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Why Easy Grading Is Good for Your Career

2. Since we cannot require teachers to gain more experience in their field, the school system should arrange for industry to pick up teachers on a paid internship during summers. Either colleges or school systems can do this, and to meet some districts' five-year continuing education requirements, at least 20 weeks should be required during the five years.

Jay's grade: B (This strikes me as expensive, thus unlikely, but worthwhile.)

3. Do away with social promotion. The federal government should set specific standards for knowledge and application. States may add to it but not teach less. The committee that sets the standards should have equal numbers of teachers, administrators, college officials and business executives. Parents should have representation. Recommendations should start on the local level and be sent for review to the next level up. A national committee sets standards. Students who do not pass the test at the end of the year are retained. They may get supplemental help during the summer, and retake the test before the fall session starts. How this is paid for should be a local decision.

Jay's grade: A (This is expensive, too, but essential. It is possible under our current system to miss half of the questions on some state achievement tests and still be judged proficient in that subject.)

4. Protect tenure. I almost lost my job because I failed an administrator's child who did no work and got in my face, assuming his parent's position would protect him. Good teachers must not be subject to political pressure for grades. It happens far too often. On the other hand, unions must sit with the administration and decide on a procedure that does not protect the bad teacher. In one district, a teacher with political connections was reassigned to three schools, getting a student pregnant in each one. He eventually became an administrator with no student contact. Others relied on being popular with the students and did little real teaching. Reading the sports page out loud is not teaching history. Nepotism must be banned, not just discouraged.

Jay's grade: C-plus (The problem is real, but enforcing tenure rules is not a solution. As Hibbard's own clash with his principal shows, an administrator can wear down even a tenured teacher.)

5. Funding must be reliable and consistent. In New Jersey, the entire budget is sent to the voters. While they provide the students, they don't approve enough money to educate them. We refer to it as expecting a Cadillac education for the price of a Chevy. As a result of new construction, my district saw an influx of 1,200 new students with no increase in funding. Developers should be required to place money in escrow against the need for new construction. Towns should increase the funding for new development based on the taxes received from the new residents or industry. Instead, the town keeps that money because they have financial trouble too. The result of budgets being voted down was science books that were 15 years old in my classroom, and lab tables that were crumbling.

Jay's grade: C-minus (Reliable and consistent funding is a fine thing but impossible to arrange in a free-enterprise, non-recession-proof democracy. So this is a pipe dream.)

6. Give teachers ownership of their program. With the requirements set by the state and district for what is learned, the teachers should have sufficient collaborative time to decide how to best achieve the goals, what books to use and what equipment is needed, within the limits of the budget. Most people with any skills want to be told what the job is, but not how to do it. That is why I went to college, and go back for continuing education programs.

Jay's grade: A-plus (Harnessing the creative energies of teachers is the key to making schools work.)

7. Districts must set up programs for parents during the evening or weekend for those who want to learn how to help their children with school. So many parents tell me that they didn't do well when they were students. They understand their children's frustration, but they don't know how to help. They must be part of the new programs, such as new math or whole language. Once part of the process, they can speak from experience, not frustration, if a program does not work. First grade teachers often teach study skills, but after that some teachers assume students know what to do. Teach these skills to both students and their parents throughout their school careers. What is learned in partnership will be retained better. Besides, who is the greater role model for the child: a teacher they see for only a few hours on weekdays, or their parents?

Jay's grade: A (My mother taught parent effectiveness classes after she retired as a classroom teacher. They were very popular, and I wish more parents had the same opportunity to learn proven techniques.)

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