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Paging Joe Clark

Paging Joe Clark

In Jennifer’s piece last week, she raised a good list of questions, two of which got me thinking.

She asked, “Is standardized testing a true measure of a great education?” and also “What is a great teacher worth?”.

I’d like to think I have a particularly unique view of public schooling. I had several amazing teachers growing up — and, let’s face it, some not so amazing teachers — while attending public schools. One of those teachers had a daughter my age who ended up becoming my roommate for several years — and she, too, is an amazing educator. My husband is an educator, having taught in both the public and private school systems. Some of my best friends are great, dedicated teachers. I have a stepson in a public school system that my younger son is not zoned for. All of this sums up: I’ve pretty much seen it all.

Naturally, when you’re friends with/married to/around educators, the topic of education is bound to come up. I’ve heard several different opinions about the state of our current Huntsville City School system, and I don’t know the quick and easy answer. I’m not sure there is any. I mean, surely, the idea of an obvious answer is as idealistic as “Lean on Me”, right?

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So where is Joe Clark when you need him?

Where is the principal who stands up for his or her school, despite all of the odds? The leader who knows that they have to be the bad guy initially to get things done? Who backs their teachers when parents complain? Who fights for the kids?

Well, that principal is sitting in the principal’s office, swamped with red tape. That principal is having to handle mundane, bureaucratic nonsense that fall too far outside of the scope they thought came with the title. That principal is juggling test scores, ratios of demographics, and even more budget cuts. That principal has had three parent conferences just this afternoon that have included the threat of being sued. That principal is frustrated, overworked, and underpaid.[pullquote type=”2″ align=”left”] Where is the principal who stands up for his or her school, despite all the odds?

The sad thing – and perhaps what needs fixing, too – is that while this describes most of the Joe Clarks out there, this also describes the not-so-amazing principals as well. We have made the system overtaxing to the point that we don’t give an opportunity for the cream to rise.

This doesn’t just apply to principals, by the way. Your everyday classroom teacher is in the same boat. Even more so, really. And yes, there are bad apples in the bunch. But they are all — bad and good — currently swamped to the point that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate the two.

I spoke to a local mom some weeks back who had a teacher conference with her son’s teacher and the kindergarten teacher – who had been teaching this same grade-level for almost twenty years – confessed that her mandated testing schedule leaves her very little time to do curriculum planning or even personalized time with the children. That the federally-required testing simply binds her hands and leaves her little (if any) wiggle room to offer anything outside of those dreaded tests.

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In light of that, I really thought this CNN article was an interesting read. A mother is taking a religious objection to the two-week long testing in her sons’ school. Taking a religious objection was the only way to say no. But while objecting to the test is one thing, the declining results puts the school in harm’s way. So what’s the right answer?

Obviously, these aren’t exclusively local problems. But they are something to be addressed as layoffs are looming and we’re looking to test scores to justify schools staying open. The school system announced yesterday it was looking at hiring a third party to come investigate which schools should close. Hooray for unbiased eyes – but yet another salary to be paid?

No quick and easy answers this time. Not even a Joe Clark to save us.


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