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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Editorials Guest Editorial: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STUDENTS

Guest Editorial: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STUDENTS

By JOEN COEN
Guest Editorial Writer

In a short period of time, our non-year-round students will be going back to school, K-12 and college. Nationally, millions of cars along with school busses will be shuffling 23 million “kids” to school.
Unfortunately, as Condoleezza Rice recently wrote, the child’s zip code will determine whether the K-12‘s will get a good or bad education. Without vouchers, low-income families with kids in poor schools cannot attend a better one. Jobs for the unemployed parents are also scarce, so generations will be lost to poverty and despair. In NC, ranking about 25th in education, over half-a-million kids below 18 live in poverty-ridden educational lifestyles.
The “kids” are the priority but poverty often results from job problems which are often related to inadequate education. Single parent’s issues also prevail, many times the fault of couples with a hormone rage, a temporary IQ only slightly above bunnies, and often they perpetuate abortions, single mothers, an AIDS problem from bad judgment or drug abuse.  Add an entitlement system fraught with fraud and suppressing personal initiative, we find a lot of people giving up looking for work and teaching the next generation to do the same.
Aldous Huxley, in a twist of a well-known Bible verse, said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.”  A Damoclean sword hangs over USA educators and administrators who aspire to foster heightened education but are held back by tenure policies that keeps poor teachers because pensions aren't portable or cashable so the burned out teachers stay in the classroom; add over the top pension debt, and the Board politics of getting elected, supported and reappointed.  The kids pay the price.
Teachers are often forced by pre-selected curriculum and texts that dictates the pace and content of learning.  Some teachers, sad to say, tailor their classes to their own expertise or pet desires rather than the knowledge students need to succeed in a changing work environment.  My point of view, even from a parent with both private and public (three generations) school experiences, service as a CT school board member, and husband of a NJ and MA high school teacher, is supported by some more facts. 
In the last 40 years, public school employment has doubled; from 3.3 million to 6.4 million and two thirds of them are new teachers.  Over the same period, student enrollment rose by only 8.5%, academic results have stagnated and most vocational programs have been eliminated.  (Federal National Assessment of Educational Progress)  An estimated 1.2 million students drop out of school each year that could be saved by teaching them a skill.
SAT scores for the high-school graduation class of 2011 fell in math, reading, and writing.  Scores in the last two were the lowest ever recorded.  Only 43% of students posted an SAT score high enough to indicate success in college.  ACT college-entrance exams suggest only 25% were ready for college.  Yes, there is a larger and more diverse test-taking population with Latino’s test-taking going to 15% from 8% and black/Af-Am students jumping to13% from 9% in the last 10 years. Entrance scores may be down but aspirations are up and that’s a good thing.
How about joining the Armed Services?  One in four students can’t pass the basic academic skill test and 75%, per Pentagon data, aged 17-24 didn’t qualify (350,000 tested) because they’re physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t get a high-school GED or diploma.  Doesn’t that teach us a thing or two about some family’s values!
Who is more prepared, USA or International students?  US colleges and universities foreign enrollments are up 4.7% to 723,277 with China’s 157,558 leading the way followed by South Korea, India, Canada and Taiwan with Saudi Arabia growing quickly.
Of course our immigration and visa system chases the brightest out of the country to compete against us while we embrace the government’s lack of a fair and non-political policy of reform with enforcement. American “kids” rank 31st in math (out of 65 industrial countries) a basic in our highly technical society and 68% of eight graders can’t read at grade level. No wonder we are down statistically internationally.
Thirty years ago we spent $5,718 per pupil in elementary and secondary schools in inflation adjusted dollars and with better results than today.  The Dept. of Education published (2010) their most recent stats indicating we spent $10,441 per pupil but with significantly less results.  High school graduation rates are 70% nationally (80% in New Hanover County and NC-we hope they are better prepared for the real world) even with almost double the money being spent.  That money has not brought universal small class sizes or mass certification in what teachers teach, or reducing the bad habit of teaching to the lowest student or demanding more from parents.  Needed also is a teacher grading system, in writing and available to the School Board, that rewards the good ones and either leads to the correction or the firing of the bad.
All resources must be pushed down to the classroom empowering and demanding teachers grow professionally to engage students to be all they can be.  Academic intelligence comes from genetics and learning.  We cannot choose the brain we’ve been given but we can choose what that brain is focused upon.
More Solutions: Many teachers get blamed for “kids” who arrive in school badly prepared.  Reduce poverty and the student traumatization that accompanies it by allowing the voucher system to better educate these kids. Focus non-profits on tutoring, clothing and not just feeding the poor but teaching acceptable behaviors. Prevent educators from allowing poor teachers to hide behind poverty as an excuse.
Eliminate the pink-slip LIFO system that dictates when teacher layoffs occur; the last teacher hired is the first one fired regardless of the quality of their work.
Develop a thorough teacher and administrator written evaluation system.  Foster an atmosphere whereby teachers are given the respect and prestige of administrators.
Celebrate the public treatment of teachers and in-school administrators more than school builders, union leaders, and school architects and even Board Members.  None of this is as idealistic as one may think if it’s approached one at a time in order of priority. The overall priority lies in what is good for the students to enhance themselves and the society.  As hard as it may sound, we also need to promote marriage in general because usually educated married couples have or raise more productive kids than single parent families who are poor.  Two people working on the commitments of the family, playing off the strengths of the other, have a better chance of success. Today only 50% of adults are married but those who are educated make more money and tend to stay married and have successful children whereas the 40% of children born to poor single parents are not so lucky.
The cost of living, in a technology work environment that replaces employees with machines often needs two educated people working. Add globalization whereby the cost of labor and goods determines employment locations and we have increased reasons for education and stable families.  Most two parent families’ role models are the successful family members who are seen as achieving goals that kids can meet or exceed.  Most poorer single parent, smaller families, lower income, in stressed neighborhoods/schools accept movie, arts and sports figures as role models but reaching those levels of success are exceedingly limited. 
Teachers also need to be allowed to grade parents for the quality of their involvement in their children’s school on the kids’ report cards.  “Good”, Needs Improvement”, and “Unsatisfactory” ratings for attending meetings, communication, the child’s completion of homework, preparation for tests and behavior would make parents and teachers, eventually, working as a team for the advancement of the student.  Teachers are not baby sitters.  That can happen if we “fight” for it.  The famous author, Stephen Covey, said: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” the student.  It’s up to us.