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Our Broken Schools: Who Is To Blame?

30 September 2010 33 Comments

We know that the No Child Left Behind program failed. There is no point in re-hashing why. The problems in our education system have been growing for years, in and through various administrations. Unless we face the reality that America lags far behind other countries in educating students and take some hard and fast measures to correct the course of our school systems, we will ultimately watch this country falter on all levels. 

I would go so far as to say that these problems began in the Sixties during the war in Vietnam. If a young man wanted a deferment from being drafted, one way to do that was to enroll in a college or university as an Education major and maintain a very minimal 2.0 QPA. Many of our students these last forty years are products of teachers who never had ‘the calling’ to be an educator and millions of students suffered as a result.

Let us also look at teacher’s unions who have made excessive demands for salaries, health care and legacy costs. We did ante up due to threats of strikes. Now those same teachers, who failed to adequately entice students to learn to love learning, are retiring at rapid rates and pension funds are depleting as school taxes rise.

Republican Governor Chris Christie of new Jersey has proposed taking away automatic tenure from teachers and pushing toward merit pay. It will be a hard battle, but I am in complete agreement with his proposals. Tenure is ludicrous and only serves to enrich teachers financially, while many of those same teachers are inadequate in classrooms. Reward those educators who entice our students to learn. Tests are a poor measurement in many ways, but they may be the only way we can determine whether our children are digesting material taught. If Dubai can build a complete city in the sea, why is it we cannot devise adequate tests to measure learning?

Just who determined the length of time our students should be in school? Extend the school day by at least one hour and the school year by two months. Teachers who have used those three months off to further their education, can now get on-line courses in the evening. And let’s build up structured school activity programs, rather than cutting those activities due to supposed budgetary constraints.

Monitor school boards. Too often good teachers are not hired because they lack connections with someone empowered ‘to put in a good word for them’. While it is a competitive field, education professionals are competitive for the wrong reasons, such as getting hired by schools that pay the best salaries in the best areas. Level that playing field. And who does monitor the school board? It is a game of politics with signs all over your neighborhood so those with the most name recognition, rather than intellectual capacity and integrity, get elected. It is a sham.

Parents, buck up and do your job. Schools were never meant to be baby-sitters for your kids. If two parents need to work to get by, get responsible. Enlist family members or friends to be home with your children if you are working. With computers now in almost every home, check the emails teachers send to you regarding your child’s progress.  Get involved in your kid’s lives. Once you brought that child into this world, it was in your job description to be engaged in their education. Set ground rules if their grades start sinking and reward them with praise when their grades are good. Attend their activities. You have no business on the sidelines of their lives. And please, do not make excuses for their bad behavior. Your role is to instill values and a moral code. Teachers only have time to teach, not course-correct your bad example.

I have not even touched upon the outrageous drop-out rate of American students. That is perhaps one of the most appalling issues in the mirror of education. Who is to blame? See the above. The entire issue of education in America is one that should supersede politics.  It rests upon all our shoulders and we must be accountable. If you do not have children but have something to offer, think about being a mentor, tutor, or teacher’s aide. Step up, America. This issue impacts everyone of us and the future of this country.

—cher

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33 Comments »

  • Sojourner Peace said:

    Amen! and more later.
    Peace
    Sojourner

  • admin (author) said:

    Sojourner,
    I would be most interested on your take of the systemic problems of our education institutions as they now stand.

  • jeff said:

    Cher…I love this post as I am routinely thinking about education and discussing it with my wife. She has been a schoolteacher for over 20 years., and one of the good ones. You touched on too many issues for me to ponder. Much of what you bring up is realized here in our school system. A will give a brief overview of some problems I see. In no particular order…school board- way too much politics. They no sooner hire a new superintendent and within a couple of years or so want to get rid of the person they hired. Of course all this is played out in the local media, keeping a constant dark cloud over our public education system. Also, the education administrators seem to treat teachers poorly, with little respect. I have taught some in elementary and I can say, IMHO, it is one of the most difficult jobs I can imagine. To be in charge of 20 or so individual young people for the better part of a working day is a challenge at best, and very draining. We do not have a union here. My wife has a Masters and makes only $44,000/year. She loves what she does. We have an abundance of private education schools here, that work against better public education. People that can afford private school are little interested in the state of public education, so you have a significant group of educated, forward thinking parents not involved.

    As you suggest, education should be our highest priority, a cornerstone of this country’s future, yet is all too often relegated to the dung heap of politics, divisiveness, and pettiness. Leave to grown ups to be so childish and mess things up.

