For years, teacher competency has been a topic of contention in our state’s public schools. And for years, rather than focusing on the basics of education, our school curricula has slowly transitioned into a feel-good system where few failing students are held back.
It was only a matter of time until our state’s public school shift toward “social promotion” came back to haunt us.
Last week, it did. The federal government took away our local schools’ ability to independently manage about 20 percent of their Title I federal funds, generally distributed based on low-income students. That “take-away” came in the form of a denied waiver of requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Let me make it clear that I am not nor have I ever been a supporter of the federal education law. Indeed, I’d much rather see our local schools determine how best to educate students.
Federal educational money that comes with strings attached should be left on the table. But the reality of today’s educational system makes it difficult, if not impossible, for us to walk away from those dollars. Even if we could walk away from the money, it wouldn’t be prudent to do so while students statewide fail to measure up academically to their peers worldwide. So, as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn pointed out, we need to implement a policy binding teacher and principal employment to academic achievement.
Having four sisters — all of whom have teaching credentials — I’ve heard their concerns first-hand. Why should all teachers be held accountable for years of social promotion by other teachers? Why should teachers’ jobs be tied to the success of students who should never have advanced from the previous grade? And why should teachers be at risk of losing their jobs if a student refuses to learn? After all, it’s become nearly impossible to remove a disruptive child from class.
While those are valid questions, they just pass the buck.
As with any worker, pay and employment depend on successful
development of a “product.” In this case, we’re talking academic achievement, which should play a part in teacher evaluations.
With the loss of flexibility, though, we’ve only pushed academic issues down the road.
We have some great teachers in our public schools, if only they were allowed to focus on the basics. And we could have some of the best-educated students in the world, if only social promotion policies were eliminated.
While educational policies are monitored and upheld by teachers, it’s certainly not their fault our students fail to make the grade. It’s ours.
We need to help them get back to the basics of education. In the meantime, the loss of flexibility in spending some Title I funds will only make it more difficult to educate our youth.
Roger Harnack is the editor and
publisher of The Chronicle. Email him