Guest Post by David N. Walker: Our Education System-Part II

Today I’m honored to welcome David N. Walker as our guest.  Coming from a family of educators, his topic and the reforms needed in the system resonate with me.  Here is a link back to Part I of his education discussion.  I came to find David’s blog by way of Kristen Lamb and became a fan and regular reader this summer.  His topics range from writing to current events to areas of personal interest.  Once done reading and commenting here, please make sure you pop over and check out the rest of David’s offerings.

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A smile never increases in price or decreases in value.

What’s Wrong with Schools? Let’s Start at the Top.

Whenever the discussion turns to education in the United States, everybody seems to have an opinion about what’s wrong. We don’t spend enough money or we don’t pay teachers enough or teachers aren’t qualified enough. We need more “programs” to assure no child is left behind or feels bad about himself.

A little closer to the mark, parents aren’t interested enough. There’s a lot of truth to that one, and I don’t think we’ll ever truly solve the problems in our education system as long as we’re dealing with kids whose parents are in prison or on dope or just too busy to pay attention to their needs—but that’s not what I want to talk about.

In a half century of dealing with businesses, churches and other organizations and educational institutions, one fact I’ve found to be just about universally true is that the tone of any organization is set by the leader. A strong, caring, knowledgeable leader will almost always produce a strong, caring and effective organization.

Who do we have leading our public schools? Every school system I know of has a board, which sets general policy, and a superintendent, who provides day-to-day leadership. So, where do we find these people?

Let’s look at the school board first. My observations are based on large urban and suburban districts. If yours is a small town or rural district, possibly not everything I’m going to say will apply, but I think it will for most larger districts.

Thanks to meddling by the federal judiciary, big city school boards these days are comprised by members elected from single-member districts. If I’m a member of the Fort Worth school board, I don’t represent the people of Fort Worth. I represent the people of MY DISTRICT.

Think about that for a moment. If a certain thing is popular among people of my district but would not be good for the overall school system, how am I going to vote? If I want to be re-elected, I’m going to be strongly influenced to vote my district’s interests over those of the school system.

Back in the 1950s and 60s when my dad was on the Fort Worth school board, all members were elected district-wide. That pretty much removed the board from politics and left the members to concentrate on running a school system rather than appeasing voters in a certain district. And we had MUCH better schools.

Also back in those days, superintendents were promoted from among associate superintendents, who had, in turn, worked their way up the ranks. When we had to replace one who died or retired, we were assured of getting one who loved our school system, had its best interests at heart, and knew the people he (there were no shes back in those days) had to work with. Again, the result was GOOD SCHOOLS.

When my friend Judy Truelson retired as superintendent in the late 1970s, the board decided to hold a nationwide search for a replacement rather than promote from within as before. The result was a hired gunslinger who had managed to do a good job of looking good.

Each time we’ve brought in a new superintendent since then, he or she has arrived with a pet program or programs to install in order to change the way things were done and put his or her stamp on the system. We’ve had some good ones, some mediocre ones, and one pretty bad one as a result of this. What we have not had is one who valued loyalty to the district or its employees.

We see a lot of this same thing going on in corporate America these days. Instead of promoting a division manager to vice president and a vice president to president, far too many companies hire “headhunters” to scour the country looking for a gunslinger to hire. Again, loyalty to company and stockholders suffers.

Getting back to home-grown superintendents and at-large elections for school board members will not solve all the problems facing our schools today. We’ll still have parents who don’t care enough to get involved, kids who are hooked on drugs and the other problems facing us today, but we’d at least have administrator and board members who truly cared about the best interests of the school system they’re charged with running.

Your comments are welcomed.

***

Thanks, David. Since it is Melodic Monday, I’m including a link to “Tomorrow” from Quincy Jones and Tevin Campbell.  Whenever I hear this song, I’m uplifted and left with the promise of what the future for children could be.

David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states.

He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since his retirement from insurance a few years ago, he has devoted his time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel himself.

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19 Responses to Guest Post by David N. Walker: Our Education System-Part II

  1. Thanks for sharing this, David. The boards and other district/school leadership in my area is sadly similar.

  2. Great piece, David. I’ve been at schools that have conducted searches from within and schools that have had to search from outside. In general, we have preferred to find someone within the area, but there is such a shortage of administrators… Well, people are having to search far and wide. I think the failures of the schools these days has more to do with the emphasis on standardized tests: forcing teachers to prepare students for a baseline skills assessment. Students often do well on these exams –sometimes better than they do at their own home schools! I’d like to see schools and teachers empowered to do what’s best for their students. Every school has a different climate and culture, and it’s silly to try to make everyone slide down the same chute.

  3. That’s definitely part of the problem, Renee. Everybody teaches to the test instead of teaching the subject. Is it even possible to be a good teacher in that atmosphere? I guess some can, but it’s got to be difficult.

  4. Missed a factual matter in the post. After I submitted this post to Barbara, the Fort Worth Board of Education appointed our acting superintendent, Walter Dansby, as superintendent. He is home grown, and I suspect he’ll do as good a job as can be done in today’s world of politically split boards and overzealous federal regulations.

  5. David, I wish I didn’t live all the way in Indiana and you in Texas. My husband and I would love to sit down with you, your wife and Barbara and talk about this over a cup of coffee. I don’t even know where to begin, except by saying I agree with you. You also did a good job of clarifying some things for me about how school boards are run.

    When my first-born was ready for kndergarten I went to the parent meeting hosted by the principal.

    First off, I noticed only a handful of parents, second, the principal mentioned early in her speech not about the conduct of students and what was expected but the conduct of parents. Things like, “don’t make your child stay home from school to take care of you when you have a cold.” I was appalled.

