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As I See It: Teachers matter too

To quote a recent St. Paul Pioneer Press article reprinted in the Brainerd Dispatch, "Minnesota has one of the nation's largest achievement gaps. ... Students of color, those who are learning English and students who have special needs or come from low-income families routinely struggle academically compared with their peers."

The Minnesota Department of Education response? Implement a new method of grading schools (North Star Accountability System) to make certain they are assessing achievement properly. This new method is the third iteration of an assessment system started six years ago and will look at more areas that will pinpoint why some students struggle to learn.

This new system identified 50 districts and charters and 485 individual schools as needing different levels of additional support from the state. Experts and education specialists will supposedly provide comprehensive support to the struggling schools.

By the way, I've heard an expert is defined as someone who knows more and more about less and less.

I'm no expert in education, but I have learned to think for myself. In my analysis, there appear to be a number of important factors in the education equation. They are: the parent(s), the students, the school system, the school facilities and the teachers.

The students, the family and the teachers are the most important factors, but the educational system only has real "control" of the teachers.

Today's public school teachers are at the bottom of a mountainous education bureaucracy that starts in Washington, D.C. In between are the individual state education departments and agencies, teachers unions, school district superintendents and boards, and principals.

More than a few teachers are expected to juggle and struggle with educating students who have competing needs and a range of abilities while trying to maintain order within a system that will not allow the most effective methods of maintaining order.

Add the parents who insist Johnny and Suzie cannot do anything wrong and throw in a lawsuit when things go south and you can predict the outcome without much trouble.

How do charter schools, home-schooled students and private/parochial schools perform in comparison to public schools? Are there lessons to be learned and applied here?

The real goal of the "new" assessment system appears to be to get the Legislature to pump more money into the school system. Before I would do that, I would get the federal government out of the education business. I would also drastically cut state bureaucracies (over 500 school districts of 10 different types including charter schools in Minnesota) and reduce the size and power of school boards and staffs.

Any student of management knows that bureaucracy (unions?) usually promotes mediocrity and stifles creativity.

The monetary savings from taking those measures could be used to hire more teachers and aides, reduce class sizes and perhaps break up classes so that those students who cannot keep up with their peers do not take so much of a teacher's time that they act as anchors slowing down the rest of the class.

Secondly, teachers will perform much better when they know someone has their back instead of worrying about who is waiting to ax them.

Those are tough words in these days of the Holy Grail of "diversity" coupled with rampant touchy-feely sensitivity, which has only given us issues like safe spaces and microaggressions to deal with instead of true education.

Empower the teachers; support them; weed out the non-productive ones; and identify and reward the good performers - then assess student performance and see how much further we've come.

Well, that's the way I see it.