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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Dumbing down

Anybody who thinks about it for more than 30 seconds knows that "no child left behind" is an impossible goal, a stupid promise to make and a federal law doomed to failure. The only possible way for everyone to succeed is to dumb down the definition of success to the point where it is meaningless. Here's one way that works:

But in September, Mountain Grove, a remote rural community in the Ozarks where nearly three in four students live in poverty, eliminated all of its programs for the district's 50 or so gifted children like Audrey, who is 8 now. Struggling with shrinking revenues and new federal mandates that focus on improving the test scores of the lowest-achieving pupils, Mountain Grove and many other school districts across the country have turned to cutting programs for their most promising students.

''Rural districts like us, we've been literally bleeding to death,'' said Gary Tyrrell, assistant superintendent of the Mountain Grove School District, which has 1,550 students. The formula for cutting back in hard times was straightforward, if painful, Mr. Tyrrell said: Satisfy federal and state requirements first. Then, ''Do as much as we can for the majority and work on down.''

Under that kind of a formula, programs for gifted and talented children have become especially vulnerable.

So much for "compassionate conservatism," just another name for the liberal forumla of throwing increasing amounts of money at problems and being shocked that they merely turn into bigger problems. Thank you, George Bush, for almost guaranteeing us at least four years of that approach on steroids.


Harl Delos
Mon, 06/16/2008 - 10:47am

My grandmother, a teacher, argued that in the old-fashioned multi-grade classroom, each kid got taught three times - once by overhearing older kids get the material, once by being taught the material, and once by helping younger kids with the material, and that modern classrooms are based on mistaken idea that kids could be mass-taught as if the schools were factories.

My mother, a teacher, argued that the reason we have poorer and poorer results is that we have fewer and fewer dropouts, and when you keep the bad students in the schools, the dissimilar makeup of the students capabilities makes it harder to teach anyone.

I've done some teaching, too. I think they're both right. I also think we have seen a steady decline in the teachers (for both reasons), and that poorer teachers result in poorer students. My wife, who works with the schools as therapeutic support staff, agrees. We're seeing higher rates of autism and other learning disorders, and instead of locking those kids in the attic, they're being sent to school, and that is having a big impact, too.

There needs to be some method of making schools accountable. For decades, the schools have been operated primarily for the benefit of the teachers and administrators, rather than for the benefit of the students. When a teacher succeeds, it's because she's not doing things the way the school wants them done.

We can't afford to leave children behind, because they don't go away. Those kids grow up to become voters, for one thing, and they either need to be able to support themselves, or we will have to support them.

In the 1950s, the teachers fawned over superior students, and thrilled at their accomplishments. That isn't happening any more, and it's hurting us in the international economy. The top 2% of the students are the yeast in our economy. They invent things that result in everyone else having work to do.

I think we'll end up going back to the one-room schoolhouse, each one independently owned and controlled by the teacher. Computer-aided instruction makes it possible to do better than ever. To make it work, we need to establish standards for what a "third-grade education" is, etc. Joe Teacher gets to decide how many kids belong in his classroom, and he gets a flat fee per student, per grade of education, whether he has 20 kids in his classroom and it takes him twelve months to do it, or he has 40 kids in his classroom, and he gets them advanced to the next grade in seven months.

Parents would decide what teacher to send their kids to. The teachers would register with the district, specifying how many kids they wanted to have, and what grades he was willing to teach; teachers wouldn't be able to pick and choose, but would have to take the next kid on the list when a vacancy occurs.

Or not. Maybe we'll just muddle along with the present system forever, or maybe there will be something else proposed. We shall see.