This week, I saw a donation stand for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The stand was located between the in and out doors of a grocery store, and the older veteran standing there must have felt chilled. I gave him a donation, and on the way out, I offered to get him a cup of coffee. He looked like he wanted one, but he demurred, so I just went and got him a large cup with a free refill. He offered to pay me for the coffee. When I refused his money, he put it in the donation cup. This veteran was focused on his mission. He wasn’t there for himself, and he behaved with impeccable manners and integrity. I thought – what a difference between a man like that, and so many of those who run our public schools.
By Laurie H. Rogers
Friday, May 24, 2013
As an education advocate, I’m asked regularly how we fix our public schools. After six and a half years of advocacy, I’m no longer confident we can. Solutions exist, and they’re neither difficult nor expensive to implement. But most board directors and education administrators won’t do those things, and no one can make them. Absolute failure brings them more money, sympathy and power. They’re nearly immune now to any consequences, and most seem allergic to accountability or self-introspection. Naturally, this kind of power can go to one’s head.
The situation could be rectified, with proper oversight from citizens, legislators and the law. But many school districts spend much time, energy and taxpayer money cultivating uncritical friends – in the legislature, the courts, public agencies, private organizations, small businesses, large corporations and the media. They keep publicly funded lawyers on retainer, and they can spend a bottomless pit of tax dollars, suing for more in the midst of plenty. They wield their considerable power with impunity, and they answer to almost no one. In the midst of their self-interest and lack of humility, most refuse to properly educate or protect the children.
It’s quite twisted. I think of these people now as the Edu Mob. I keep asking for someone with oversight to jerk a legal knot in their chain, but it’s been years and I’m still waiting.
Certain administrators and board directors come to believe they’re invincible, that they have carte blanche to do as they please – to hide information, mislead about money and outcomes, violate open-government laws, and lie right to our face, if necessary – in order to get what they want. I doubt they see their lying as wrong. I’m sure they see it as just the cost of doing business. It isn’t honorable, of course, but only those with honor would care about that.
Here are 10 key things districts could do to fix the problems they’ve created. Match these 10 to the things they actually do.
1. Start telling the truth. Assess all students with well-written, at-grade-level tests (so, not with any state tests). Provide citizens with the unvarnished results. Put more effort into telling the truth about academic outcomes than they’ve put into hiding it. Give completed tests back to teachers and parents so we know how to help the children.
2. See the children – and the academic problem – clearly. Feel a concern for the children that transcends a concern for themselves. Recognize that students are being damaged for life by failed academic programs. Feel ashamed and embarrassed. Develop a sense of urgency about helping the children academically. Turn shame and embarrassment into immediate action.
3. Buy good textbooks. Buy good textbooks today. If they bought textbooks with a proven track record, they wouldn’t need to waste teacher and student time on adoption committees or pilots. Worry more about the academic quality of the textbooks than about whether they align with the unproved, arguably illegal Common Core State Standards, whether they engage in “political/social justice” themes, or whether they contain a gazillion group projects. Buy books that are sufficient, efficient, effective, and crystal clear to teachers and parents. Such books are available; they should buy them now before somebody wants to make them illegal.
4. Don’t put curriculum and tests online. Many children won’t do well with all-online material. Some will find that working online hurts their eyes and even damages their eyesight. Some will be distracted by online options and visuals. Children also learn by writing things down; they don’t learn by clicking a mouse. Care more about this than about pleasing the feds, Bill Gates, Apple and other tech vendors – or about pocketing their gobs of bait-money.
5. Allow teachers to directly teach. Stop micromanaging teachers. Allow teachers the academic freedom they need to be as good or as poor as they are. Reward effective ones, and fire ineffective ones. Ask parents for input on this. Care more about teacher quality than about pleasing unions or obtaining union support for pet projects.
6. Remove distractions from the school day. Stop wasting time on things like excessive testing and test prep, “training” on unnecessary technology, and assemblies where children learn how to sell stuff. Stop yanking teachers out of class for useless “professional development.” Give teachers good academic materials and then leave them alone so they can teach it.
7. Make class sizes manageable. If districts take in tax dollars to lower class sizes, they should actually lower the damn class sizes and stop lying about it.
8. Allow the community to help. Community members can and will volunteer to fill in academic gaps; administrators just need to open the door. No one needs a teaching certificate to tutor a child.
9. Cut back on or get rid of curriculum departments. Most administrators in public-school curriculum departments don’t teach, and they generally refuse to learn. What they do is tell everyone else what to do. Make them go away. And please, for heaven’s sake, do not put any dogmatic reformers back into the classroom.
10. Obey the laws. Do it because it’s right, and do it always, not just when somebody gets caught.
This is what it takes: Good textbooks, a productive learning environment and caring teachers who can actually teach. It’s why good tutors are incredibly effective. But the Edu Mob won’t do any of it. Most administrators won’t publicly tell the truth or admit there’s a problem. They won’t assess students with at-grade-level tests and make results public; won’t consistently buy or use good textbooks; won’t allow teachers to directly teach; won’t clear the school day of distractions; won’t lower class sizes to reasonable levels; and won’t solicit community help on mathematics or grammar.
What will they do? Exactly what they’re doing.
- They’ll put all curriculum and tests online, without any proof that a) this is an effective way to teach, or that b) it won’t damage the children’s eyesight.
- They’ll campaign hard for bonds and levies and sue for more money, using your tax dollars to do it.
- They’ll push for all-day kindergarten in all schools for all children, whether or not citizens like it, and whether or not all 5-year-olds are ready for this.
- They’ll apply for charter schools, which they’ll run or influence to be run in the same way as the current public schools.
- They’ll adopt the Common Core initiatives, sight unseen – blindly tagging along after this obscenely expensive national experiment.
- And, they’ll hand you a fistful of excuses as to why they can’t do anything else.