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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/16/10

The Onus of Education In This Country is Wrongly Placed

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So the president wants to essentially scrap Bush's "No Child Left Behind" laws on public schools and focus on "all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career."[1]

There is no question the Bush plan was flawed, emphasizing as it did, "provisions that encouraged instructors to teach to tests, narrowed the curriculum and labeled one in three schools as failing."[2]

Obama's plan would keep the math and reading tests done annually but eliminate the pass fail school grading system.

According to Anne Duncan, Obama's Education Secretary, "We've got to get accountability right this time" For the mass of schools we want to get rid of prescriptive interventions. We'll leave it up to them to figure out how to make progress,"[3]

The American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten doesn't like Obama's plan saying, "this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority."[4]

Well to this observer, Weingarten's criticism is right on the money.

For those of us who were in the public schools (P.S. 126, New York City Public Schools) in the 1940's and 50's the onus on learning and doing well in school was on us, the students. If we failed it was our responsibility. We were the ones held accountable, not the teacher or the school or the principal. The teacher was the authority in the classroom and if you didn't perform or were disruptive in class your parents were notified by the teacher. And parents, (for the most part), sided with and were supportive of the teacher. You were told to get your act together and listen to the teacher.

That idea may seem quaint in today's education environment where the teacher is on the hot seat for the child's performance and if "little Johnny" isn't doing well it's the teachers fault, not "Mommy's little cherub." Her little "tyrant" couldn't possibly be at fault.

As to public education today, things have been turned on its head, upside down and wrongly placed.

Are there poor teachers today? Certainly; there always were and forever will be some poor teachers. But most are dedicated, hard working people, doing their best under circumstances that most of us wouldn't tolerate, couldn't cope with, and would be overwhelmed with the expectations placed upon them.

Teachers are questioned over everything they do. Their integrity is impugned by unruly students and misinformed parents. Administrators are so cowed and fearful of parents questioning of them and their school and its performance, they've become obsessed with pleasing and placating the parents instead of being good administrators and supportive of the efforts of their teachers, often becoming adversaries of their teachers in the many instances involving disputes with students and their criticizing parents.

Then there are the overwhelming amount of paperwork, forms and requirements to be filled out, standardized testing and performance grading that teachers have become "snowed under," with mostly unnecessary "educational, bureaucratic" minutia, extending the workday well beyond the traditional school day.

Add in substandard pay, the decline in status as a professional and the general lack of respect they're afforded it is amazing teachers remain in the field rather than abandoning it in favor of more lucrative pursuits.

So when one hears of "new wine in old bottles" regarding this "education initiative" replacing an older "ineffective" one, there is skepticism that anything will really change for the better.

It won't as long as the primary focus of education and the responsibility and accountability onus for learning, is on the teacher, the principal or the school rather than where it should be (and once was) on the student.

[1] "Obama Proposes Sweeping Change In Education Law", by Sam Dillon, the "New York Times", March 14, 2010

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