I read with interest the recent education-related articles and opinion page letters to the editor in my local newspaper. One headline that got my attention was the commentary titled "Dys wrong on PACT." Other articles and editorial letters followed on this subject. However, a big disappointment was the personal attacks against someone who questioned the PACT test and the new replacement test (PASS) being developed. This points out one of the biggest problems we have in our public education system.
Questions by the public as well as our teachers, who are on the front lines, should be welcomed by the local school district, not feared. Open communication of concerns is the greatest tool for finding and addressing problems within public education. Teachers are our greatest resource of knowledge for improving education within their district and our state but often they are warned by district personal, who they can and cannot talk to and are often a witness to examples made of their free speaking fellow teachers.
Because of this, sadly, the knowledgeable teacher's voice is rarely heard. That is the greatest waste of an expert resource. Every community's school board should hold the district accountable, be an open line of communication and be the community's watchdog. But too often it is merely a tool for propaganda. Typically, school board members who care and ask in-depth questions about teacher and parent concerns are "groomed" into being part of their team. Otherwise they are made to understand they will be treated as outsiders and labeled non-team players. However, a true team player is one who wants the "team," in this case the public schools, to be the best it can be regardless of the difficult questions that need to be asked. Also, the local press is too often an accomplice in preventing all the facts from reaching the public. To exemplify this lack of complete, open communication to the public let me present the following examples of facts not well communicated.
The first example is in my local school district. Rock Hill High School was placed on the state Priority School watch list in the spring by the S.C. State Department of Education. Few in the community are aware of this despite the fact the community has a right to know. This placement means it is being evaluated for low test scores that do not show necessary improvement. The state is given a warning -- if scores do not show improvement, there is the potential for the state to take over the school.
This is essentially a three-year process of evaluation by the state. Another example is the recent planning for the PACT replacement test -- PASS -- at the state level. Everyone should remember the unanimous argument about the PACT accountability test made by district superintendents that the test results were reported too late to be useful. However, these same superintendents at a state meeting this year supported having the new test scores reported as essentially the same time as the old PACT, in late August.
I have personally witnessed many of our teachers being very surprised by this because they know this late reporting prevents immediate re-mediation, like summer school can provide, before the student is placed into the next grade level. Another example is the recent reporting of state SAT scores, which noted a two-point improvement from 2007 to 2008. This is true; however, what was not mentioned was the fact that this was a cumulative improvement that included scores from private schools, independent schools and home-schooled students. Public school SAT scores in the state actually dropped 3 points in 2008.
Teacher bonus pay
On a more positive note, one last example of a lack of good communication to the public is a program being pioneered by the S.C. State Department of Education -- the TAP program. This is a teacher bonus pay program based on student performance improvements, and it is showing great promise -- much more potential, in my opinion, than National Board teacher certification, etc. It provides a way for all teachers to make a higher salary as well. I have even spoken to teachers making more money than their principals.
The point of these examples is, the public needs to stay informed. Asking questions is an important tool in this regard and should be encouraged. School districts need to be very open instead of a "closed society" structure with a group of community "soldiers" who defend against anyone asking probing questions. Also, more of the public needs to get involved by running for local school boards. Remember, it is our children's future. Just as important, a community's economic welfare is dependent on the quality of its public schools. Attacking people who ask questions out of concern about public education will do nothing positive for our public schools. Every parent and concerned citizen needs to get involved to open all the doors of truth concerning a local district's success as well as its failures.
I am very proud of the education my children and I received in the Rock Hill public schools. I want public education in South Carolina to be the best it can be. In order to accomplish this goal we must work as a team with the public raising concerns about what does not work in order to make public education the best it can be.