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Another Brick in the Wall

Kathy Malloy
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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 problem.

"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!
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Kathy never expected a career in radio as a talk show producer. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Kathy was completing her nursing degree when in 2001 - in an emergency - she was asked to fill in as the producer of Mike's program. Within a few (more...)
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