Welcome to the Monday edition of the parenting blog. Today's topic is who is to blame for today's educational condition. I think a lot of us would agree that our public schools, in general, aren't getting the results we'd like to see. Those of us who can place our children in private schools are going to do so unless the public school around your home is an exception to the rule. My question is simple but the answer may be complicated. Why can't our public schools compete more closely with the private schools?
The Courier Journal (my local newspaper) ran an interesting article yesterday from the Associated Press. According to the Associated Press-Stanford University poll, 68% percent of adults believed parents should receive "heavy blame" for what's wrong with the US educational system. The other answers that could have been chosen were teachers, school administrators, the government, and teacher's unions. What also struck me as interesting was moms were more likely than dads (72%-61%) to say parents were at fault. Questions and results for this poll are available at surveys.ap.org.
In 1999, I interviewed for my first teaching position. One of the questions I received from the panel was "what would you do if an irate parent came into your classroom and started using profanity." The reason this story comes to mind is even before I was hired; parents were being posed as a potential problem. For the record, a parent never pulled that on me. But, it must have happened to someone or it would have been unlikely a question like that would have been asked.
Looking at the list of possibilities on the survey, there is a lot of blame to go around in my opinion. Here's a brief analysis as to why.
1. Parents- They set the tone before a child ever enters a classroom. Trust me. It doesn't take long for me to figure out which parents work with their children academically and who doesn't. Also, parents can either work with a teacher, be non-committal, or work against a teacher. I can say with certainty that if the attitude is anything but the first option, a child is more likely going to have problems in school.
Here's a shocking statistic. According to Attendance Counts which is an advocacy group, 1 in 10 kindergarten and first grade students misses a month of school every year. This would obviously be an example of working against a teacher. The most consistent manner parents worked against me was not following through with homework. Every time one kid did their homework and another didn't; it only widened the achievement gap.
2. Teachers- The problem with teachers (especially new ones) is they are on an island. What I mean is there is not a great deal of support. I didn't understand how bad it was until my son attended kindergarten at a private school. The teachers really had their act together from day 1 because they worked so closely together. When my oldest son transferred to his current school, I saw the exact same thing. My child's teachers implement school wide discipline rules (which actually have bite ), the same homework, tests, and classwork. I was a good disciplinarian in the classroom so behavior wasn't an issue; but I sometimes wonder how much better my teaching skills would have been if I worked in the private school environment- especially early in my career.
3. School Administrators- This is a bit tricky for me. As far as principals go, they didn't have nearly as much power as an outsider may assume. Not only that; but they didn't have a union to fall back on. Principals I worked with did as they were told because they could be easily replaced. I honestly question how many original ideas my principals implemented in their respective schools. I could even make an argument I had more autonomy than they had because of my union. This may not be the best example but it's almost like blaming a private in the armed services for following through with an order from a commander. For example, how can I blame a principal for making us teach material they would have tweaked/changed if they could have? When materials are bought by a school district, they are expected to be used. Because test scores were low, administrators didn't have a leg to stand on. They were yes men/women.
Analyzing higher administration, they choose a lot of programs which were different than the way most people reading this blog learned. There was a lot of pressure to try something different because children were falling behind 10/20 years ago. They abandoned subjects such as cursive handwriting and phonics. They were replaced by word walls and inventive spelling (spelling the way a word sounds versus the true spelling).
One of the math programs I was required to teach was called Investigations. Manipulatives were used to solve problems as opposed to writing problems with a pencil and paper. It seemed to me that problems occurred when students took standardized tests because--wait for it---the tests used pencil and paper. Also, because the students didn't have the manipulatives at home, assigning homework was pretty difficult.
4. The government- I didn't mind the federal government when I was a teacher. President Bill Clinton helped pass legislation that dropped class sizes from 24 to 18 students at Title 1 schools. This enabled me to key in better on struggling students. I also had good assistants working with me which was a real help. When I transferred to a non-title one school, my class size shot back up and my assistant help was very limited. In theory, I was working with more skilled students. Truthfully, this wasn't always the case.
When No Child Left Behind was implemented in 2001, pipe dreams took the place of realistic expectations at the federal level. I believe overall test scores from schools across the country back up this opinion. Children continue to be left behind (by federal standards) at an alarming rate. For those interested in the goals and progress, I found this study interesting. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/2007/RAND_RB9303.pdf
On a state wide level ( I reside in Kentucky), there was a lot of pressure to bring test scores up. There were small pockets of success but most of it was a complete failure. I mentioned in an earlier blog that our state wide test was dropped. The reason given was money. The truth is a lot of schools were not even close to achieving the required goals. There was going to be egg on the face of many officials if they didn't discontinue the test.
5. Teacher's unions- The biggest knock on them from what I've heard and read over the years is they won't get rid of bad teachers. This is indeed the case. But there is a reason. Union members pay dues which include legal services if there is a need. Of course, this rarely happens. But if, for instance, a school got rid of a teacher because they stunk at teaching and the union didn't fight for that teacher, they could be sued by the teacher. If a teacher is totally inept, they can be potentially transferred but letting them go is probably not going to happen unless there's a case of abuse. This is especially true if a teacher has tenure. I received tenure after my third year as best I remember. Had I proven enough at that point to be virtually untouchable? You make the call.
So there you have it. Who or what do you want to blame? Do you like the list or is there something else that hasn't been mentioned. I'd love to know what you think and now that my comment box is working, you will have your chance. Do you agree with the moms and dads surveyed in this poll that parents are to receive "heavy blame" for what's wrong with the US educational system?
I hope you come back Wednesday to read my behavior blog. I want to show you how I can influence the behavior of children to get the results I want. The way I am going to attempt this is by influencing YOUR behavior. We'll see how I do. It should be a lot of fun!
All the best,