WHERE HAS COMMON SENSE GONE?
(Why do bad schools get a passing grade?)
Thomas Paine – May 2009.
The question of how good or how bad primary and secondary public schools are has been debated at some length. Despite an overwhelming preponderance of evidence supporting poor teaching and lax administrations as causative factors of the problem, low achievement rates persist among far too many students. While this essay does not propose to debate the conflicting opinions on this issue, it will address one aspect of the issue that has been identified, clearly documented and subsequently largely ignored. On closer examination it is the most important issue. This issue is the culture of excuses that permeates our public schools.
The Weatherford Democrat 0n May 13, 2009 focused on minimum grade policy, which is an imbedded example of the issue. The central issue is the unending litany of excuses offered by public schooling for the low achievement rates of their students.
The minimum grade policy in effect at Weatherford schools ensures that no student will get a grade below 50 for any work assignment no matter how poorly done or even left undone. The schools say it is a disincentive to give students an appropriately low grade for substandard performance since it may not be the students fault. They actually got this one right, but for the wrong reason….…..it is very likely the school’s fault. What about giving serious students appropriate full credit for the work they have honestly and earnestly done? Might the grade system being utilized actually serve as a disincentive to good students? One wonders how this grading system might also mask the truth with respect to poor teaching! The actual degree of education success or failure can never be accurately monitored so long as the metrics which go into the assessment can be manipulated at will by those with the most to lose if the truth were known.
WHERE HAS COMMON SENSE GONE?
The Texas State Legislature has decided to take up the question of minimum grading in public schools. The House Public Education Committee (a collection of school administrators) will no doubt try to persuade a liberal legislature to continue and further solidify this minimum grade policy. Any Texan with school age children or grandchildren should be prepared to weigh in on this issue if they believe actual achievement in education is a necessary precursor to success in life. Any Texan who pays an outrageously high tax assessment to support failing schools might also want to be heard. Follow this one closely and vote for the common sense candidates the next time they are up for election.
What about the culture of excuses?
I believe we have probably heard all of the excuses more than once, e.g. “Many students are disadvantaged economically. Many students are suffering from a poor home environment, etc. etc” But the worst excuse of all is the one that claims specialty charter and no excuse high performing schools should not be considered since they pull away good students and high performance teachers from the other schools, thereby somehow causing the other primary and secondary schools to perform badly. Washington D. C. high performance schools have documented and rendered all of these excuses bankrupt and anyone willing to look at the comprehensive facts they have assembled will understand this.
WHERE HAS COMMON SENSE GONE?
After years of inaction and endless debate it appears our State Legislature is starting to hear the voice of the citizens. At the very least they are going to review the minimum grade situation as it exists today. Watch this one closely, and let your representatives know that a no excuse culture is what is needed and wanted in public schools. Do not let the legislature say “We looked at the problem and we believe it is an acceptable excuse for continuation of this corrupt system.” Political double talk about holding school property tax down or wringing hands over finding solutions to the failing public school problem is merely a subterfuge to make citizens think serious thought is being given to the problem. If serious thought had been given to the problem in Texas, we would have seen a stronger push for the alternate schools a long time ago.
The present problem is not one that can be rectified by picking away at external factors. Anti-poverty and disadvantaged student programs have their proper place, but they do not improve school achievement; however, yet disadvantaged students, such as the ones attending specialty schools, have clearly shown much improved motivation and a significant, positive, lasting impact on poverty and poor family environment. The solution to the culture of excuses lies within the schools themselves and it can be provided by the school administration and teachers. It will not be provided by the Federal Department of Education, the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers. It will be provided by school district trustees who steadfastly dismiss any excuse for poor school performance. It will be provided by District Superintendents and School Principals who will not tolerate excuses or substandard performance by themselves or by their staff. It will be provided by unfettered competition between specialty schools and existing public schools so effectiveness can be reliably measured in a no excuse accepted environment.
Once it becomes clear that the citizens have access to an undistorted standard by which to judge and compare public school performance against specialty schools, the public schools will start to fix themselves and if they do not, they will be closed, and all available funding shifted to the high performance schools.
We need help from our legislators to advance this solution. If they will not take firm and decisive action now then we need to change over to no excuse legislators. The long standing poor performance of public schools can be fixed but it cannot be fixed by plowing over again the same ground that has always come up with failure.