As I have related in a previous post, my love of reading goes back to when I was 12 years of age and my 6th grade teacher challenged me to read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. My initial reaction, upon seeing the novel's thickness and feeling the heft of the book, was "There's no way on God's green earth am I going to even begin to read this stupid book," or words to that effect. But once I started, the words I was reading with initial reluctance began to pull me into the story and soon I was literally mesmerized by this epic tale of trial and triumph. Every available minute that I could scratch out from my daily boyish routine was devoted to climbing back into the folds of the book, so dedicated had I become to seeing the story to its end.
My transformation from literature no weightier than comic books to recognized and renowned words of true written art occurred in the 1950s aided by a teacher who reflected the majority of the teachers of that era, so devoted were they to truly teaching their young and impressionable charges entrusted to their daily care the love for and the necessity of learning. I owe these teachers a debt of gratitude that I have only been able to repay by continuing my quest for knowledge through the written word and to impart successfully that same appreciative quest on to my daughter. I fear, however, those days shall never be immolated in today's teaching environment.
Date Line - Rochester, New York. The school district for this city provided the seventh and eighth grade students and teachers with the questions and answers for a required test that covered four core studies: English, math, science, and social studies. Despite having the answers to each and every one of the questions, over one half of the students failed! (Source: onenewsnow.com - 7/26/2008).
Connie Leech, the district supervisor for Rochester's secondary schools, stated that this unorthodox method of imparting knowledge was "probably not in the best judgement," but denied that any deliberate wrong doing had occurred. Ms. Leech continued, "I'm not concerned that it's a cheat. What we were doing is giving kids a better sense of the knowledge that they needed for the test. " Not a cheat!?!" Did the test scores count towards the student's final grade?"A better sense of the knowledge..." Ms. Leech! Over half the class failed the test! What sense of knowledge did the failing students acquire in any sense?
I have long been an advocate of publicly funded education and do believe that the majority of the teachers within these schools are striving against ever increasing odds to present essential core subject materials that will benefit each student as they grow toward adulthood. But I am becoming more and more alarmed that our nation's school system(s) as a rule has become broken to the point where it must undergo a complete overhaul.
Here in the State of Florida, the school systems throughout the state gear their academic year to the annual FCAT - Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test - that is administered to students in grades 3 through 11 for the purpose of increasing student academic achievement by implementing higher standards. Sounds good in theory. Problem with that approach is that the teachers finding themselves "teaching to the test." Adversely compounding that approach is that the annually reported test results have gravitated toward a recognition of the individual schools that have an increase in the overall student performance on the test. That is each individual school receives a letter grade based on the overall performance of its students on the test. A school that does expectationally well receives an "A," less so a "B," average a "C," below average a "D", and an "F" for those unfortunate schools that fail to even remotely improve their student's academic scores. Well, one might conclude, those schools whose performance is at a "C" and below would be spurred on in the next year to perform at a higher level. Again, sounds good in theory, but here's the rub. Those schools with high achievement on the test receive a proportionately larger piece of the educational budgets in the form of "cash awards," while those schools that fail to achieve a passing mark receive less monetary support, with the "F" school receiving no additional monies at all. Now tell me that isn't a totally backward approach to assisting those failing schools to pour more resources into improvement. The state in effect is telling these students and their teachers that "You have to get better on your own." No wonder we are seeing more and more parents giving up on our public school systems and opting to either send their offspring to private institutions or to home school their children themselves.
Said one outspoken critic of public education, "The public school system is really not about education. It's primarily about maintaining the appearance they they're about education, while really being focused on increasing the cash flow to the special interest that benefits the system." He continued, "Our children are falling farther and farther behind people in other industrialized countries. They're (our children) on a trajectory to become the hewers of wood and the drawers of water of the twenty-first century." Good God, I hope this portrayer of doom and gloom for our public school system is wrong, but the evidence is mounting semester after semester to under gird this dire prediction. School system after school system is literally bleeding the communities in which they operate dry with ever increasing taxes with ever decreasing returns. Here in Pinellas County approximately 40% of our local property taxes are earmarked for the support of public education, yet this county has one of the highest high school drop out rates in the entire state! There comes a time when throwing more money at an obvious problem fails miserably to attack the root causes of our schools' demise.
If Rochester's secondary schools are any real indication of this systemic problem, it is long past time that the parents who truly care that their children receive a beneficial education that will seed them toward a productive and self-sustaining adulthood to say "Enough!" We demand accountability for where our tax dollars are being spent on education and we want to assure that our children are being dedicatedly provided a real education, not merely a passing grade. Should we continue to accept the status quo, we are not only ashamedly cheating our children but, at the ultimate end, we will cheat our country out of being afforded the smartest and brightest of our country's greatest natural asset...a nation of well educated children ready and capable to assume the mantel of leadership in their homes and communities.