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Secondary Education In America

November 5, 2011

Secondary education in this country is in dire straits. You all know the reasons for this statement: the US is ranked internationally in the bottom half of academic achievement in math, science and reading, one in six US students are not finishing high school, more than 70% of California students can’t pass the required high school exit exam.

So why are these results so bad? To me it seems that most people blame the teachers in their children’s schools and certainly there are bad teachers who should be replaced. But there are other factors which control the quality of education a student receives. And these appear to be completely ignored.

As a high school teacher with ten years experience spanning some thirty years, I have worked for a number of school administrations. This is what I saw during my tenure in these schools:

* Administrators who never visited classrooms and didn’t know what was being taught or how it was being taught.

* Administrators who were rarely on their respect campuses. They were visiting with their peers, their immediate supervisors or their board of directors.

* Administrators who never responded to teachers’ requests for materials, technical assistance or training on non-teaching responsibilities demanded by the administrators.

* Administrators unwilling to insist on a minimum level of acceptable student behavior in order to foster an atmosphere of respect and trust between students and faculty. This was especially true in private schools in which I have taught.

* Administrators who hire untested teachers, without insisting on a peer reviews to see if, in fact, they could teach.

* Administrators who are paid typical more than twice what rank and file teachers are paid and who then complain that the school has no money for supplies, field trips, etc.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortuitously), as a teacher, in most cases, I never knew or cared when my immediate supervisor was off campus doing whatever. Because that meant I would be allowed to teach my classes uninterrupted by silly requests for pointless reports, time wasting meetings or complaints that my classes were “making too much noise” (they were: especially in physics when we fired off rockets).

If I had my way, I would fire half of all administrators currently in any school and halve the salaries of the remaining half. That’s the way teachers are treated on a regular basis (in Pennsylvania recently, the superintendent of schools cut $1.3B from the school budget and laid off 112 teachers…no administrators were let go). I would be amazed if there was a discernable difference in the level of academic performance of any students at that school. And the teachers could then afford to buy pens.


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