10 Things Public Schools Can Do Much BetterBy Fred Fletcher
By Fred Fletcher
The author discusses 10 issues he says are not mentioned often enough when it comes to finally identifying and fixing what some say is wrong with the public school system.
Although there is great disagreement about why our public schools are in trouble, most people would concur that there are things that can be done to ameliorate the situation right now. Perhaps the reason why little progress has been made is the fact that, when solutions are suggested, they are developed with little (if any) input from some of the key players (such as teachers). In fact, some shortcomings that our schools can and should address a lot better include:
1. Actively identify and prosecute bullies. Perhaps because they do not want to upset parents unnecessarily and because they may not want to be labeled as “ineffective,” school administrators (and some teachers) often try to sweep under the carpet disciplinary problems, even those stemming from out-of-control bullies. Bullies, though, present a special set of problems that need to be addressed more aggressively. Simply put, these kids need to be either separated from the regular community of students or they need to be sent home or to juvenile detention, if the parents or guardians cannot or will not deal with the child appropriately.
2. Stop blindly accepting and implementing stupid federal laws and school policies. A good example is the No Child Left Behind legislation which has brought so much confusion and chaos into public schools. This was thought of and implemented with very little (if any) teacher input and it has created more problems than it has resolved, even if some of its components were well-intended. If teachers, parents, school administrators, and other key players did a better job of communicating and collaborating, many of these ultimately harmful laws and policies could be ameliorated or rescinded.
3. Develop a no-tolerance approach to gangs in school. Sometimes because of political-correctness concerns, school systems are not aggressive enough when it comes to gangs moving into schools. In some parts of the country (like Los Angeles, California), for example, gangs have become such a strong component of the community that people have been intimidated into thinking that this is just something they have to accept and live with in schools. By creating strong anti-gang task forces, though, communities (even those already heavily saturated with this problem) can resist the temptation (for the sake of safety) to just accept the presence of gangs.
4. Immediately and consistently kick out of classrooms all
unnecessarily disruptive students. Students that disrupt classroom
settings play an unacceptable and unfair role in interfering with the
education of students that behave well. For that and other reasons,
they need to be sent to detention, expelled, or handed over to the
authorities (if they present a physical danger to staff or other
students)—the only exception being for students who cannot control
their behavior (such as autistic kids or children with legitimate
behavioral problems), but even these kids can and should be isolated
if they continue to disrupt classroom activity.
5. Stop prostituting schools to junk food manufacturers. There is no excuse for schools being used as marketing tools for junk food and beverage “pushers.” The money coming in from such ill-conceived pimping relationships, supposedly used to make up for budget short-falls, does not pay for the concomitant problems associated with the practice—i.e., medical costs of health problems developed in the long run, worsening of academic performance, damage to school property because of sugar-zonked-up young troublemakers, etc.
6. Stop hiring and holding on to spineless school administrators.
These people, rather than enforcing school policies and holding
students accountable for their behavior, play the let-me-be-popular-
with-students-and-parents game. Accordingly, the rarely back teachers
up when they discipline students and they put up a façade to the
government of supposedly running trouble-free schools. In other words,
they cover up rather than deal with problem students, if only so the
government does not classify the school as “ineffective,” in terms of
being able to deal with disciplinary problems.
7. Start punishing spineless school administrators who refuse to stand
up to school bullies, disruptive students, out-of-line parents, and
clueless government officials. Few schools systems have the insight
and backbone to go after school administrators who fail to do their job—
indeed, who routinely do what is politically correct rather than what a
good disciplinarian or a leader with the best interests of the students
and teachers in mind would do. School administrators who want to be
popular need to run for public office, instead of managing schools;
they also need to be able to stand up for what is right, even if, by
doing so, they may put their jobs at risk.
8. Not holding students directly responsible for their academic
performance and behavior in the classroom. This is called personal
accountability. The popular movement today is to blame teachers or
school facilities when students fall short of expectations. How does
this encourage students to make up for any shortcomings, though, or to
take responsibility for their actions (such as deliberately not
studying, or spending too much time playing video games or texting
friends)? For the record, no teacher, no matter how competent, can
force any student to learn if that student cannot or will not learn the
lessons taught. Why are the government and many parents unable to
grasp this very simple concept?
9. Stop mistreating and abusing teachers. More often than not, teachers are used as easy scapegoats when school systems fail to pass prescribed standards. Teachers are only a small component of a very complex, multiple-players educational system. Why, then, is teacher competence or compensation usually the only criteria that is looked at when things go wrong in public schools? For the record, parent involvement (or the lack thereof), government and school policies, student participation (or the lack thereof), school facilities, the mental and physical health of students, and educational materials provided are all as important as teacher performance; consequently, all these areas need to be questioned when and if student performance is deficient.
10. Not taking the mental and physical health of students when
evaluating over-all academic performance. How well are students
eating? Are they getting regular physical check-ups? Are they victims
of abuse at home or elsewhere? Do they suffer from an undiagnosed
medical or mental health problem? Any of these situations can
negatively affect student academic performance and, yet, since none of
these falls under the control of teachers, why, again, are teachers
usually the only ones who are looked at when academic performance is