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Other Voices: Out-of-whack education reform

I remember my high school algebra teacher explaining how an “equation must be balanced.”

A few years ago when I was training prospective Nevada County teachers to step into California classrooms, I told them that strong learning environments also needed balance: good teaching balanced by optimal learning.

As I listen to the rhetoric of school reform on both the state and national levels, I marvel over the apparent absence of goals being set for the second half of the equation – improving learning. So far, the emphasis is on getting more qualified teachers, doing a better job, and generally raising the bar for their students. And if teachers and schools can’t do this, programs will be reorganized, people removed, and kids packed off to better schools.



On top of this, no one seems to be expecting anything less of our schools even when wholesale layoffs and decimated programs translate into doing more with less. The message is always the same. Just suck it up and do better.

But are we really asking anything new of our students that might look like “reform?” Have we asked them to study more, work harder, and to become more serious about learning? To put in extra time, to challenge themselves as they have not done before?




On the contrary, I know many teachers who pare back student work loads in deference to busy families who insist that their kids have “other things” to do with their time. These are the same parents who pressure teachers when anything less than an “A” or a “B” shows up on report cards.

Do we really think that all the extra learning is going to come entirely from the in-class efforts of creative teachers, now saddled with even more students and fewer resources? Just like pulling a rabbit out of a hat when there aren’t even enough hats to go around? Isn’t the other side of the equation left to the student to do more and to work more diligently, the same thing we ask of teachers? If so, I sure haven’t heard much about it, and it’s not getting much attention.

Teachers need more time to do a better job. Isn’t that also true of students? I don’t see any suggestions out there that we back off on extracurricular activities or drop the part-time jobs. What about the teen texting, tweets, and television? Just how much time is there left in the student’s day anyway, and what should be done with this time? Have we looked into what kids do after hours in top rated countries to boost achievement?

With all the talk of potential school furloughs, are we to assume that our students will “make up” the lost time by studying on their own? (Fat chance!) How do we start to put the focus on students and what they do outside of class? And, most importantly, how do we get parents seriously involved in this discussion?

And, lastly, what do we do about the desperate learning circumstances of students who live in chaotic, non-supportive homes where even the basics aren’t in place for concentration and study?

I wish I knew the answers. It seems to me that we need to begin asking these questions, and I’m surprised that educators themselves haven’t been more visible in addressing the student side of what should be a more balanced equation.

Kent Rees is retired school administrator who lives in Nevada City.


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