Friday, January 22, 2010

My Man Mitch

The governor of my state is Mitch Daniels. I love Mitch. He's always good for a laugh. He recently said in his State of the State address that he wants an end to social promotion for third graders who can't read: "Sending an illiterate child on to higher grades is unfair to the next teacher, damaging to our state's future, but cruelest of all, disastrous to the life being blighted by that failure." If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that our governor is not concerned with what is fair to teachers.

But when confronted with the reason that it happens, the governor was stunned:

"Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was stunned that his proposal to hold back third-grade students who can't read well came with such a large price tag that a key lawmaker said it shouldn't pass this year. Daniels told reporters Thursday that his proposal to end so-called social promotion shouldn't cost a cent. He and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, a fellow Republican, say schools are already getting paid to teach students how to read, so the plan shouldn't require more cash. 'The fiscal (impact) of that bill is zero dollars and zero cents,' Daniels said. "

That's right, Mr. Daniels. We've only been passing them along because we're flush with the funds to give them the extra time outside the normal schedule to get them to where their parents should have had them before they ever started school. That was before you cut our budget by $300 million. In virtually the same breath, Daniels has asked teachers to take a pay cut and take an increase in class sizes and then to do more with less. Make that a lot more with a lot less. How are we supposed to accomplish this?

In the same article, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett "suggested schools could provide that 90 minutes (for extra help with reading) during the existing school day by having students skip recess or fine arts classes or by making other arrangements. He said parents, volunteers or community mentors could help teachers working with retained students and that local principals and superintendents could find creative solutions."

If we had sufficient numbers of "parents, volunteers, or community mentors" to pull this off, the kids wouldn't be illiterate in the first place! And cutting recess has already been done in several elementary schools, and guess what? Studies show that kids do better with recess.

The thing that really burns me about this is that I read to my daughter every night. She loves reading with Daddy. She is motivated to identify words and is already sounding them out (reading phonetically). She will be reading when she is four years old at this rate, long before she starts school. Why does it fall solely on teachers to motivate students to read? Because we can be legislated and parents can't. What happened to that personal responsibility that we're always hearing about? Do you really think that it's teachers who are sending their kids to school unable to read?

About eight years ago, my school system made a new policy that any middle schooler who didn't pass all of their four core subjects (math, language arts, social studies, and science) would be held back unless they passed their failed subject in summer school. Those were the two best years of my entire professional career. Everyone tried to pass and additional help was given to the few who just couldn't manage it with reasonable class sizes in summer school. Why didn't we keep that policy? Was it because it wasn't working? No, because it cost too much. We really need to take a good look at how much that program cost now, and see if we're going to be paying more by losing students to transportation costs, moving them to "successful" schools, while penalizing the schools that need the funding the most.

This constant attack on teachers and public education in the media lately is going to drive a lot of good people out of the profession. It's going to drive out the very people whom the profession needs desperately. It's going to drive out the innovators, the people who go above and beyond the call of duty to inspire their students to learn. Quite honestly, I would be making plans to leave right now if I didn't have so many years invested in my retirement plan. My only question is who in their right mind is going to be lining up for these teaching jobs that are going to be vacated? I'll tell you who. The positions will be filled by people who want to follow cookie cutter guidelines and recipes. The profession is going to be filled with line cooks who love to follow unimaginative instructions to the letter. It will be filled by people who have not one creative thought in their heads. It will be populated by people who don't push the envelope and don't try to use the most current technology. It will be loaded with folks who don't rock the boat. Well, I'm done with waiting for the boat to sink. It needs to be rocked. Something needs to be said, and I'm going to say it.

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