The movies, MSNBC, Congress, and Oprah are beginning to really shine their light on the mess that is public education in the United States. And indeed, it is a mess.
Now let it be known that I am a big fan of us lifting up the rocks and letting the public see the dysfunction that goes on because my feeling is that at the end of the day, parents make the kids and parents make the schools – and until more parents take more of an active role in their local schools and their kids (our country’s kids), things are not going to change.
Educators (like moi) have been squawking as loudly as we can for quite some time saying, “This is SMACKED UP!” But conveniently, we get pigeonholed as whiners by the folks who should be having their feet held to the fire to institute real change.
The truth is, almost all of the most highly functioning schools in our country which have a track record of a decade or more’s worth of Attaboys under their belt (I say let the Honeymoon shine wear off of a place before you crown it king; sustainability is critical) have active and supportive parents. And all the lowest performing schools – places about which I think I know a wee bit – have incredible holes in this area. Now sure, there are anomalies because America is a big place but in large parts, when teachers are forced into playing the role of educator, role model, disciplinarian, tough guy, nice guy, confidante, taskmaster, social worker, and on and on, it sets up problems for the school that are beyond legislating from the state capital, D.C., or Arne Duncan’s desk.
When a child’s very first teacher doesn’t – or can’t – step up to the plate to be the first and primary teacher that a child needs them to be (I am talking about PARENTS!) then a kid is already playing a round of golf without every club they, in an ideal world, should have teed off with in the bag.That stuff catches up when you are educating millions of young people every year.
Of course, on another note, tenure does seem to be broken. That’s clear. However, we need some sort of tenure system because a good teacher at the top end of the salary scale earns as much as 2 1/2 the pay as a new teacher and in this day and age of bean counters pulling all the strings, chopping excellent teaching vets from the payroll to save on school budgets thinking, “Hey, a teacher is a teacher is a teacher, right? So let’s cut that 19 years-of-experience gal cause we are paying almost triple to her what we’d have to pay this only-been-at-it-8-months guy”. I’m not joking either! That’s just the kind of folly that district folks would try to pull if there weren’t protections again such foolishness.
Oh yeah, bubble testing the kids into oblivion is preposterous. That’s clear as well. Yet, we do need some form of assessment. I am not going to deny that. (Project-Based Learning in concert with growth model portfolios anyone? Forget it, I’ll save that for another time.)
Oh yeah, what about trying to turn the screws on teachers without holding admins to the same level of scrutiny, a HUGE issue, no? Has anyone seen how poorly run some of our nation’s schools are? Has anyone seen how poorly run some our nation’s school district offices are? (For instance, go ahead, blame the teachers when some schools have been in session for almost four weeks and the master schedule still is not yet set. Sheesh!)
But the schools that are NOT poorly run, what’s their common thread?
Parents. Active, involved, informed parents. When parents partner with the local school the school achieves at a much higher level than when parents abdicate the responsibility of their children’s education to the people that work for the local district.
This is not to slam the working poor. They are the ones who are oh-so-often on the wrong end of finding “good” schools for their kids. (Tough to go to a Back-to-School Night when you are trying to hold down two or three jobs and all of them a hourly wage positions. I’ve seen this for a long, ling time.) So really, while I am trying to remain compassionate, the fact is capitalism is a culprit here and a sad by-product of living in a land of Haves is also seeing the impact that this has on the Have Nots. By talking about parents I am not accusing anyone. (Well, maybe I am a little… cause some parents simply STINK!) But really, I am just calling a pink elephant a pink elephant. Parents are the common link.
Gotta say, this makes for good television though.