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OP-ED | ‘Solutions’ For Broken Schools Are Simple . . . Except In The Real World

by | Jul 22, 2014 11:00am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Education, Opinion

Schools are broken. We have to fix them. What can we possibly do?

Well, the fundamental job of schools is performed by teachers. So teachers must be the problem. Let’s fix the teachers.

Let’s start by eliminating tenure. Too many bad teachers remain in classrooms because of ironclad tenure laws. If we eliminate tenure, then we’ll eliminate all of the bad teachers. And if we eliminate all bad teachers, every student will learn at a higher level.

We can also get more bang for our buck if we get rid of silly ideas like tying teacher pay to additional college degrees. Do teachers with advanced degrees really translate into improved student learning?

Finally, teachers should be evaluated using student test results and rewarded for their students’ success. If this were the case, the only teachers left in classrooms would be the hardworking, results-oriented ones.

The solutions for fixing broken schools, you see, are rather simple.

Except in the real world.

Pardon me for asking, but why do so many education-reform ideas focus on eliminating the supposed glut of “bad teachers”? Quite frankly, I have grown weary of this oversimplified perspective.

CT News Junkie columnist Terry D. Cowgill recently echoed this overworked concept in an otherwise levelheaded op-ed: “There is no question that bad teachers make for bad schools. And the bad teachers not only drag down the profession but they lower morale. Ask any great teacher how much she hates sharing space in the profession with someone who simply sleepwalks through his entire day.”

With all due respect to Mr. Cowgill, himself a former teacher, I’ve never concerned myself with “sharing space” with a colleague who “sleepwalks” through the day because: 1) I have never encountered, in 23 years of teaching, such a blatantly irresponsible colleague who lasted more than a year or two as a teacher; and 2) I’m too busy teaching my own students to worry about the performance of other teachers. That’s a job for administrators.

Do bad teachers exist? Of course they do. And they need, first, to be counseled and, if necessary, jettisoned. But it seems to me that “bad teachers” have become the scapegoat for “our broken schools.” And for that matter, just what is a “broken school,” anyway?

Perhaps Governor Dannel P. Malloy was referring to such schools in a 2012 report outlining his education reform plan: “After decades as a national leader in education, Connecticut has more recently lost its edge. Our students’ overall performance has stagnated, and our achievement gap — the worst in the nation — has persisted.”

Malloy offered no specific data to back this assertion, but he nonetheless proposed a sweeping plan to “revitalize our schools” and “restore public education in Connecticut to a position of excellence.”

Perhaps Malloy was referring primarily to the achievement gap in Connecticut schools since his plan pinpoints the “lowest-performing schools” and “districts with the greatest need.”

These must be the so-called “broken schools” in Connecticut.

But then again, if you trust statistics, most Connecticut schools are not all that broken.

“Connecticut students remain on par or are outpacing many of their peers globally in areas of math, science, and reading, according to a new assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” reported the Hartford Courant.

In fact, “only four education systems worldwide did better than Connecticut students in reading.”

In addition, “Connecticut’s high school seniors scored the highest in reading among 13 states and also narrowed the state’s achievement gap between black and white students, according to a test known as ‘the nation’s report card’.”

What’s more, “It’s the first time in recent history … that we’ve seen a statistically significant gap closure” between black and white students, according to state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.

Serious concerns still persist: “Our achievement gaps remain too large, even when we are performing at high levels in terms of aggregate performance,” said Pryor.

Nevertheless, how “broken” are the schools if Connecticut students have shown such performance gains? Are we trying to fix a “problem” that largely doesn’t exist?

Well, maybe. But still, we should eradicate all of those bad teachers by eliminating tenure, discouraging advanced education for teachers, and implementing teacher evaluations based on student test results.

How else, after all, are we going to fix our broken schools?

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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(10) Archived Comments

posted by: RogueReporterCT | July 22, 2014  12:56pm


The “Schools are broken” line is a tired cliche and a scare tactic. When I tutored high school students in Simsbury and Farmington, the impression that I got was exactly the opposite. And no one could say that these the schools that these kids attended did not exist in the real world. Someone, somewhere definitely knows how to run a school.

As a developmental English instructor at Capital Community College, I definitely saw the other side of the coin, but it was clear that the low achievement levels of urban schools were linked to the economic circumstances of those districts.

