Although there is great disagreement about why our public schools are in trouble, most people would concur that there are things that can be done to ameliorate the situation right now. Perhaps the reason why little progress has been made is the fact that, when solutions are suggested, they are developed with little (if any) input from some of the key players (such as teachers). In fact, some shortcomings that our schools can and should address a lot better include:
1. Actively identify and prosecute bullies. Perhaps because they do not want to upset parents unnecessarily and because they may not want to be labeled as “ineffective,” school administrators (and some teachers) often try to sweep under the carpet disciplinary problems, even those stemming from out-of-control bullies. Bullies, though, present a special set of problems that need to be addressed more aggressively. Simply put, these kids need to be either separated from the regular community of students or they need to be sent home or to juvenile detention, if the parents or guardians cannot or will not deal with the child appropriately.
2. Stop blindly accepting and implementing stupid federal laws and school policies. A good example is the No Child Left Behind legislation which has brought so much confusion and chaos into public schools. This was thought of and implemented with very little (if any) teacher input and it has created more problems than it has resolved, even if some of its components were well-intended. If teachers, parents, school administrators, and other key players did a better job of communicating and collaborating, many of these ultimately harmful laws and policies could be ameliorated or rescinded.
3. Develop a no-tolerance approach to gangs in schools. Sometimes because of political-correctness concerns, school systems are not aggressive enough when it comes to gangs moving into schools. In some parts of the country (like Los Angeles, California), for example, gangs have become such a strong component of the community that people have been intimidated into thinking that this is just something they have to accept and live with in schools. By creating strong anti-gang task forces, though, communities (even those already heavily saturated with this problem) can resist the temptation (for the sake of safety) to just accept the presence of gangs.
4. Immediately and consistently kick out of classrooms all unnecessarily disruptive students. Students that disrupt classroom settings play an unacceptable and unfair role in interfering with the education of students that behave well. For that and other reasons, they need to be sent to detention, expelled, or handed over to the authorities (if they present a physical danger to staff or other students)-the only exception being for students who cannot control their behaviour (such as autistic kids or children with legitimate behavioural problems), but even these kids can and should be isolated if they continue to disrupt classroom activity.
5. Stop prostituting schools to junk food manufacturers. There is no excuse for schools being used as marketing tools for junk food and beverage “pushers.” The money coming in from such ill-conceived pimping relationships, supposedly used to make up for budget short-falls, does not pay for the concomitant problems associated with the practice-i.e., medical costs of health problems developed in the long run, worsening of academic performance, damage to school property because of sugar-zonked-up young troublemakers, etc.
6. Stop hiring and holding on to spineless school administrators. These people, rather than enforcing school policies and holding students accountable for their behaviour, play the let-me-be-popular-with-students-and-parents game. Accordingly, the rarely back teachers up when they discipline students and they put up a façade to the government of supposedly running trouble-free schools. In other words, they cover up rather than deal with problem students, if only so the government does not classify the school as “ineffective,” in terms of being able to deal with disciplinary problems.
7. Start punishing spineless school administrators who refuse to stand up to school bullies, disruptive students, out-of-line parents, and clueless government officials. Few schools systems have the insight and backbone to go after school administrators who fail to do their job-indeed, who routinely do what is politically correct rather than what a good disciplinarian or a leader with the best interests of the students and teachers in mind would do. School administrators who want to be popular need to run for public office, instead of managing schools; they also need to be able to stand up for what is right, even if, by doing so, they may put their jobs at risk.
8. Not holding students directly responsible for their academic performance and behaviour in the classroom. This is called accountability. The popular movement today is to blame teachers or school facilities when students fall short of expectations. How does this encourage students to make up for any shortcomings, though, or to take responsibility for their actions (such as deliberately not studying, or spending too much time playing video games or texting friends)? For the record, no teacher, no matter how competent, can force any student to learn if that student cannot or will not learn the lessons taught. Why are the government and many parents unable to grasp this very simple concept?
9. Stop mistreating and abusing teachers. More often than not, teachers are used as easy scapegoats when school systems fail to pass prescribed standards. Teachers are only a small component of a very complex, multiple-players educational system. Why, then, is teacher competence or compensation usually the only criteria that is looked at when things go wrong in public schools? For the record, parent involvement (or the lack thereof), government and school policies, student participation (or the lack thereof), school facilities, the mental and physical health of students, and educational materials provided are all as important as teacher performance; consequently, all these areas need to be questioned when and if student performance is deficient.
10. Not taking into account the mental and physical health of students when evaluating over-all academic performance. How well are students eating? Are they getting regular physical check-ups? Are they victims of abuse at home or elsewhere? Do they suffer from an undiagnosed medical or mental health problem? Any of these situations can negatively affect student academic performance and, yet, since none of these falls under the control of teachers, why, again, are teachers usually the only ones who are looked at when academic performance is poor?