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Commentary: Some truisms and falsehoods about schools

False: American kids are failing. According to the U.S. Department of Education, tests scores are higher for Caucasian, African American, Hispanic and Asian students. The dropout rate is the lowest in our history.

False: You cannot get rid of "bad teachers." Administrators simply have to do the footwork and paperwork to make their cases. Districts have two years to figure out whether a teacher should be hired, and during that time a probationary teacher can be fired and no reason need be given.

True: Current corporate educational reforms do not work. The so-called educational reforms are simply ways to privatize and make billions of dollars from texts, tests, conferences and contractors. Two examples of these reforms are the failed programs No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which have brought greedy entrepreneurs billions of dollars with no results.

True: Poverty is the major cause of low-performing students and schools. Trust me, it's easy to teach kids who have parents who help with homework, who come to school having eaten, who don't have language issues and who have a somewhat normal family life. What's tougher is trying to teach in overcrowded classrooms filled with kids who are hungry and often living in unsavory, and sometimes dangerous, circumstances with family members who are either unable or unwilling to help.

False: "Bad" schools are caused by "bad teaching." If we were to test the premise that "good schools" are in "good neighborhoods" and "bad schools" are in "bad neighborhoods," then let's swap the teaching staffs. I believe that nothing would change.

Not only do teachers in "bad schools" have to work twice as hard to be able to make any difference (usually with inferior materials and overcrowded classrooms), but they also have to bear the slings and arrows of an administration and a society that blames them. These teachers are the heroes who march into their classrooms every day and do their best with no words of support and no pats on the back — and they certainly don't do it for the money.

So what's the answer?

Classes should be small in every grade, including middle school and high school. The bloated salaries of administrators and ridiculously expensive programs should not take precedence over children. Students learn best in small classes.

Every school should have one counselor for every 100 students.

Standardized tests should be kept to a minimum, and teachers should write their own tests. After all, they are the professionals.

It would be a start.

Newport Beach resident SANDY ASPER is an author and a retired teacher.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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