    In his kindergarten year the teacher basically told us our son was getting shortchanged because she had to deal with so many behavior issues. We loved this teacher. She worked hard to teach everyone, not just our son. Needless to say, we moved the next year. Needless to say, I checked out the school district before we moved. I just hate hearing how things haven’t improved much since my son went to kindergarten — he’s 28 now. I hate hearing how things are worse. What will happen to my future grandchildren? I do like that you posted about this and are trying to educate us. Thanks David and thanks Barbara for having David here.

    • J Holmes says:

      The principal was being polite. He or she didn’t want to be rude by saying”Don’t make your children take care of you while you are on the bottle or smoking crack”.

      I have seen it first hand. For several months I started my mornings by picking up two children from a home where the parents were addicts. My wife and other moms managed their clothes for them out of a locker in the nurses office. When I had to return overseas again two other dads were in place to manage the pick up. This occurred in what most people would consider a somewhat affluent area. Imagine what is going on in inner cities. Amazingly the little boy and his younger sister eventually survived long enough in foster homes to graduate high school and neither is anti-social in their outlooks.

    • I think Holmes has something there. I’d like to impress on ALL parents the importance of their part in the education of their children. Far too many don’t care, and far too many more are so worn out by jobs, etc., they have no energy left for dealing with their kids.

  6. We are lucky to live in the area where schools are exceptionally good. The parental involvement is huge. In our District all art classes are taught by parents and the PTSA organization has a strong impact on practically everything school-related.

    Great post, David and Barbara!

  7. J Holmes says:

    Thanks for dealing with a critical topic David and Barbara. I think you are right about administrative politics. Students, parents and teachers seem to be considered some sort of unfortunate but necessary evil that must be tolerated but should be isolated.

    Few students today have two parents and a stay at home mom. Fewer still have that plus grandparents nearby to influence them. In most households both parents are working and house work must be accomplished after work. Little time is available for communicating with the children or helping them with school work. Some kids have parents that I wish WOULD leave the child and go away. I tutored children in my kids first school that had never had anyone read to them. The concept of reading wasn’t something they were desperately wanting to master. It was instead a completely abstract concept outside of their routine. Fortunately their little minds were happy to learn with a little help. Now that the kids I tutored are reaching adulthood when I am home in my community they stop me and thank me and are happy to tell me what they are doing. A few of them have remained family friends all these years and are welcome in our home. Tutoring young children in reading and math was one of the smartest gifts I ever gave myself. The huge return has been absurdly higher than the small investment.

    Teachers are all the same right? It looks that way according to what I see districts doing. A witless drugged up slob of a teacher might get through the school year as easily as an inspiring energetic teacher. Whys is a brilliant teacher no more appreciated than a slob? People like to blame teachers unions but I don’t see most teachers unions as being that strong. And frankly if I had to have a business relationship with a school district I would never want to do it without a legal staff so I can only imagine what teachers in some districts must feel like reporting to political thugs.

    I don’t know the answer but I know that what I wanted for my sons was schools where the many great teachers I met would have made the decisions about teaching. The few slob teachers and the self promoting bosses would have been out the door and out of the way. I couldn’t get that so we left the public school system prior to mid school.

    Even with the immense investment that we make in public education the product is very poor. I guess the public at large is not yet concerned enough to make a change.

    Any pair of copulating fools can have a “baby”. Raising one is yet another mater.

    • You said a mouthful, Holmes. You hit several nails on the head. I could probably spend the next few months blogging about nothing but what’s wrong with schools, but I suspect I’m preaching to the choir. The non-involved parents, poor teachers, administrators busy building their fiefdoms, and board members involved in the politics of their districts aren’t reading these.

  8. David, are you writing articles in education or parenting magazines? You raise so many valid points that everyone should hear. As a former elementary school teacher I couldn’t agree more with all of your point and particularly about parental involvement. It can make all the difference to a child’s performance and attitude towards learning. The children that somehow manage without it always amaze me. I know it’s a personal bias but I feel there is no job more rewarding than teaching … with no thanks, as you and Holmes point out, to the administrators of education. Helping children to believe in themselves as learners and valued human beings is such a buzz. It’s such a tragedy to see standards slip in the public system.

    • At the moment all my writing is in blogs, although I will have a book of inspirational tales and words of insight coming out in e-book form in the next few months. Thanks for your comments.

  9. I’m a Canadian but our problems are sadly similar. It seems to me that our political system is broken, our health care system is challenged and our education system is in trouble. The problem is that all 3 are intertwined with greed, the need for personal influence, and the inability to think like the common person. some days it feels hopeless.

    • Thanks, Louise. I think when we first began to involve government in meeting the needs (or wants) of people through welfare or healthcare or whatever, we also began to remove any sense of personal responsibility. If I don’t feel responsible for my own situation, then I won’t feel responsible for my children. Just let the government or schools or whatever take care of them.

  10. The politics and bureaucracy are the reasons I’m not looking to go back to teaching. I taught high school and middle school for 10 years – inner city, middle class, and affluent suburbs. One thing is universal — if the kids aren’t prepared for school (and I’m just talking basics, like recognizing their own names), they’re playing catch up forever. It doesn’t matter how good the teacher is.

    The weight placed on standardized tests is enough to ruin any teacher’s enthusiasm. I don’t have any magic solution. I make sure I’m involved in my kids’ education and I push them more than the school expects. I don’t care about the tests, I care about what they’re actually learning.

  11. You sound like a wise mother, Shannyn. Too bad we don’t have a nation full of mothers and fathers who understand that.

  12. Yes districts and schools are getting lower and lower budget from the state. Many of the schools are getting closed and the whole education system is starting to shrink. Teachers are getting really hurt and discharged to do their work. We constantly work with schools and its really sad to see that happening.

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