None of the “solutions” that I have seen proposed or implemented, those top down reforms imposed by the federal government through the states, or the legislation pushed by foundations and corporate reformers, addressed what needed to be done: Translate the expertise, the good lessons, from successful districts into others, and help the schools in the poorer districts compensate for the disadvantages of students, parents and teachers in those districts. Common core does not do this. Charter schools don’t do this. Gimmicks affecting graduation rates and test scores don’t do this.

The question is, do we care enough about students in the poorer districts to roll up our sleeves and do what needs to be done, or do we simply declare the whole concept of public education as “broken”? In my opinion, the latter tack just opens up the door to more gimmicks.

posted by: ocoandasoc | July 22, 2014  2:25pm

Go back to sleep CT students, parents and taxpayers. Everything is fine with our education system. No need to experiment or innovate. Don’t listen to any of the “reformers”.... they’re just simplistic morons or greedy entrepreneurs. And remember, anybody not a member or proponent of the teachers union just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But if you’re not convinced, just keep reading the dirge-like posts and hypnotic blogs all written by the people we’re paying to educate our kids. They’re all pretty much the same (compare this op-ed with Keck’s last one, e.g.). So just pick one you like and read it over and over. Then relax, And go back to sleep.

posted by: Joebigjoe | July 22, 2014  2:40pm

Two things

1) we will fix schools to where we want them to be when we fix parenting

2) in the event of a bad teacher or bad administrator they have to remember that they work for us parents. They don’t work for the kids. they don’t work for the town. They work for the parents that pay their salaries. They should be treated accordingly and the real good ones should also get treated accordingly which means they get paid more

posted by: state_employee | July 23, 2014  7:41am

Education reform has NEVER been about helping poor children in poor performing schools.  Education reform is purely a money grab by the reformers, plain and simple, and in Connecticut, it is MALLOY handing them the money.  The end.

posted by: GuilfordResident | July 23, 2014  8:58am

It is up to parents and kids to learn. There is too much money wasted on “fixing” education. I like our school system along w/ most parents in town. Everyone works hard in and of themselves to make the school system work. If your school system stinks, work to help it out but stop throwing money at the problem b/c we all know that doesn’t work.

posted by: RogueReporterCT | July 23, 2014  12:41pm


Dear ocoandasoc, Oy gevalt…way to misrepresent someone else’s point of view. And this is constructive how?

posted by: Bluecoat | July 23, 2014  9:47pm

Here is a couple of great and interesting links
Check out American Basic Curriculum


I am not an education expert, nor do I work in the field, just a Concerned American and Parent. What ever happened to the three R’s of Education? In my view we need to teach the classics, real history, and not the political correctness that has over taken the curriculum.
We are “training” our kids to be what exactly?
We should be preparing our kids for a future that they decide on and not one decided by or designed by unqualified TFAers, David Coleman, Dan Malloy, or any unelected Wizard of Smart in the so called education field today.
It is also hard for we to understand the unwarranted privacy invasive electronic testing that has consumed Our Education System today. I just don’ t get why so called adults can justify stealing personal and private information on minors(children) as they sit in class in front of the stupid computers that even Google had to admit in court this year, data mine information in their Google Apps for education.
Just mind boggling. And no one cares. this topic should be the number one reason to pull out of C. And the Smarter Balanced Assessments.
We also need to push for a Ct Parental and Student Privacy rights Bill here in CT
This year was the 45 anniversary of America sending our first Astronauts to the Moon. Can anyone remember when the last time we did that? NASA has become a joke.

posted by: BrianO | July 24, 2014  2:34pm

Education, like almost all of Connecticut’s problems, are economic in nature.

Some of the most affluent towns spend less per student but get the best results because of the environment in which they live and the academic standards and achievement of the parents involved.

posted by: SocialButterfly | July 24, 2014  9:44pm

Teachers are not the problem.
There are too many children out there coming from one-parent homes.  Our former strong family support towards education is now missing, especially in urban communities.

posted by: Bulldog1 | July 25, 2014  10:27am

JBJ’s first point is right on: Until parents and students commit to taking education seriously little is going to change.

The elimination of tenure has less, far less, to do with improving education than it does with the desire of superintendents, BOE’s and right wingers in general to be able to reduce costs by dumping higher paid teachers, regardless of competence.  Industry does it all the time to cut cost so why not in public education?  All part of furthering the right wing race to the bottom for the 99%.

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