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Education: Finger pointing and blame placing is NOT a solution

May 9, 2011

Wanted: Enlightened school/district administrators, education experts, influencers wanting to fix our education system.

No, this is not meant to be a joke — it’s meant to be a call to action. If you meet that criteria, and take that seriously, we want to talk with you because we can help.

I was inspired to write this post because I think it’s time we got down to the business of actually doing something about our education system rather than continue down the predictable, yet ineffective path of finger-pointing, placing blame, and searching for external excuses for why education is not meeting the needs of our children.

What do I mean?  Well, here’s a sample of the “reasons” for why education isn’t working:

  • School districts cite overly-restrictive teachers’ unions for why they can’t get fair teacher evaluation, hire good teachers/fire bad ones, keep salaries within reasonable levels, etc.
  • Teachers’ unions blame the districts for not providing better working conditions, pay, benefits to their teachers. They blame the states for “underfunding” education and keeping teachers’ pay so low that they can’t attract and retain qualified staff.
  • Teachers blame their principals/administration for not supporting them more. They blame parents for not being more engaged in their students’ education, and they blame the government for not providing more money for education so that the parents have to take up more of the slack.
  • Parents blame everyone else — the government for short-changing the schools, the teachers for not caring enough or doing enough to teach their kids, the administration for not offering enough opportunities for “extended learning,” and cuts to services.
  • Taxpayers blame the government for providing too much budget for schools with too little results. 
  • Businesses blames the education system for not putting out adequate numbers of new employees into the business world that are properly prepared and trained to participate in job market.

Note the common factor in the majority of the “reasons” above is the lack of adequate funding and financial resources to “get the job done.” However, none of these issues can be solved by throwing more money at them.

More money is also clearly not the solution to improving educational outcomes as history has shown us.  We’ve spent increasing amounts of money educating our students for the past 40 years, yet their actual academic achievement hasn’t actually improved at all.  So, then we start looking for “reasons” that’s happened, including classroom size, again the lack of adequate teachers, insufficient time in the classrooms, lack of emphasis on academics, etc.

Again…not dealing with the problem, but plenty of excuses.

Those excuses lead nowhere.  We spin around in a permanent whirlpool of complaints, finger-pointing and rhetoric, yet at the end of the day — or the school year — we’re at the same place we found ourselves in last year.  It appears that while there is plenty of blame to go around, no one is really brave enough to take a step back, take a deep breath and look at what’s really going on. Instead, we’d prefer to slap on a band-aid, apply a quick fix, and hope that takes care of it…until the “next problem” comes along.

Our children are the ones who are suffering. We can argue until we’re blue in the face that this time smaller classroom sizes will fix it, perhaps a better reading curriculum or more emphasis on reading. Or that teacher effectiveness is dependent on how they are perceived or how much they are paid.  We need more technology — that will make academic achievement go up.  Do any of these sound familiar?

What no one really talks about is the common factor in everything from classroom size to the achievement gap; from disrespect and disruptive classrooms to bullies that treat their victims so harshly that suicide seems the only out.  Teachers leave the classroom, not because of inadequate pay, but because they can’t handle the behavior management issues anymore.  Precious days are sucked out what should be learning time, and a corresponding amount of hundreds of billions of dollars across the country.

This cancer revolves around children’s preparedness to learn in a classroom environment and that does not mean starting kids on reading at earlier and earlier ages. Too many of our children are woefully under-prepared with social/emotional learning that is the most critical factor in how successful they will be in school — and in life. And that, folks, affects everything and everyone in the educational equation.  And, I’m not going to go there and start pointing fingers and say “oh, but that’s the PARENTS’ job” because the reality is that even the best of parents, who are doing their best to instill these values and abilities in their kids are fighting an uphill battle. That also doesn’t account for those parents who may not be from this country or culture, who are doing what they should to raise their kids to behave in a manner appropriate for the culture of their heritage…which may not be what this culture or the marketplace expects of people. So those kids start behind, and remain behind.