    I will have my wife chime in when she gets a chance…

    Thanks for your visit to my blog and your gracious comments…

    Peace
    namaste

  • jeff said:

    I must add my simplistic thought on how we arrive at successful education. Simply, an inspirational teacher connected with a child who, for whatever reason, is capable of or wants to be engaged and learn. It is this connection that is all too often missing…better stated, this connection is truly rare. So many talented folks who have a spark of desire to educate are turned off by the low pay, lack of respect, and difficult circumstances. It is a complex dilemma that has many educators scratching their heads wondering what to do, and working within the confines of societal changes. Education is kinda like the canary in the mine…as it goes, so goes the rest of the country. I could go on, but will stop.

  • Judie said:

    Cher, you know this is my soapbox! Two of my sons are teachers, and we have a daughter who has risen to vice president of the University of Arizona. She is currently in Saudi Arabia, giving a speech in a university who has only allowed four women in its history to enter the compound.

    If we put as much money into education as we have into wars, and bailouts, we might just have a chance of improving our standing in the world. We used to be in the top 5 countries in the world, and now we are not even in the top twenty! When you hear some of our public officials speak, you have to wonder just how in the hell they ever made it out of grammar school.

    We are suffering a severe dumbing down in this country. Young people can’t speak correctly, they can’t write correctly, they know very little about our history, and in many cases, our current events. This is appalling! President Bush, with his poor command of the English language was an embarrassment to this country!

    Things will only get worse. Education needs a stronger voice, and American needs to stop living in the moment. One day these young people will be expected to run the country. Jesus wept.

  • admin (author) said:

    Jeff,
    Having taught high school English and Speech, I can attest that school administrations are indeed part of the problem. They do not respect teachers and give them very little back-up. For example, when a parent comes ranting into the school because their child has received a grade which is less than desirable and they raise enough fuss, I have known teachers who were required to change that grade to appease the parent. Teacher becomes discouraged and student becomes not only arrogant, but a discipline problem. This further develops into a breakdown of rules and is reflected in society.

    Regarding politics, it is my fervent belief that they have no place within the school systems and are endemic to more problems which only inhibit proper teaching and subsequent learning. Disastrous combination.

  • admin (author) said:

    Judie,
    You have marvelous children who will make a positive difference, I am certain, to the broken education system. Their success shows the value of learning most likely instilled by you as a parent.

    It is the core value system of this country, or lack thereof, which has become such a detriment. You are so right about where we have invested money as a nation. It has gone to wars and bailouts of crooks. As we continue to decline in educating our children, the slide into poverty and lack of global leadership can only get worse. This is a moral imperative. Heck, why don’t we just devise another urban dictionary and allow all slang to become acceptable!

  • Judie said:

    I am outraged at the thought! And anyone who cannot correctly pronounce “nuclear” should be throttled and sentenced to copying Webster’s Dictionary 100 times on rolls of Charmin’.

  • Will said:

    I discussed this same issue in my own blog last week, although I focused on more radical changes. I think that small changes, such as taking away tenure, is a step in the right direction, but I don’t know that it would provide the kind of turn around we’re looking for. I don’t know of any other profession that gives you immunity from discipline once you’ve worked there for a certain period of time, but taking away that benefit won’t attract higher quality teachers. I also think that you have to be careful about extending the school day because there’s only so much new information that a brain can handle each day. The real problem isn’t the amount of time in the classroom or the textbooks we’re using to teach or the technology budget; the real problem is this country’s attitude towards education. Until we do more than pay lip-service to the school system and actually make it our top priority, we’ll never improve our plight.

  • admin (author) said:

    Judie,
    Love it!

  • admin (author) said:

    Will,
    I do believe that not arbitrarily giving teachers tenure for time-in will result in more positive rewards for those teachers who perform above standards and implement new and fresh approaches.

    Regarding the extension of the school day, it is already the norm in most other progressive cultures. Our society has developed ADD though instant gratification, video games, and a true case of the gimme’s. I believe children, especially when taught at a young age, can develop better attention spans which will serve them well in life. I do agree with you, however, that if all we do is continue to “pay lip-service” to making education a priority, we will be in an endless quagmire of the dumbing-down of America.

  • Judie said:

    Our children, the future of our country, should be given every advantage! The best schools, the best books, computers, you name it! And the best teachers MONEY can buy. It is a disgrace for American to pay so little to the people who educate our children! A disgrace!

  • One of The Guys said:

    Great article! While there are some teachers who absolutely shouldn’t be teaching, most are hard working dedicated educators who truly care about their students and learning.

    So what’s the problem?

    -Lack of resources in many school systems.
    -Standardized tests that force teachers to teach to the test. Those tests are more about giving the school system a grade rather than about students’ learning.
    -Lack of parental support, either at home, or for the teachers.

    How do we change this?

