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Baseball Lesson: Share the Wealth

If sports teams can share revenue, why can't schools?

September 07, 2002|JOSEPH D. GANNON | Joseph D. Gannon, a former journalist, teaches English at Thomas Jefferson High School in South-Central Los Angeles.

As a high school English teacher in one of Los Angeles' overcrowded, underfunded multitrack schools with among the worst Stanford 9 scores in the city, all I can say is, "Thank God for baseball!" In averting the players strike on the same day Stanford 9 scores were published, our national pastime has shown us the way to educational equity.

The scene in my journalism class that morning: I watched the body language as my 11 students found our school's scores. Gasps of surprise and slumping shoulders as they found the column showing that 70% of our students scored "below basic" or "far below basic" in meeting state standards.

The editor in chief wanted to cry. The others wanted to hide. I had expected them to take the burden of such academic disappointment squarely on their own shoulders. So unlike so many adults in the system.

They searched the long columns for other low-and high-performing schools. Those that scored 60% or more below or far below basic skills share our designation as Title 1 schools; the Title 1 designation is bestowed when the majority of the students' parents are at or below the federal poverty line. Among the best scores in the county were Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills and Malibu.

It didn't take my students long to find this bullet in the news story: The statewide achievement gap between poor and affluent students in reading and math has widened in every grade over the last five years, a pattern repeated all over L.A. (This despite Gov. Gray Davis' assertion that all children are showing improvement regardless of race, income or family background.)

If there is no innate difference in intelligence based on family income, how does the governor explain that the county's Stanford 9 scores can be sorted by ZIP code, those ZIP codes can be arranged by family income, and the higher scores can be attached to higher-income areas and lower scores to lower-income areas? My young journalists demanded answers. I knew only this: Excellence in education is all about resources--money, buildings, textbooks, teachers--and the allocation of resources in a society is called politics. The politicians who allow our school to remain overcrowded and underfunded are precisely the same politicians who pass laws mandating the same standardized tests for schools that are grossly unequal in terms of resources.

My students asked what could be done. I suggested taking our student body on a field trip to Sacramento to chain ourselves to the governor's doors until he did something. But then I heard that the baseball strike had been averted. One term of the agreement was a luxury tax: The wealthiest clubs help other clubs stay competitive by sharing revenue.

What a game! Once again, our national pastime has reached into our soul and shown us the way. As Jackie Robinson helped integrate baseball long before the country integrated, so baseball will build equity among teams by sharing revenue.

The analogy is not perfect. Schools that burst at the seams with far too many students who go into decrepit classrooms and share beat up textbooks, whose faculty is heaped with hard-working but often uncredentialed and undertrained teachers, are far worse off than a baseball team with a small market for advertising revenues.

Still, revenue sharing will help those teams. Who denies that it would markedly help schools? Who denies that in the U.S. you only get what you pay for? And yes, as Yankee owner George Steinbrenner railed against the idea, so will affluent communities complain.

But it is an idea whose time has come.

How long before the city and county follow baseball's lead and share revenue to build competitiveness and equity in public schools? I don't know how long. But when I return to my classroom, I'll write just one word on the blackboard: strike.

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