Let teachers teach

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 90 views 

I’ll never forget what one of the best public school teachers I ever knew said about performance programs and those results. “If I had taken the career path to follow numbers and recommendations and not the light in a student’s eyes when they discover a concept, like a new word, in my classroom, I would have been a banker, not a school teacher.”

This lady started in a one-room, clapboard building teaching a five-month term for $135 a year. When she retired some 38 years later, she had taught thousands of the dumbest, rural, backwoods children from circumstances so severe it would shock today’s conscious – how to read, write, cypher and make something of themselves.

She never liked outside evaluations of her students, her teaching methods or the schools in which she was employed. Another time she told me that “ … lazy or bad teachers would not stay in the (teaching) profession long. They can’t stand the work load and will look for an easier job to loaf on the public dime.”

I write all this after seeing recent headlines that legislators, educational professionals and yes, teachers, are frustrated that after state spending upward of $210 million each year in Arkansas, we cannot seem to narrow the gap of measurable results. Wow. I have to wonder what would happen if that $210 million was spent not on consultants and reports, but on teacher training, teacher salaries and classroom infrastructure in our schools.

After sounding this alarm, the meeting of the Legislative oversight committee got into the “weeds” of spending more for programs, software and other venues to hopefully narrow this achievement gap. As state Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, and Civil Rights attorney turned citizen legislator, pointed out: “The state has not addressed remediating the poverty gap … after all these years and all this money.”

And he is correct.

Walker has sued all kinds of school districts over all kinds of issues. But he, like you and me, has never found a way to sue someone out of poverty to riches or even to the middle class. I also believe the 2002 Lakeview court decision is correct. We have to make ALL the schools in Arkansas adequate and equal. Shockingly after 13 years it is still a challenge for any state – especially one as rural as Arkansas – to achieve.

Even in Northwest Arkansas there are high pockets of poverty – entire schools where the federal ruler of “free lunches” are based on home income allows almost every student to eat free. And Northwest Arkansas schools battle the effects of poverty and other social ills every day.

Home schooling students does not help this problem. Neither does the proliferation of charter schools. Nor do all the loud mandates to teach computer coding, shop class, auto body repair or information technology.

Teachers need to teach. And they need to teach without regard to computer data sheets showing pie charts, graphs and dollars tied to how many consultants they can hire.

Sounds simple doesn’t it.

My now deceased teacher friend got it right. Teachers need to teach and do so free of all the frills and costly programs telling them how they are to narrow that achievement gap.

It is clear that the $210 million spent in Arkansas each year simply is not working.