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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Leave Education Alone

Leave Education Alone

I will bring in jobs; I will lower taxes; and I will reform education.”

You know what those are, the meaningless words of garrulous politicians spouting
promises like Moby Dick spouted water.

The most frequent promise is to reform education.

Well, excuse me for saying, but that has been tried time and again. Obviously the reforms do not work because there’s a new reform every four years. The first time I heard it was from Price Daniels, and every governor, senator, and representative candidate since them has said the same thing.

About thirty years back, the legislature started tying teacher raises to various tasks such as test scores, teacher evaluation—a jump through the hoop sort of thing. Of they do is botch things up.

One of the current whims is merit pay based upon student test scores, which is simply another futile attempt to change education by throwing a ton of taxpayer money at a problem.

With forty-one years behind me, I can tell you that money is not the solution.
Another movement is to pay additional money to teachers who go to low-achieving districts. On paper, it sounds logical. In practice, it is not only a waste of money, but also a garish display of the proponents’ ignorance.


I retired from what I consider one of the best school districts in the state—and I might add, with some of the lowest salaries in Southeast Texas when you compare it to districts of it’s size or larger.

Yet, we always had teachers from higher paying and lower achieving districts trying to find a position within the district. Some tried for years before they made it.

I know for I hired some from those districts. You tell me, why would they be eager to take a cut in pay to come to our district?

Even the idea of paying teachers extra if students score better is like trying to catch water with your fingers.

I used to joke with some coaching friends that I’d hate for my job to depend on 17 and 18 year olds. You never know how they will perform from one week to the next.

Sure, kids are hard to figure, to motivate. Like the old saw, raising a teenager is like trying to nail jelly to a tree.

But seriously, how do you hold a kid’s feet to the fire when he knows mom and dad will sue the district for him? How do you motivate a student when he knows regardless of how poor his work may be, he’ll still get a fifty or higher and probably pass to the next grade just to preserve his precious self-esteem? How do you get extra effort from a kid who sees other students treated differently because they are athletes?

So what happens? Reformers ignore the real problems, serious problems that would make a can of worms look like a simple five-piece puzzle for a three-year-old.

Now if you say ‘it isn’t the students’ fault, then I’ll say you’re right.’ On the other hand, you can’t blame a top-notch teacher for not wishing to undertake such a staggering job when the odds are against him.

States have thrown measuring devices at teachers for decades, and none of them work. They can’t because the basis of measurement is as intangible as a puff of smoke, a student’s effort or lack of.

The big problem in measuring teacher performance is that the reformers go to the wrong ones for input. You don’t ask school board members, senators, state education CEOs, college professors, or local political representatives. Most of them are like those ubiquitous education instructors I had back in the fifties, all theory, and little substance.

I conducted my first student teaching class as the professors taught, and the kids ran all over me. My cooperating teacher, a short, bowling ball of a lady, came in and promised to mash each unruly student under her thumb if they didn’t behave.

They behaved, and I taught. Poorly at first, but over the years, my classes were disciplined with only a few failures because parents and I made the kids study and pass.

When the smoke clears, all that is really left to help education are the parents and community following the discipline of:
1. Parents insist kids do homework
2. Parents stop making excuses for kids
3. Parents stop living their own youth through their children
4. Communities show the same pride in academics as athletics.

Practice those four disciplines, and I promise you, the kids will benefit.

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