Maybe it's because I have a daughter on the cusp of entering
first grade that has brought the (sorry) state of our education system sharply
into focus for me. Or perhaps it's the increasing evidence of the failure of
Mensa Man's decaying "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) federal education
standards insanity. But, when a school district in Rhode Island decided the
solution to poor performance at a local secondary was to fire all the teachers
-- and an
American President defends this action -- then there clearly is a serious
"If a school continues to fail its students year after year
after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a
sense of accountability,"Obama said. "And that's what happened in Rhode Island
last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders
passed state math tests -- 7 percent."
Scapegoating teachers is not the answer to improving the
quality of our children's education. Rather, it is making a personal investment
in their education in the first place. Were all 93 of these teachers "bad"?
Not according to the students and parents at the school. And, even if those
fired were all incompetent -- "bad" -- How do you find the "good" teachers to
replace them? Is there a secret stash of "good" teachers out there? And if
there is, why weren't they hired in the first place?
It's easier to blame the "bad" teachers for our children's poor
performance than to admit the entire system is broken and one of the reasons is
because parental involvement in education is virtually nonexistent.
Further,our third-graders spend more time watching "American Idol" and playing
Super Mario Galaxy on their X-boxes than they do reading or learning their
multiplication tables. Are teachers responsible for that?
When will parents take responsibility for supporting efforts to
educate their children? And, do we want to expose our children to the idea that
it's OK for a president to slide through school with barely passing grades, or
that a governor and would-be vice president has to consult notes penned on her
hand to answer simple questions about her political philosophy . . . a question,
for god's sake, that doesn't even have a wrong answer? Are these the
models we want our kids to emulate?
There was a wonderful article in the New York
Times Magazine a week ago that followed one educator's quest to improve
shoddy school performance. The article is a fascinating journey through the murky confusion, frustration and panic created by the data-obsessed NCLB
mandates, and concludes that increased parental involvement and teacher training
are the simple keys to academic success. Duh. So why is that so difficult to
understand and accomplish?
Perhaps because as a nation we don't put our money where our
collective mouth is. The United States spends less per student that the other
top 16 industrialized nations in the world, but hey -- we're numero uno
in spending on death and destruction, with the biggest "defense" budget in the
world! Priorities, people.
The Bush Administration's punitive action to withhold federal
funding from under-performing schools it deemed as"failing" is like refusing to
give insulin to comatose diabetics because they failed to keep their blood sugar
levels at a normal level. A serious, yet correctable,problem becomes fatal.How
can these schools improve without funding, especially given the fact that state
budget deficits have skyrocketed during this latest economic crisis? And it's
no secret that most of the poorest test scores are found in the poorest
schools. Are we really to believe that cutting off the already meager funding
will magically turn this around?
Now President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan hope to
reform NCLB, replace it with a program called "Race to the Top," (RTTT) which
rewards progress instead of punishing failure. The new proposal provides
federal aid to states that adopt new, federal standards.This new program will
focus on individual performance, rather than group the class or school scores as
a whole to determine adequate progress, and will focus on subjects other than
reading and math. But the new plan will still rely on test scores to deliver
the data, even if the new plan gives more latitude to the states as to how to
implement the needed reforms.
But regardless of the action taken on a national level, the
reality remains that as long as states use property taxes to fund the schools,
there will never be improvement in the poorest school systems. When the
schools in the wealthier areas spend five times more per child than schools in
the low-income areas, how can the poorer schools hope to compete or
succeed? Under NCLB or RTTT, the gap between poor children and upper-income
children remains unchallenged, unaddressed, and unchanged.
When we finally (ever?) allocate funds to improve teacher
training and technique, increase parental involvement in the system, and improve
student learning methods, then we will have stepped into meaningful education
reform.Until then? Let's have some instant accountability! Fire the teachers!
That'll show "em!