    You are right, it’s about instilling the love of learning into students. Nurture their curiosity. Teach them how to ask questions? Teach them how to get along with each other. Open their eyes to the wide world around them.

  • Cassie said:

    The problem lies in budget cuts and how much states/government give them. How can kids feel as if the world cares about them when they are being cut off at the source? Music, art, all those things are educational, yet they feel the need to cut band before football. What are they teaching them? What makes me the most sad about it is that the kids who really have the chance to succeed get lost in the shuffle of bad kids and “I don’t give a care,” teachers. And that’s a true shame.

    Personally, by making school longer, it’s just going to add to the acting out. Our school day was long enough as it was. We started at 7:20 and was done at 2:20. That gave us time for after school activities. On Fridays we would have “Activity Club” during regular class hours for a period where I, personally, did jazz band. But people could do Art History, Voice club, chess club, debate… it was wonderful. I come from a small town, though. I really think THAT has something to do with it, too. My graduating class had 72 kids. 72. That’s it. I know them all and am friends with most of them on Facebook. These graduating classes of 3000? How are they supposed to find their way?

    I guess, honestly, I could go on forever. But I have to get to work!

  • jeff said:

    Tenure…I agree to some extent, at least in theory, as per the issue of tenure. I have to say, however, that given the current environment that is placing more and more pressure on teachers, and declining morale amongst teachers, that any talk of doing away with tenure seems to do more harm than good…for those already teaching, and perhaps for those in college considering teaching as a profession. Given the vagaries of the profession and the oft capricious behavior of parents, tenure seems to be ‘solid ground’ that a teacher can fall back on in tough times. Having been a teaching professional I would imagine you can see that of which I speak, although I would imagine that at the secondary level things are a bit different than in elementary schools.

    In our area, for whatever reasons, many teachers fear for their jobs. If a few undesirable teachers are a result of the system as it stands now, then I would suggest that we not do too much to rock the boat for those well-intentioned, quality teachers. It is a difficult job at best, and we should do our best to support teachers, not undermine them.

    As you can see I have some opinions about this subject…I try to keep my opinions to myself…

  • admin (author) said:

    Judie,
    I agree that if we are going to invest money anywhere, it should be in our schools. I also witnessed a horrible disparity between the advantages suburban schools have over inner city schools vis-a-vis equipment, books, and structured activities beyond football. I understand about tax base, etc., but that is no excuse to keep inner city school children invisible. There are solutions.

  • admin (author) said:

    One of The Guys,
    Bravo on each of your points! Teaching to test is not an appropriate way to help our children gain a love of learning. It becomes rote memorization that inhibits curiosity and stunts mental growth. Well-stated!

  • admin (author) said:

    Cassie,
    It is appalling that extra-curricular activities have suffered through budgetary cuts. Children need structure in a positive way, otherwise they go home and sit endlessly with those games and social media like Facebook. How does that stimulate learning?

    I like your spunk!

  • admin (author) said:

    Jeff,
    I do like the proposal by Gov. Chris Christie. He suggests that rather than give automatic tenure to teachers, the most effective teachers would be designated “master teachers” and would have job stability as long as they maintained standards. That makes sense to me. My fear is that tenure allows teachers to coast along without exploring new and creative ways to help students learn. Obviously there is an understandable burn-out rate, but should students suffer as a result?

    Glad you are coming our of your shell. :)

  • Juliana Matthews said:

    Really energised post Cher – move over Judie, need to share that soapbox lady!.
    The education system in the UK has been down the Swanee for the last 30 years when they introduced ‘progressive education’.
    It all started with the educationalist David Kolb and his experiential learning cycle – saying that kids only learn through ownership of the experience. The government of the time just bought it all, lock stock and barrel.
    So out when learning by rote, vocabulary and english language learning.
    My 3 sons learned their times tables from me as they are not taught in schools. I was told by the Head of Maths at their school that with modern technology, there is no need to learn times tables, calculus, trigonometry etc. What they need to learn is how to use a scientific calculator!
    There is little teaching of the Arts and our language teaching is abyssmal.
    The only good education in the UK is if you can afford the private sector – and nor many can.
    So we are now on 2nd generation grunters, who wouldn’t know an adverb if it hit them in the eye, and couldn’t tell you the answer to 7×8 because they don’t have enough fingers and toes.
    They can write text gibberish but not quote one poem by heart.
    Teachers are constrained by a National Curriculum which is prescriptive in the extreme and all the focus on is hitting government targets.
    I believe the constant dumbing down is leading us to a nation where the only people who are able to communicate and think laterally are the ones who’s mummy and daddy are mega’rich and can pay for their education.
    They say history goes round in full circles… we must be at 300 degrees already!
    So, I am sorry that the U.S. education system is failing but just to let you know, things are not much better this side of the Atlantic either!
    Smiles and blessings.

