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Guest Column

Who should be accountable for our public schools?
By Jim Fabiano
May 28, 2014 - 8:05:35 AM

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Spring has finally sprung that ushers in everyone's concepts of what our public schools should look like and who should be responsible for this appearance. Nobody will argue the fact the people across our nation consider the education of their children very important. Because of this, a large percentage of our tax dollars go to fund the schools of our communities. Looking back into our history it's obvious this is not a new concept.

Today, many want to eliminate the concept of grades in order to help our students succeed. In other words, our education systems should eliminate the thought of giving grades and replace it with levels of competency based grading. Gone will be the concept of working hard to produce an A only to be replaced with the concept of having the student understand what the course is and what they need to learn in that course during the school year. Everyone will be the same because everyone will be told to learn the same thing; nothing more and nothing else with everyone succeeding and no one excelling. Schools along with their teachers and administrators are told to be held accountable for how well they teach the students. If the student doesn't learn it must be the fault of the schools. Many in education call this enabling and promoting the concept the student feels entitled to their education instead of being responsible for it.

Gone are the times of our past when our nation led the world in the process of educating their children. Charles I. Hutchins was the York Supervisor of Schools during the school year ending February 21, 1893. Mr. Hutchins reports that, "As in years past, so in the present, the results have been varied. While some schools have shown a good degree of interest and enthusiasm and have made rapid progress, others have little more than held their own." Reading through Mr. Hutchins report it is obvious he did not know how to mince his words. It is also obvious he was only concerned with the schools in his community and couldn't care less about how well students in New Mexico were learning.

Mr. Hutchins did not like his students to be absent from school. He states this in his report by explaining that, "To my mind this irregular method of attending is the greatest evil with which our school system has to contend. Children on the slightest pretext, or without any excuse whatever are allowed to absent themselves from school at their own sweet-will."

He goes on blame the parents for this absenteeism. I wonder how long our present superintendent of schools would last if he took Mr. Hutchins lead? " A trifling snow, or a cold morning, is enough to keep children from school, though the day is generally passed in out-of-doors play, this enduring double the exposure they would have suffered on their way to and from school. Very few parents at the present day, do not own a team, and very few there are who could not, if so disposed, take their children in bad weather, to and from school and also help their less fortunate neighbors in the same way." Back then both the parents and students were responsible for their own success.

Mr. Hutchins completes his condemnation of the parents who do not send their children to school by asking, "Why are parents so blind to the lasting interests of their children and why so unwilling to put forth any exertion to help them to an education?" As a teacher I ask myself this same question every day.

The supervisor of York's schools in 1893, was also a defender of his teachers. He states that, "All of these things and some others go to swell the number of days and half days lost, and then the teacher is blamed because the child fails to make the progress in his studies that ought, under other circumstances, to be made." He obviously understood the responsibility of a child's education belongs to both parents and their children.

Mr. Hutchins goes on to explain that, "Where parents are interested in the welfare of the school, and manifest that interest, the teacher will as a rule, feel a greater interest and work harder for the welfare and advancement of the pupils. Nothing is more discouraging to a conscientious teacher, (and if possible none other should be employed), than the feeling that the parents are indifferent as to the conduct of the school, or about cooperating with the teacher." Of course his admonishment of his teachers is also implied when he states, "It may however, be fair to the parent to assume that his indifference is more apparent than real. In that case a word to the wise is sufficient."

Spring has finally sprung that ushers in everyone's concepts of what our public schools should look like and who should be responsible for this appearance. If we, as a society, want to have our public schools be once again the envy of the world we have to stop looking for a magic bullet in the form of standard tests and competency grading systems and again focus on how our students and their parents are at the focal point of any success.

Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine

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