STILL TALKING ABOUT STANDARDS

 9/8/05

    Responding to opening of schools throughout most of the United States , the September 6 New York Times wrote of its view of the contemporary American educational scene.  Readers of my columns will hear some familiar notes in the conclusion of the Times piece. “The United States needs to develop a coherent policy that makes schools better everywhere. That means strengthening teaching and curriculum in poor communities, and it also means improving education for the best American students, who look like geniuses in math and science until they are stacked up against better-prepared foreign youngsters. Unless this country acts, our economy will wind up occupying the same low-performing spot on the global charts that our schools occupy now.”  

    The students we are training today will have to compete in a world where they will be producing ideas and information and selling these commodities in a highly competitive market.  We don’t make too many things anymore.  More and more we are about information and know-how.  Will we continue to know how, or, as the Times and others fear, will we who led the world into the technology and information age peter out and be overtaken by those who understand the modern economic challenge and who respond to it with first rate schools that equip their students to win?  

    There is a tendency for teachers to think that the answers to such questions is beyond their powers, leaving it to educationist and political policymakers to grapple with them.  However, what might we accomplish in a community like Plainview-Old Bethpage if each teacher spoke what most know, that our standards, like those in most other districts have declined, that as educators we have been increasingly asked to be more concerned with what our students feel than what they think or know?  What might we accomplish if each of us bravely determined to resist the pressures toward mediocrity and raise the academic standards in our classroom – expect more of our students, stop rewarding inferior work, work with colleagues to cope with the anger such a stand will provoke.  

    On the opening day of school, I had a conversation with a young teacher that deeply disturbed me.  In the course of seeking my advice about how to deal with a particular student, he made it clear that it was his understanding that he was expected to pass this student regardless of what the child accomplished.  No one every said that to him directly.  He simply had absorbed the message almost osmotically from a school environment saturated with such cues.  He didn’t appear angry about this sorry state of affairs, seeming to simply take it as just the way things are.  

    We really have to stop doing that.  In my next column, I will make some specific proposals about the part I think teacher unions have to play in the struggle to save our schools.

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