Two articles in the Rutland Herald caught my attention. Both of these articles focused on education in Vermont. The first article was written by former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, “Building back better in schools.” In this article, Racine writes about creating community schools in Vermont. In these schools, Racine suggests students will find dental and health services, mental health counselors, pre-K programs, after-school and summer programs, family social services. Racine does say many of these services can already be found, but are hard to access in rural areas.
The second was by David Flemming, a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute, “Vermont’s failing special ed.” Flemming notes in this article states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia all received much higher United States Department of Education (USDE) determinations than Vermont did for 2020. Flemming writes “white students from those states mentioned above scored better than Vermont’s white students. Their minority students scored better than Vermont’s minority students.” They did this while spending less money on special ed than Vermont. Vermont currently spends double the national average per student on special education. Yet Vermont is failing while these other states are not.
I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in the USDE determinations from those other states, either. With a lot of these scores, determinations can be manipulated to create a better outcome. The next time this comes up, Vermont will do a better job of fudging its numbers to fix the previous disparities.
Racine writes “legislation working its way through the State House would be a game-changer for children and families as Vermont builds back better. H.106 creates ‘community schools,’ a new model to transform our schools into community centers by inviting into our schools the supports children need to succeed.”
He goes on to say, “The pandemic has exacerbated and shined a light on a deeply entrenched problem with Vermont’s education system: Children from low-income families do not do as well academically as their better-off classmates.” No light needed to be shined here, Mr. Racine. This was already well-known by those employed in Vermont’s public schools.
I retired from teaching in 2018. Before leaving, I wrote “I can no longer teach.” In that article, I expressed why I was leaving education, the current problems with education, and steps that could be taken to resolve those problems.
The article appeared in the Herald on Nov. 4, 2017. It was denounced by principals and administrators, from some of Vermont’s supervisory unions. David Younce, superintendent of the Mill River Unified Union School District, responded to my article by attacking me. He did not address the problems then and those same problems continue to exist today. Younce was named Superintendent of the Year in 2020.
In spring 2018, I met with Gov. Phil Scott in his office for more than an hour to discuss some of the problems with education in Vermont and ways to address them. Scott thanked me and promised to follow up. He never did. I like Scott and believe he has done an exceptional job with how he has handled the pandemic. He handled it much better than I would have had I been elected governor.
With regard to education, however, the governor has no understanding of what goes on in the day-to-day life of a classroom teacher. He has no understanding of the problems with education and therefore, has no answers on how to give Vermont students a better education. Nor does Mr. Younce or any other Vermont superintendent. They are much too busy trying to crunch numbers, keep their well-paying jobs, and convince parents their children are receiving a top-notch education.
I also communicated with then-Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, who replied to my concerns with the following statement, “Mr. Laramie, we are also very concerned with students’ capacity for self-regulation and executive function (regulating their behavior and emotions and managing their learning). I agree with you that when children can’t manage their own behavior and emotions, they not only can’t do well in school and in life beyond, but they also disrupt the learning and success of others.”
Holcombe acknowledges the problem but then goes on to say, “Public schools serve all students who come to their doors. Children need to be taught. For some children, these schools are their best and only chance to develop the social skill set that enables them to function in civic life and the workplace. I agree this is a critical priority,” she stated.
What Holcombe means by “some children” is the parents of these children are incapable of doing their job. Their children are allowed to come to school and disrupt the lives of others in the school who are there to get the best education possible. What it does is sacrifice the education of the many by enabling the few.
In the following email, she stated, “You are correct that a safe and healthy school has a direct correlation on student achievement, both academically and social/emotionally. I agree strongly with you on this priority. Thank you for reaching out. I have shared your email internally, and we will reflect on how we can better respond to your concerns.
I never heard from Ms. Holcombe again or anyone else from the Vermont Department of Education. So much for their deep concern. I had become like the mosquito that buzzes around your ear while you’re trying to sleep: A temporary annoyance that will be gone with morning or a well-directed slap.
Since I left education 3 years ago, nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed. Racine’s article supports my statement. He states, “What we have been doing obviously has not been working. A big part of the reason is, many children are arriving in kindergarten seriously behind their peers in emotional and intellectual development and social skills.”
Racine does not say why this is. Why is it? The answer is Vermont ranks No. 1 or 2 for alcohol and drug addiction per capita in the United States. It should be understood that alcohol is a drug.
In Vermont, we have high taxes and low-paying jobs. This creates stress on families. Does anyone see a red flag here? Whose children are arriving in kindergarten seriously behind their peers in emotional and intellectual development and social skills?
Also, Racine states “Throughout all grade levels, more and more children suffer from physical and mental health problems. Low-income children are much more likely to drop out. A vast majority of our prison population do not have a high school diploma.” What he doesn’t mention is a majority of our prison population are former special ed students.
This supports Flemming’s article, as well as Racine’s statement “What we have been doing is not working.” Where were you, Mr. Racine, when I was saying this a few years ago? I suspect Racine will be getting a nasty missive from Superintendent Younce shortly. No problem here, Mr. Racine, the storm has passed and the sun is shining.
When the pandemic ends, in the schools, it will be back to business as usual. Nothing in education will change until people like Holcombe listen to their own advice, that being, “a safe and healthy school has a direct correlation on student achievement, both academically and social/emotionally.” I agree with Holcombe, it’s time to make this a priority.
Charles Laramie lives in Fair Haven.