THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Tales from the old-timer
Issue Date: September 3, 2014
What An Amazing Contrast
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
daughter of the Old-Timer
I had to look twice at a headline in the Peshtigo Times August 20th issue. There was a piece about 45 applicants for a single teaching position in the Lena School District. The very same day, there was news coverage here in Tulsa that school had started, and there were still 800 unfilled teaching vacancies in public schools in the state of Oklahoma.
I have no idea what our state politicians will do about this huge problem now, but I have some guesses as to what has brought us to this highly unfortunate situation.
Oklahoma is very near the bottom of states in the U.S. in the amount spent per pupil. I get it that you shouldnt measure quality by cost, but when you pay your teachers way less than every neighboring state, guess where your younger or more flexible teachers go? Across the border.
We recently instituted a school grading process as well. Schools were evaluated on a handful of criteria, and many of our schools were judged to be failing. There was a strong correlation between failing schools and location, with those schools serving areas of high urban or rural poverty receiving the vast majority of the low grades.
Some very convincing and rational teachers in those schools pled their case to the public: high rates of absenteeism and truancy in the kids; children who stayed with different relatives week to week or even night to night; children who were moved from school to school multiple times in a year; kids who struggled to get enough to eat at home. To me, its hard to blame the school or the teachers for these children in crisis failing to perform well on standardized tests. But it has to be hard on the morale of the teacher to feel like they are not as valued as the suburban school teachers in B+ schools filled with children from stable homes and PTAs of engaged parents.
Finally, last year, a radical program to base retention of third graders on a single reading test was kicked off. Hundreds of children in Tulsa alone failed this reading test. It didnt matter that the computer-based test was plagued with technical problems, causing some children to restart the test as many as three times, or that perhaps the child had had a difficult night the evening before at home, or wasnt feeling well. All these kids were identified to be held back a whole year in school because of this single test. Finally, enough groundswell of dissent caused the legislature to re-think this approach, and substitute one with a little more thought behind it, allowing the schools to make the decision on the individual children who had failed, involving both their teachers and the parent(s) of the kids in question.
The political climate in my state is that public schools arent doing a good job educating our children. The politicians set out in the last few years to fix that problem, and I give them an F.
Heres the hard truth. Yes, there are problems in the public schools. But there are thousands upon thousands of success stories - kids who are products of the public school systems going on to meaningful careers, successful lives and leadership roles in our state every year. You cant fix problems that are part of the social challenges we have by blaming everything on the schools.
There should be few professionals we respect and value more highly than our teachers. We are depending on them to help us rear the next generation of bright problem solvers for our world. And if our legislators are so sure they know better than the teachers how to teach, let them resign from their political posts and get into the schools at the pay they think teachers should earn, roll up their sleeves and show us how its done. We have 800 vacancies for teachers - we can take every single one of them right now.