Indiana Democrats are still in Illinois mulling over all this proposed legislation and delaying votes.  Much of the proposed school reform legislation deals with making schools more competitive in hopes of improving education.  These ideas all make sense and sound great in theory, and I applaud Republicans for making an effort to improve things.  The problem, however, is that putting these ideas to practice is a much different story.  As someone who’s in a rare situation where I’m stuck right in the middle, I’m hoping you’ll hear me out. 

The whole problem with the “successful school” idea is standardized tests (in Indiana, it’s the ISTEP test).  It ruins everything because that’s the basis for everything.  There are way too many problems with this test to name, and I could write pages and pages about it, but I’m not going to.  Instead, I’ll focus on just one: society.  We have a big society, parental problem.  I know that many people hear this and think that teachers are just placing the blame on others.  I’m not doing that.  Teachers have a responsibility to offer to students the best education possible.  The problem is that the majority of kids just don’t care, and really, the parents don’t either.  And why should they?  There are no consequences for not doing well on these tests.  They get passed on, so what’s the incentive?  They get the ISTEP booklet, it looks boring, they might skim the passages, but usually they just skip right to the questions.  Some just guess and bubble in answers and finish in about 5 minutes so they can sleep, and we’re standing there helpless because we can’t say anything to them during the test—that’s the law. 

 Last year my school building was finally able to make AYP for the first time because we raised our test scores, and it wasn’t because we finally got our act to together and started teaching the “right” way.  We were already teaching using every best practice we could come up with.  Here’s what we did differently: we bribed them with a field trip to the mall.  We had checklists and we watched them, and if they were absent or appeared to be rushing through the test and not putting forth their best effort and using their time wisely, or if they weren’t behaving during the test, they didn’t get to go on the field trip.  A FIELD TRIP!  But hey, whatever it takes.  That goes to show you right there that those kids are capable and have been capable all along, and their past failures had nothing to do with us or the way we were teaching. 

The problems in our educational system are because of what’s happening in society outside the school walls.  But unlike others, I’m not going to blame demographics and socio-economic status and scream social justice.  You’ll never hear me do that.  Instead, I want to start holding students and parents accountable.  We had a meeting after school this year and invited every parent to attend.  It was to highlight what we were doing and the steps that we were taking to improve ISTEP scores.  Do you know how many parents came?  Zero!  None!  Out of 480 students, not one parent showed up!  But the teachers were there! 

Here’s my message to society:  Parents, get off your butts, get off the drugs, stop putting boyfriends/girlfriends first, and pay your kids some attention.  And here’s a thought, give them some consequences for not performing in school.  Take an interest.    I don’t care how poor you are, you can teach your children about hard work.  That’s what’s great about America—or used to be great.  It didn’t matter where you came from, anyone could achieve the American dream without the government’s help.  But it seems like only about 25% (that’s just my observation) of parents actually teach that to their children these days. 

My family didn’t have the best education, and we didn’t have the most money.  But my parents worked hard—worked evenings—and I couldn’t play sports and be involved in things because I didn’t have a way home.  But you know what?  They taught me about hard work, and I worked my tail off both academically and on jobs, and I was the first in my family to graduate college with a four-year degree, and I came out of it debt free.  I worked hard, and all these students who aren’t performing can work hard, too.  But society isn’t teaching them to do that.  I’m not kidding you, they walk in this building thinking that we owe them something, and they don’t like learning.  They’ll tell you to your face.  And why don’t they?  Because it involves a little effort!  I’m not saying that we don’t owe them something, because we do.  We owe them the best means to an education that we can provide, and we’re offering that.  But they need to meet us half way.

I’m telling you what, until standardized test, which is good in theory and not practice, is done away with or used only as an informational resource for improvement, or until we start holding the students and parents accountable and stop blaming the teachers, nothing’s going to change.  I’m not supporting the teachers’ union one bit; in fact, I think it’s a pretty rotten organization for many reasons that I’ve already written about—and many that I have not yet written about—but let’s not blame teachers. If you want to fix education, schools are not the place to start because schools are not the cause of the problem.  Let’s start holding accountable the ones responsible for their own performance (students!!!!). 

Here’s an idea for reform.  Why don’t we start with welfare?  There are several people I personally know who are abusing the system.  It’s unreal!  Let’s get our society cleaned up, and then you’ll see the real change in education.