Déjà Vu

As I sit watching the news I hear about international competition, our students falling behind, the need to upgrade our math and science programs, school consolidations and workforce development. Call it déjà vu (or maybe old age), but I remember hearing the same things before.

It was 1957, and the talk was about the Soviet Union, Sputnik, the space race and how American students were falling behind in math and science. Our sense of superiority was being challenged and our strategy was to emphasize math and science, and to expand vocational programs in schools. District’s wrestled with this challenge and came up with a solution, school consolidation. In 1950, there were 83,718 regular public school districts in the United States. In 1960, the number was reduced to just over 40,000, and by 2010, there were less than 14,000 public school districts left. While schools were consolidating, enrollment was doubling — from 25 million students in 1950 to 50 million public school students in 2010.

Why consolidate? The perceived benefits were an expanded curriculum and specialized courses focusing on math and science, efficiency (borrowed from the private sector) and a need to demonstrate a commitment to science, progress and modernization. Somewhere between the ‘50s and the 2000’s we did a 180. The push was for smaller schools and a white-collar workforce. We decided that bigger is not always better, that cost effectiveness to the taxpayers should be measured by graduate, not by student, and that only five- to12-percent of students in large schools take advantage of the “extras” a larger school can provide.

Then, on the news tonight… science, math, technology, engineering, workforce development and school consolidations. Are we sure this time, or did we just forget?