I’m happy to share more on this because it’s a hugely multi-faceted topic, and it’s one I speak on to many audiences including the public and educational professionals.  But the topic is one that everyone should be able to get their arms and heads around because solving this problem is in everyone’s interests. There is no downside to improving teachers’ working conditions, students’ social skills, creating more productive and positive learning environments.

Pointing fingers and placing blame may make some folks feel better because then they can say they aren’t responsible.  But we’re all responsible for our children’s future. Isn’t THAT the common goal we should all share? That is where the focus should be; if we don’t do our job and come together on a real solution, one day our children will be pointing their fingers at us. And we’ll deserve the blame.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2011 7:28 am

    Excellent piece – the POTUS noted millions of dollars will be availed to education this year to address “bullying” – when the real topic that needs addressing is “behavior” in the grand scheme. As you have posited before and again above – a healthy classroom environment means those “days in school” include not one wasted learning hour. Thanks for writing this piece and more important, thank you for making a difference in the children you touch.
    All the best,
    Christopher
    @burgessct

    • Corinne Gregory permalink*
      May 9, 2011 7:54 am

      Thanks, Christopher, for reading and for your comments. As you may be aware, I did a bit of analysis on the money committed by Pres. Obama to schools for bullying, and it really amounts to virtually nothing when you break it down on a per-school or district allocation: https://socialsmarts.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/obama-commits-132m-to-anti-bullying-what-will-that-mean/ $132M sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing, really. And, as you point out, doesn’t get to the source of the problem once again. It’s a “feel good.”

  2. May 9, 2011 10:38 am

    Corinne, you said: ” NO ONE is fixing anything with this tactic and it’s all a matter of wasting time, energy and money.”
    I submit that it is a matter of gaining CONTROL. All need to read or re-read, “Brave New World”, then read “Brave New Schools” by Berit Kjos.
    So much else that is occupying everyone’s attention is like a magician’s diversion to keep the audience from seeing what he really is doing with the other hand.

  3. May 30, 2011 8:15 am

    Excellent article! You get to the real issue in my mind. Students must come to school ready to learn and this task is complex with many components. Teachers need the tools-curriculum, content knowledge, presentation skills, analytical skills and assessment skills, and they are not the same for all, but the tools won’t do much if the teachers aren’t able to use them. Most of the time in many classrooms is spent with discipline and behavior management. This need zaps both the teacher’s energy and enthusiasm. It becomes just “get through it and see if they can behave today.” Where is the inquiry, discovery and curiosity? Many teachers I know don’t want to deal with it any more so they put out what they have to, try to enforce consequences (poor grades) and keep hoping. I have found that programs are great, but they mean nothing if no one pays attention. Establishing a relationship and interest in each and every student is time consuming and may not be on the curriculum map, but I believe it really helps. Also, involving the parents and showing them the value of hard work, the learning process, self-discipline and control for their children is needed. I know this is much easier said than done. The bullying and peer pressure is out of control and both are extremely detrimental. These factors have always been there but since we know so much more about it than in the past, why can’t we get our priorities inorder? Students who are not socially and emotionally “well” will not succeed in the long run. Administrators and other adults (parents) sometimes allow and even applaud and reward negative behavior. We can no longer afford for this to be a blurry line with mixed messages. How can this be fixed?

  4. Henry Brown permalink
    July 19, 2011 7:35 pm

    While I appreciate the article and agree with Corrine’s comments regarding the need to fix our schools and not continuing “business as usual in schools,” I’m more intrigued by the fact that a large percentage of students of color and special education students are the ones that make up a large portion of the suspensions and/or expulsions in the state of Texas. Moreover, I contend that this is an epidemic that spreads across our nation and nobody wants to touch this topic with a 100 foot pole. The topic is race and special education, and in some cases the two are intertwined.

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