Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

August 6, 2013

TIDBITS: It’s back to school time

CROSSVILLE — Yesterday, Cumberland County teachers reported for their county-wide inservice, officially kicking off the start of another school year.

This one promises to be a doozy. In Cumberland County, the school system is transitioning to a new leader, Donald Andrews, who has already implemented some changes he believes will help students be more successful in the classroom.

But that’s not the only change in store for our teachers this year. Tennessee is implementing the common core academic standards this year, with rigorous testing coming along to test how well students and their teachers did this year. Teachers are already having more evaluations that are much tougher than in years past. Those evaluations now use the testing data of students and when students fail to perform, their teachers are the ones held accountable.

The state is also preparing to implement a new teacher pay scale. Unlike the current scale, this one doesn’t recognize the impact of a teacher’s years of experience in the classroom, nor does it reward teachers who seek advanced degrees. Instead, the state says it wants local school systems to work on a differentiated pay plan, where teachers meeting high accountability levels are paid extra, or teachers in hard-to-staff areas get signing bonuses.

Now, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman is suggesting teacher license renewal be dependent on a teacher’s performance. How is that performance determined? Evaluations and student test data.

One reading of that policy change has already passed the Tennessee Board of Education and only a second reading is needed to enact the move.

The state has already revamped Tennessee teacher tenure, making it possible for teachers to lose tenure after they gain it, if they fail to perform in the classroom. Collective bargaining rights have been quashed and student test data was, for the first time, tied to teacher evaluations.

Never mind about 60 percent of teachers teach grades or courses that are not tested in any standardized test. Or that placing such high emphasis on once a year tests ignores the work teachers are doing on a daily basis.

One has to wonder if students entering teacher preparation programs in our colleges are looking around and considering what their Plan B is for their career.

I certainly applaud efforts to improve education for our children. We need to help our students not only gain the skills they need to go into the workforce, but we also need to instill a desire for them to continue learning, even after the school bell has rung.

And teachers are a huge part of the solution to that. But they aren’t the only part. And, sorry teachers, but I don’t think you’re the most important part.

The student and the parent are the most important parts of the education equation. Students have to show up at school ready to learn. They need to have been taught at home to respect the teacher and listen to what he or she has to say. They need to have been taught the importance of following through with work and completing assignments on time and according to the directions.

At home, they need to be encouraged to do well in school and always do their best. Parents need to help students set goals for their education. It doesn’t have to be bring home all A’s, but could be something as simple as, “Let’s read one book together this week.”

They need help with their homework. I know many parents are a bit hesitant about this, especially as the kids get on up in the elementary grades and start bringing home algebra. Back in my day, that didn’t start until high school. Today, you can see it starting around the fifth grade. Parents, you need to seek out resources to help you help your child. Talk to the teacher or you can check YouTube. They have videos that show you how to work examples of math problems. And the great thing about math is, once you know the formula, you can work the problem.

If a student comes in and has no respect for education, there isn’t much the teacher can do. If the student doesn’t care if they pass or if they fail, there isn’t much the teacher can do.

But show me where in all this education reform we’re placing any accountability on the parents and teachers? Students may fail a class or repeat a grade if they don’t do their work. Even then, the school takes a hit on its annual report card and accountability, especially if those kids are in high school and don’t graduate in four years and a summer.

Last year, I heard of students in high school, over the age of 18, that just decided they weren’t going to go to school. They’d pick up their missed work once a week, turn in the work from the week before, and go on that way. Sure, they might pass because they’d been allowed to make all that work up, but should they?

I just imagine calling my employer and saying, “Sorry, but I don’t feel like working this week. I’m going to stay home and I’ll do what I can from here.”

Chances are you wouldn’t be reading my weekly columns much longer.

Students that have been allowed to miss 50 or 60 days a school year and still pass their classes, all because the school takes the hit if they don’t graduate. I applaud the Cumberland County Board of Education for changing the policy to only allow work missed for excused absences to be made up. It’s a valuable lesson for kids when they get out into the workforce. You’ve got to show up. That’s one of the biggest things you need to show an employer you can do.

But what about the parents? If the child is under 18 years old and not attending school, the parent can find he or she sitting in jail under truancy laws. But there’s so much more parents need to do besides ensure their child just shows up for school every day.

A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as part of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), has studied the effect of parental involvement on student achievement. In 2011, those results were released, showing parents had a huge impact on student achievement.

When parents regularly read books with their child early in their school years, students performed better on the test, administered at age 15. And that was true regardless of socio-economic backgrounds.

Andreas Schleicher lead the team that conducted the study. He found parents that simply read a book with their child regularly, talked about things they’ve done during the day and told stories to their children had children with higher scores on the assessments later in life. Also helpful were monitoring homework, rewarding efforts and encouraging learning.

Every parent can afford to take a few minutes out of their day to read with their child and show an interest in what they’re learning and doing. 

So parents, as your kids get ready to return to school this week, resolve to be more involved in their education, more interested in what they’re learning, and more supportive of the teachers in the classroom with your child every day.

• • •

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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