School board election chance to shake up status quo

info@islandpacket.comJuly 7, 2012 

Elections for the Beaufort County Board of Education are coming up in November. We need an entire upheaval: A new chairman, new members, educational visionaries who will minimize bricks and mortar, top-down leadership and bloated bureaucracy. We should focus on what makes our kids truly smart -- smart teachers , smart counselors and social workers, perceptive learning specialists, inspired curricula and instructional programs, and strong, healthy parent-child relationships.

To attract and keep these people, we must pay them what they're worth, free up their time to actually teach and work with kids and parents, and put them in charge.

Money, time, freedom, authority. Without raising taxes, teachers could have them all if we:

  • Rid the system of No Child Left Behind and its attendant industry of standardized testing.

  • Eliminated unnecessary administrative and supervisory personnel.

  • We should and can do both. Here's why, and here's how.

    No Child Left Behind leaves every child behind. On his way, hopefully, to leaving the entire program behind, Obama recently admitted that it "hurts kids."

    Using standardized tests to measure intelligence is like using a 12-inch ruler to measure the Atlantic Ocean. Kids, like the rest of us, are smart in some ways, dumb in others. Kids who score low suffer the illusion they're dumb, and kids who score high suffer the illusion they're smart, when the waters in which both are tested barely reach their ankles.

    Yes, the Japanese score higher than our kids on these tests, which is why they also score lower on measures of creativity. Research shows that our kids are much better thinking "outside of the box" than theirs, not only in areas you might expect, the arts and humanities, but also "entrepreneurially." This is unsurprising. Historically, research has shown that the higher the creativity, the lower the test scores. The fact is you can make straight A's, score in the statistical stratosphere, go to Harvard and never once in your life have an idea, a question, or even an opinion of your own.

    Which is why the test-prep mantra is: "Don't think."

    So what is the alternative to standardized testing? Very simple: The child's work, just as it is in the adult world. Can he read? How well? Have him do it for the teacher. Can he write? Outline? Paraphrase? Argue? Persuade? Is he perceptive? Can he listen? Build a robot? Calculate the square footage of a baseball diamond?

    Kids learn by doing. Have them do. Have them show and tell, whether they're 6 or 16. Let the work speak for itself. It's not the child who needs evaluating. His work does. Keep portfolio records. Samples of kids' work in a portfolio are becoming common in innovative schools.

    Ten states -- from Florida to Massachusetts to Minnesota -- with more on the way, have applied and received exemptions from No Child Left Behind and the standardized testing. Why haven't we?

    In Texas, some 400 local school boards -- more than one-third of the state's total -- have adopted a resolution this year asking lawmakers to scale back testing.

    Why hasn't ours?

    In Everett, Wash., more than 500 children skipped state exams in protest earlier this month.

    Isaiah's prophecy: A child shall lead us.

    A national coalition of parents and civil-rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, signed a petition in April asking Congress to reduce federal testing mandates.

    Why haven't we joined them?

    Not only would it free up for teachers the time and authority to actually teach, it would also free up significant money to help them.

    Instead, our school board, led by our chairman, hinges the superintendent's pay on exactly those evils: No Child Left Behind and standardized testing.

    Speaking of pay, no superintendent or supervisor or administrator or anyone else in the system should be paid any more than the lowest paid teacher. Many in the bureaucracy are unnecessary. Schools should be run primarily by their own boards, like charter schools, and by a head teacher or a team of teachers. In the early '60s, Port Royal Elementary School was run by the head teacher and faculty, a great team working together. Riverview Charter School has no principal and doesn't need one. Administrative personnel -- accountants, clerks, public relations personnel -- should be purely support personnel and paid as such.

    Making every school a charter school would dramatically reduce bureaucracy, saving us even more money to use for smart teachers and counselors, smart teacher education, smart materials and smart curriculum, parent education.

    Why hasn't our school board already done this? Why hasn't the chairman encouraged it?

    It no longer matters. Elections are coming up.

    Bernie Schein of Beaufort earned a master's degree in education from Harvard University and taught for 40 years in public and private schools. He was a principal at three schools, including Yemassee Elementary and Junior High School and Port Royal Elementary School. His books include "If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom: Inspiring Love, Creativity and Intelligence in Middle School Kids."

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