go ahead, bring on the additional high-quality tutors. And bring back the universal lunch program, please. And buy some more band instruments while you’re at it (even tubas), because the arts and music do matter.

Image by garyh18 from Pixabay
(Yes, I know those are Sousaphones. Artistic license.)

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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