By Larry White, Special to The Stockton Record | http://bit.ly/1ONDgNx
Posted Oct. 17, 2015 at 5:00 PM :: Schools are in the business of educating students and operate on the principles that all students can learn and all students must learn.
This reflects a belief that education is not only important, it is mandatory. If society requires that individuals and institutions are equipped to improve our political, economic and social fabric, then an educated citizenry is essential.In far too many instances in education today, however, there seems to be a system in place that runs counter to this goal. In other words, expressing one thing in terms of objectives but implementing rules and procedures that are designed in a completely opposite manner. A dichotomy. Speaking out of both sides of the mouth at the same time.
Numerous examples serve to illustrate this point.
Recent research points out that students, especially teens, should not begin school until at least 8:30 a.m. Their internal clocks run on a different schedule than adults. They may not become tired until 11 p.m. or midnight. Teenagers also require more sleep than adults in order to function properly, about nine hours a night.
Yet, a majority of schools begin their day between 7 and 8 a.m. The early start times are in place to facilitate parent work schedules, bus transportation or after-school activities, such as athletics.
But the deeper point is students are losing sleep, which is not only unhealthy but also leaves them physically and mentally unprepared for learning.
Several other examples of this dichotomy relate to numbers. Students should be provided with the attention necessary to assist them with understanding the content, processes or skills to be successful learners. But many classrooms contain 30 to 40 students in a room, even in the primary grades, without additional paraprofessionals. Are those ratios going to enable the teacher to provide for the individual needs of their students? Effective teachers may be able to manage these size classes, but ensuring individual attention? Not likely.
School enrollments are another issue. The most appropriate school size for high schools, to maximize student learning and education need, is in the range of 650 to 850 students. Many high schools, however, number in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 students per school, sometimes even more.
In years past, a factory model might have served a purpose if we were training students to work on an assembly line. But today, students need development of critical thinking, interpersonal communication and technology, whether or not they choose to enroll in a four-year university. Enrollments this high create disconnection not only between students but between students and teachers, counselors and administrators. To correct this issue requires money, but as a society are we willing to address this dichotomy or is the status quo good enough?
Also, in the area of teaching, some polar opposites exist. As far as the role that schools can play, teachers have been shown to be the single most important ingredient in the education of students. But, in too many instances, they are not provided with the assistance and support necessary to be successful. This is particularly noticeable in beginning teachers and those teachers who are struggling. If the educational system truly believes that all can and must learn, then supporting teachers is necessary to make this happen.
In addition, the most talented teachers should be assigned the most challenging or underperforming students. Yet, often the best teachers are scheduled into the most advanced classes. Or, those with the most seniority can choose their schedule, maybe the same grade level for 30 years or five classes of the same subject, whereas, new teachers might get placed into the more rigorous load. This dichotomy runs counterproductive to the expressed goal of providing students with the most effective learning environment.
A similar contrast is found in the role of both administrators and unions. The vast majority of teachers do a fantastic job in a challenging profession. However, there are that minority who are not meant to remain in this career. Administrators and unions are both complicit in this in this situation. Administrators have the right to dismiss a teacher within their probationary period, usually the first two to three years. Too many times, they let an individual remain in their job, which serves to deny students access to good teaching.
The same is true for unions. While they do serve as a necessary bulwark to protect teachers against an onslaught of parents, incompetent administrators and excessive rules and regulations, they also act as a barrier against removing incompetent teachers. Again, if the primary objective of schools is to provide for the effective education of students, that cannot be achieved with lazy or ineffective instructors. The pulling in opposite directions achieves nothing.
Schools and society cannot have it both ways. Are schools, taxpayers and government leaders trying to run an institution to please parents, teachers and business offices? Or, is the goal to provide the best education for the students? This dichotomy only serves to exacerbate the struggle to provide solutions to our educational challenges.
— Larry White taught at Lincoln High School for 34 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.