Deborah Kenny, author of "Born to Rise" and founder of Harlem Village Academies, says public education is in chaos. Quality leadership is rare and high quality teachers are often trapped in poor working conditions cramped in packed classrooms with dime store fans while the "private sector is doing fine" crowd looks in and nods in agreement, "public schools are doing fine too."
While there are definite diamonds in the rough like an occasional RCA, a local charter, public school, performance in reading, math, science, physics, graduation rates and critical reading is abysmal. There are bright spots and accelerated students but a place called school is rapidly sending graduates into a nation at risk.
Warring factions take a stand. Highly effective teachers want enhanced classroom support. Federal and state intrusions oppress classroom climates. Parents, identifying the gridlock, seek refuge in HR 1162 which if passed will touch a tiny percentage of students. In four years only 12 of 56 petitions were approved while 2,500 regular public schools exist in Georgia. The numbers don't match the hysteria.
It boils down to leadership. Jim Collins says it clearly in "Good to Great." There are some folks we simply don't need on the bus, and leaving them on the bus hurts kids and puts them on a lifelong trajectory for low wage jobs and bleak outcomes. Roland Barth wrote 22 years ago, "Show me a good school and I'll show you a good principal." It remains true today.
In a recent interview with Bill O'Reilly, Kenny rebutted O'Reilly, a former teacher, when he remarked, "There are some kids you can't get through to." Kenny disagreed, lauding the payoff of teamwork which sounded very 1990s cooperative learning. Teaming is important for job preparation, but O'Reilly's point enjoys empirical evidence in the 75 percent of Harlem students deemed illiterate.
Kenny argues that a passionate teacher must be in front of every child and that "we need an absolute transformation. And the only way that's going to happen is if we elevate the teaching profession. So, we need to get rid of anything that would stand in that way ... Right now teachers in our country, in my view, are treated like factory workers."
I bet we can all think of a number of things standing in the way. Problem is, Americans are tired of dumping tax dollars into transformation and the mention of the word conjures up socialist imagery. Senior citizens are fed up with hefty property tax bills 60 percent of which go to schools where the only numbers rising are millage rates.
Voters want to know, "Where is the payoff?" They simply don't see it in numbers too large to ignore and are growing unwilling to fund it.
External pressures on classroom teachers should be the target. If something is getting in the way of teacher morale, classroom support and a positive climate then it impedes student progress. Strong leaders will call it out by name and take corrective action.
Jeff Meadors represents District 1 on the Newton County Board of Education. He may be reached at Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org.