Concerned parents are removing their children from public schools and enrolling them in parochial, private or charter schools, ostensibly for a better education, even though those schools don’t have better teachers than public schools. In fact, no more than half their teachers are required to hold North Carolina teacher certifications. In public schools, all teachers are required to be licensed in their content areas.
Furthermore, those schools have no appreciable track record of academic success exceeding that of public schools – only a promise that it will come in time.
With the exception of charter schools, they are precluded – thus far – from receiving taxpayer funding, and in many instances, they have less-than-ideal facilities, often using mobile classroom units to accommodate their needs.
So why are more parents pulling their children from traditional public schools and subjecting them to such seeming disadvantage? Primarily because of a widely held perception that public school education has slipped during the past few decades and is now inferior. In fact, as revealed by a recent Gallup poll, most people who graduated from public schools between 1950 and 1990 believe they received a better education than what is taking place in public schools today.
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Interestingly, while 2 in 3 adults believe the high schools they attended still do a good job of educating students, less than 1 in 5 of them gave public schools, overall, a passing grade. There is, however, no data available to support such a contention because no assessment system exists for adequately and accurately comparing schools on a national level.
Then why does such a perception persist?
Almost certainly it is the constant barrage of “bad schools” stories proliferated by news media combined with rising expectations for preparing kids for college.
There is little doubt that an ongoing smear campaign is being waged against public schools, orchestrated and financed by special interest groups promoting their own political and social ideologies in an attempt to privatize education. Unfortunately, taxpayer-funded public schools lack sufficient financial resources to fight back.
However, there is valid recognition that our students need to be more adequately prepared if they are to survive and thrive in a highly competitive global economy. As educators, we need to be smart as to how we go about making our students smarter.
In the 1940s and 1950s, about 10 percent of U.S. high school graduates enrolled in colleges, but by 1980 – about the same time the business community and politicians started bad-mouthing public schools and blaming them for our societal ills – that number had risen to 60 percent. Nowadays our public schools are expected to have practically every student college-ready.
Einstein’s theory that doing the same things over and over but expecting different results is the definition of insanity may now be considered a cliché, but clichés are clichés for one reason – they are true.
Public schools are still doing a bang-up job of what they have been doing well since the 1940s, but that “sit and git” approach to education – teachers doing all the talking while students (hopefully) listen, take notes, study at home, memorize and regurgitate information back to their teachers on quizzes and tests – is no longer effective.
Adoption of Common Core State Standards by public schools in all but four U.S. states was an acknowledgment that our children need to learn more and better problem-solving skills, but we are trying to teach them those new skills using the same old ways. That’s why, after only one year under the Common Core, when kids didn’t fair well on end-of-year tests and parents complained about them being “too hard,” North Carolina is abandoning the standards for a hybrid model being developed by a newly formed panel of experts. Unfortunately, we have an abundance of education experts but a shortage of education leaders.
Common Core standards do not need to be changed; the way we teach to the standards does. Teachers need to talk less in class and students need to talk more. Teachers need to moderate rather than dominate on-task discussions by students, to and among themselves, about specific assignments.
In other words, the Common Core standards need to be taught using the Common Instructional Framework, a teaching methodology whereby every student reads, thinks, talks and writes in every class, every day.
There are brilliant kids sitting in classrooms in every school harboring good ideas, but they are not being taught to collaboratively develop their ideas or how to effectively convey them to others, neither in written nor oral form.
Perhaps a good rule of thumb for today’s teachers should be: Before doing anything in your classrooms, think about how it has “always been done,” then do it a different way.
Traditions no longer have a place in a world that changes so frequently and so rapidly that nothing has time to become traditional.
Bill Massey of Raleigh is a retired teacher and principal.