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LOCAL ACADEMIC STANDARDS

12/1/01

 

    In a piece I wrote about the level of academic standards in Plainview-Old Bethpage in the fall of 1997, I said, "In recent years there has been gradual erosion of our teachers' authority to set and maintain high academic standards. Student failure to perform has often been interpreted by those in authority to be teacher failure, with some students learning all too well that a lack of effort can be easily overcome by an abundance of political pressure." I went on in the piece to enlist the commitment of the then new Superintendent of Schools, Anthony P. Cavanna, and the Board of Education "...to encourage teachers to develop high standards and defend them when they are challenged..."

    Any fair assessment of the ensuing years would conclude that nothing has been done to raise our district’s academic standards. In fact, an overwhelming number of my colleagues would agree that rather than being raised, our standards have been further eroded over the last few years. Just the other day, I sat with a group of teachers to discuss the district’s eighth grade state test results which took an unexpected dip last year. These were clearly hard working, experienced teachers who spoke eloquently about their frustration that almost no one seems to care about their hard work, not their students, not their bosses and certainly not the parents of their students. They talked of students who refuse to do assignments, of parents and students who grub for grades and administrators who schedule all sorts of activities that take students from their classes on a fairly regular basis. It often seems to these teachers that the lessons they plan for their class are the least valued thing in the school.

    We have a new superintendent of schools and  some newer members of the Board of Education. So, again I issue a call for the entire school community to face the unpleasant fact that our school district’s academic standards are not what they should be and not what they once were. While it may be true as some suggest that they have declined everywhere, we are responsible for our local standards, and we must return them to a level of which we can be proud. To do so will mean some substantial unpleasantness. Facing the truth is often painful. Some students and parents will undoubtedly be angry, maybe even a teacher or two, when students who do no work fail, when students who interfere with the education of others are given meaningful discipline, when professional decisions are again made by professionals and not overturned by the politically influential, and when teachers are encouraged to teach skills and subject matter rather than being asked to be amateur psychotherapists searching aimlessly for the holy grail of building self-esteem. Yes, they may well be angry in the short run. They will thank us, however, in the end.

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