Sunday, June 27, 2010


Op-Ed by John R. Smith in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

June 9, 2010 -- The K-12 education system across our country has failed to prepare many students for what they will face in a competitive work world.

But many parents have a track record that is far worse, though few will admit it. The parents' finger of blame rarely is pointed inward. Teachers tell me all the time that parents want to blame everyone but themselves: They accuse the teacher who "doesn't understand" little Johnny, the school board, the superintendent, the Legislature. "I know what's best," says the parent.

But here's the truth: Parents might know what's best for their children in some ways, but when it comes to preparing them to deal with life, many parents are abject failures. And in our region, we are plagued more with inept parents than inept teachers or administrators. Parents are usually well-intentioned. But good intentions alone often don't lead to successful outcomes.

What is it about human nature that makes us forget the lessons of history? I've lived in Palm Beach County through four school superintendents. Historically, our school boards have an erratic record of selecting superintendents. County history shows that when a good superintendent is found, you'd better stick with him/her even if they make occasional mistakes. You don't know what you'll get if you change. The Palm Beach County School Board got it right when they picked Art Johnson.

The teachers' union and some parents who deplore testing are playing with fire in their attempts to oust Johnson. Avoiding emotions, let's step back and consider the facts about what's right and wrong with our local school system.

The first thing that's wrong is those people who think more tax money is going to fix things. , Throwing more money at education is almost never the correct answer. The second thing that's wrong is the finger of blame. Parents are often not very conscientious about what they wish for in matters of education. In this county, a group of defiant parents and some teachers are working themselves into an Internet froth they'd better think twice about.

Here's what's right: The Palm Beach County school district is Florida's only urban district to be A-rated for five consecutive years, and it has a AA credit rating. It has the highest standards in math, reading, writing and science of the seven urban school districts in Florida. It has submitted a balanced budget that "does not affect the classroom," even with an $80 million hole due to the economy. We have good teachers in our system, with only a small fraction who are ineffective. In the last three years, including the recession, $90 million in new money has gone to teachers' salaries.

The job of parents is to motivate their children to learn when they are very young; to send them to school well-fed and rested; to teach children to take responsibility for their "F" score and not blame the teacher who gives them the F; to thank teachers when they discipline their children as opposed to threatening lawsuits; and not to expect teachers to perform miracles with children whose parents have failed them.

When parents as a group live up to their responsibilities and stop trying to make scapegoats of teachers and administrators, then they and the union will have the moral right to squawk about the superintendent. Until then, let Art Johnson do his job, because he's good at it.

●●smf: I'm not going to argue too vociferously with Mr. Smith – other than to point out that the expectation of miracles is part of the job description of parents. 

I agree with the headline more than the content of Smiths Op-Ed …but parental involvement and the money are not mutually exclusive:  Involved and informed parents, more than  in addition to money, will make schools better still!

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