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Don't miss "Corruption in our children's textbooks."

Yes, this will be on the test

By Patrick O’Hannigan
Lesson number one:  Dumb education ideas abound

 Local students do well as a group on standardized tests,  but any help they get to keep their scores up will consist entirely of bigger school budgets and easier test questions if it comes from administrators in the government school system.

Just before the State Assembly made news by debating whether to replace Native American school-mascot names with less-praiseworthy substitutes, SLO County’s school superintendent, Julian Crocker, wrote an essay for the Tribune outlining his four-point plan for improving education.

Crocker believes we should 1) raise California from the middle to the top tier of education funding relative to other states; 2) lengthen the school year; 3)pack 3- and 4-year olds off to universal preschool; and 4) accept communal responsibility for educating our young.

Note how the four-point Crocker plan really amounts to only two points, namely, give public schools more time and money.  Because that’s exactly the plea you’d expect from a school administrator, it falls to me to ask questions like, “Why should we do that?”

“For the children” is no answer, and anyone who says “It’s the right thing to do” risks offending the actor who made that line his own while doing TV commercials for hot cereal.

Crocker assumes a link between increased funding and improved academic performance that is disproved daily by home-schooled children and students in cash-strapped private schools.  Worse, Crocker misses the irony of calling for more community involvement while insisting that children forgo family-style interaction with the community to enroll in preschool as soon as they are potty-trained.

 Given those omissions, I see trouble in his prescription for educational excellence.  Friendly as he is, Crocker still takes a blame-the-victim approach to education reform.  The Tribune lets him get away with this because he has an advanced degree, but even in the best of times, the Tribune seldom criticizes educational fads or peculiar school district accounting practices.

 When Tribune education reporter Jeff Ballinger wrote on May 13 about a plan by eight San Fernando Valley high schools to bar seniors from their graduation ceremonies unless they could prove commitments to a job, a military service, or more formal education, he suggested that those schools “may be on to something.”

 “On something” would have made more sense in that context, but perhaps that’s why Ballinger and I write for different newspapers.

Ballinger chose not to highlight the fact that future plans have nothing to do with whether a senior has successfully completed high school.  Accordingly, we must look instead to constitutional scholar Dave Kopel for reinforcements:

 “Forbidding a graduation ceremony for students who plan to travel, get married, take time off and think about the future, or engage in any other lawful activity is typical of the growing and inappropriate personal intrusiveness of American government high schools,” Kopel says.

 Right on, brother Dave, but bring it down to street level and you might get an amen.  What should we do next?  Someone tell the control freaks in the administration to “celebrate diversity.” 

 Arguments over teachers’ pay also need more light and less heat.  We’ve all heard that teachers are underpaid by comparison with, for example, professional basketball players.  More recently, people sounding the same theme bemoan the contrast between the shiny new Clark Center for the Performing Arts and the rundown remainder of the physical plant at Arroyo Grande High School.  Both comparisons are weak.  That teachers influence young minds more than basketball players is obvious.  It’s also fair to say that pay raises for teachers should be bigger than cost-of-living adjustments, and fair to say that education is more important than sports.  But if and when I indulge my ambition to spark a love for reading and writing in students of all ages by becoming a teacher, I’ll be joining a profession that more than 700 people in SLO County already share. 

 On the other hand, in spite of the fact that they’re drawn from a worldwide talent pool, only about 300 men are skilled enough to play in the National Basketball Association.  It is therefore safe to say that getting the average kid to an “Aha!” experience is an order of magnitude easier than dunking a basketball over big, quick people who are paid to prevent you from doing any such thing.

 Where professional athletes count themselves lucky to have careers that last five years, many teachers preside over their classrooms for eight or nine times as long.   Moreover, teacher unions like the National Education Association have more enemies than the NBA, and deservedly so.

 Controversy in the NBA means arguing as people did in 1979 about how many feet from the goal to paint a perimeter line for three-point shots.  Controversy in the NEA means arguing annually about how to sneak bilingual education past voters who think it keeps their kids from becoming proficient in English sooner. 

 As the occasional drug bust or conviction for assault makes professional athletes look bad, so history teachers who trash Western civilization in the name of multiculturalism and biology teachers who roll condoms onto bananas burn the good will that might otherwise be lavished on teachers by a public that appreciates good schools as much as anything else in life.

 Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to make that known to educators and editors from San Simeon to Santa Maria.

Also by Patrick O'Hannigan:  Hey, Where's Jesus?
                                             Dumb and Dumber