  • Chris J said:

    One of the Guys is right; teaching to the test (and other nonsense coming our of faculties of Education) is in large part responsible for the mess.

    I see students in first year university who know so little, can’t think their way out of a folded kleenex, have no curiousity and no respect for the professor. It can get quite nasty when they figure out that the parents or counsellor can’t make the bad grade go away.

    Another problem is the consumerist model of education. Students, supposedly, are customers who can dictate what their education should be. But it’s not Starbucks where one can custom-order anything. It seems illogical to me to allow those who are least knowledgable about a field or discipline decide what they should have to learn about it. Huh?!?

    I have mixed feelings about tenure. On the one hand, it can protect bad teachers; on the other hand, it gives good teachers the secure environment in which to experiment (experiments which advance education, but don’t always work initially). It also protects teachers from discipline because of test scores which are the result of many variables, many of which are not under the teacher’s control.

    Discipline and parental involvement are also important. We had some boring teachers, but understood that we had to learn the material regardless. Failure was a real outcome, and we built genuine self-esteem by learning from both failure and success.

    Common wisdom says that the material should be relevant to the students, but Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation) rightly points out that the whole world of human knowledge is probably not relevant to most eighteen-year-olds, but is exactly what they need to learn. Eighteen-year-olds are extremely knowledgeable already about what is relevant to them. (A student once complained to me about composition class that he would prefer doing personal narrative rather than academic essays because it was easy and he already knew how to do it!!!!!)

    This is a long rant; I’ll stop now. You are quite right that this is an extremely complex problem with so many variables.

  • admin (author) said:

    Juliana,
    I am saddened to learn that things are not much better in the U.K. than they are here. A “National Curriculum” of constraints would be a disaster in any education system. How did all this come about? Sure, there are budget concerns, it it seems to go beyond that. Soon only the wealthy will have knowledge and proper educations. I smell a conspiracy brewing…on many levels.

    Hugs to you, Juliana

  • admin (author) said:

    Chris J,
    What an interesting point you raise about a “consumerist model of education.” That seems to be exactly what is happening. Education is not a one-size-fits-all issue. And the fact that students are trying to dictate what they do and do not want to study tells us so much about the breakdown of society. You have given us much to ponder, Chris, from your experience. Such a worthy read!

  • Judie said:

    Citizens Of Earth For Education, rise up and smite those who would turn the world into a planet of morons and idiots, and selfish moon-faced malcontents! Rip the fat-laden fast food from their greasy hands, and the sugary, tooth rotting beverages out of their pathetic mouths! Force them to perpare the soil for planting wholesome and healthy food that will nourish the brains of our young, so that they might go forth and conquer all that is evil and distructive!!

    In other words, do something sensible for a change.

  • jeff said:

    Cher…please quantify/qualify “effective teachers” and “maintaining standards”. In the suburban versus urban, I would have to think that there would potentially be more “master teachers” in suburban schools.

  • DCG said:

    You are right on. Education needs to be a greater priority. I realize there are no easy solutions. But a lot more could be done. Thanks bringing up such an important topic!

  • admin (author) said:

    Judie,
    I would love to plaster your above statement on billboards across the country! I hope that SOMEONE in a government is reading these comments.

  • admin (author) said:

    Jeff,
    While there is the potential for more “master teachers” to be in suburban schools, I would pound the pavement with signs demanding that it be across the board in urban schools as well as suburban ones. We have invested in wars, and bailouts of crooks, as Judie stated previously, so why not invest in all schools? Gov. Chris Christie’s proposal does not specify, but I would hope that this would be across the board, that is, if anyone is listening.

    Chicago, for example, is in big trouble with gangs, crime and violence. To digress a bit, that is one reason I am glad that Rahm Emanuel is going to run for mayor there. He has the verve and tenacity to address such an urgent issue.

  • admin (author) said:

    DCG,
    Thanks so much for your support. We need to keep this issue at the forefront of national importance.

  • Judie said:

    Ha! They are all too busy taking remedial reading and math (no more fuzzy math) classes. The Republicans didn’t require reading, or math as a prerequisite to qualify for jobs in Washington. Now they have to play catch up under a REAL President who actually knows how to do both exceptionally well.

  • admin (author) said:

    Judie,
    Cheers, Judie! And here’s to a REAL President!

  • RE-POD313 TechTips said:

    america needs to think of it’s future from it’s present.
    that’s the only way forward from this stagnation.

  • admin (author) said:

    RE,
    None of us have used the word “stagnation” here, but it is so apropos. Thank you.

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