OpEd | School solutions need teacher input, not just top-down directives


Companies marketing their computer programs have targeted public schools with Title I money to spend. These companies were encouraged by the enthusiasm for change spawned by the “No Child Left Behind” program that promised miraculous educational results.

Superintendents throughout the country have bought into the idea that students require change because they no longer respond to the old ways.

In fact, Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat recently said that until schools stop doing things the way they’ve always been done, there will be no solutions to discipline and academic problems.

Summer school was the old way. It worked very well until the early 2000s when it was replaced with a course called Credit Recovery, first using a computer program called Plato, then with Compass Learning and now with Edgenuity.

“Credit recovery” is a misnomer. It does not take the place of the failing grade on a student’s transcript. Summer school offered students a way to improve their grade point average. Obviously, the new way, not the old, does not work.

In the 1960s, grades for three grading periods and a final exam were averaged to get a semester grade. All grades were number grades. A was 93-100, etc. Gradually, the “new” took over. With each change, less and less was expected of students. Forty became the new zero. Two F’s and two D’s had to average to a passing D. Final exams disappeared. The last major grading change was the policy adopted by this administration –– the very needed short-term goals of grading periods was eliminated. First grading period was always the “getting to know what the teacher expects” grading period. Students earning a passing grade for first grading period were one-third on their way to passing the course –– grading period grades provided security.

All these policy changes, which led to watered down course content and inflated grades, were supposedly to help students. Instead they make the administration look good by raising the graduation rate. The result of lowered academic standards and out-of-control discipline problems are the reasons parents are taking their children out of our schools. These newer policies aren’t working.

In the ’60s and ’70s, the need for curriculum changes were often brought to the attention of the superintendent and curriculum director by teachers. Then teachers were assigned to committees to form plans for change. More recently, the superintendent buys a program or reads a book and presents a new idea. Then Wisconsin Avenue administrators work on a plan, which teachers, with no input, must carry out. The last 10-plus years of changes have not worked. The newest idea is to allow high school students to choose a career and then choose what they want to learn. Coming from the chaos of discipline problems in most of our middle schools, students presently do not have the educational background to make a wise career choice or to choose course content. To be effective, this kind of curriculum requires small classes of no more than 15. Peoria Public Schools do not have smaller classes and cannot attract or pay teachers to achieve smaller classes.

The really old system provided great career education through industrial arts, home economics, business and other electives. Now students in the suburban schools and private schools will be gaining a comprehensive liberal arts education that will serve them well as preparation for college and almost any career they could choose in the future. Meanwhile our students will be engaged in a pie-in-the-sky experiment.

Sharon L. Crews, Retired Peoria Public Schools English teacher (1963-1969 – Roosevelt Jr. High; 1970-2005 – Manual High School)

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