My mother is a retired elementary school teacher, and I'm married to a high school math teacher. Inevitably if the two are together for any length of time, the discussion turns to public education. The opinions are impassioned and obviously biased, but the input is valuable in understanding how a community might improve public school performance.
Public education is in the news today , and most manufacturers concede public school systems could do a better job turning out graduates with better math and science skills. Everyone agrees improvement is needed, but no one is sure how best to approach it. Charter schools are an interesting approach, but too often they are positioned as the absolute cure for what ails public education when, in fact, there is no silver bullet.
Personally, I think improving academic achievement is related to creating an environment conducive to learning. It's peaceful and stable and filled with people who respect each other. I don't think that's the case for most underperforming schools, where safety is a perpetual issue and parental guidance at home is warped or nonexistent.
Just listen to this nugget that my mom dropped on me in a visit last week. In the last year before she retired from a Baton Rouge, La., elementary school 13 years ago, she discovered some kids looking at some pictures in the middle of a lesson. She walked past the pictures on the student's desk and noticed that one of them was an image of little kids around a table topped with hundreds of dollars in small bills and some handguns. She took the one incriminating picture and gave the rest to the child who had them out. Later she turned the photo over to the police. A couple of weeks later the police arrested suspects involved in the break-in of several video poker devices at nearby bars. One of the suspects happened to live in the house where that incriminating picture was taken.
Oh yeah. In the ensuing months my mom got calls from detectives asking her if she knew any students that went by street names such as "Pookie" or "Skeeter." My mom was an informant! Unbelievable!
That's just one story from one urban school. To truly understand the situation, you need to learn about the situation. Politicians and talking heads often don't take the time to walk in the shoes of those they are most critical of. That's a shame because uneducated debate is just a waste of hot air.
On the bright side, I actually read a story in my hometown paper that trumpeted the academic improvements at the elementary school where my mom taught. She was perplexed at how that may have happened, but I was encouraged. Tremendous effort can result in tremendous improvement. Unfortunately, it also can result in burnout for those exerting the effort.
Educational improvement, teacher accountability, parental involvement, and school funding are all subjects that need to be debated publicly. But just like a suitable learning atmosphere, the debate is much more effective when conducted in an intelligent and rational manner. Leave the rhetoric and anger on the street, and share those opinions with Pookie while you're out there.