By By Craig Ziemba / special to the star
July 28, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
As bad news about the test scores of our area's schools surfaced, the typical blame game between parents, teachers and administrators began.
When this paper published the budgets of the county and city school systems, many readers were surprised to find that the public schools spend considerably more per child than the private schools in our area and yet continue to lag behind them in performance.
Government bureaucracies are inherently less efficient than private enterprise. When it comes to education, though, so many variables affect the ability of students to learn that it's hard to pin down the exact cause and effect of academic underachievement.
Clearly, one of the biggest factors affecting a child's desire to learn is the attitude that parents transfer to their children about the value of an education regardless of which school their children attend.
Public schools are given the huge responsibility of educating children from all walks of life. Many of my friends who are teachers in the Meridian school system tell heart-wrenching stories of children in grade school right here in Meridian whose parents are absent, abusive or alcoholic. Try though they might, the school system can't fix that. No school board, principal, or teacher can do for the parents what they will not do for themselves.
We should all pitch in to help underprivileged children break out of the destructive cycle that they have been born into, but we can't expect the public school system to change things beyond their control.
What we can and should expect our school system to do is manage the variables they do have power over, namely the quality of the teaching. Parents and school boards must stand behind teachers and principals who do a good job and also must demand that those who consistently fail find another line of work.
The vast majority of teachers are dedicated professionals who care about the children, are good at what they do, and even dip into their own savings to help the poor children buy supplies.
Unfortunately, however, there are a small percentage of teachers that everyone children, parents and administrators know are incompetent. When my wife's family registered their children for high school in Lauderdale County, they were advised by numerous people which teachers to request and which to avoid if they wanted their children to learn anything.
If everyone knew which teachers were incompetent, why were they allowed to teach? You know why. The principal didn't have the guts to fire them, the school board wouldn't back up the principal if he had tried and the teacher's union would have raised Cain because the teachers had been there for years.
It was easier in the short term to do nothing, but the damage done to the children who were shorted in their education lasts forever. Whose feelings should we care about most?
Seniority and tenure are decent measures of loyalty and experience, but they can also become a crutch for substandard performance. Some of the best teachers I ever had were the oldest and most experienced, but so were some of the worst. The longer either stayed with the school, the less likely it was they could ever be fired, regardless of their performance, and that's a shame.
Time on the job doesn't necessarily guarantee improvement or success. Merit, skill and results should determine advancement and job security, not just years of service. Public schoolteachers have a tough job, and a lot of children face enormous obstacles to learning.
We need to make sure that the best possible teachers and principals are charged with the all-important task of educating America's future.