Our students and teachers are good enough, and that isn’t good enough.
I have attended many different styles of school in my life, yet no matter where I go, students are judged based on one almighty standard which they must reach. Programs such as No Child Left Behind have encouraged standardized systems of education which most school districts and private schools now embrace. Educational leaders set a level which the students must test above, and if the kids do, then they and their teachers are acceptable, but if they do not, then they must go directly to jail without passing Go or collecting $200.
This fails students who have potential to exceed the standard because the system provides no aid for students who yearn to be exceptional. America will not be an outstanding country if students who want to be outstanding don’t have the ability to because their less talented classmates are the only ones able to receive attention and resources. While Delaware may boast that more of our students meet our standard than students in other states, little can be said for our attempts to make our students “great” rather than “good enough”.
I know of a bright middle school student who has difficulty reading. He knows he can do better in school if he becomes a better reader, so his mother asked his school to provide him with extra help. The school turned him down because he tested too well to qualify for help from the school. If a student in Delaware wants to be a really good student, absolutely nothing should inhibit him/her from that goal. It is wonderful that we are setting up means for poor students to become better, but we must realize that there are kids who want to be exceptional and have to look outside of our school system for that to happen.
After 11 years in the educational system, I want to let everybody know that there are a lot of kids who hate school and will not do well no matter what opportunities you provide them with because they just don’t want to. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Our state is full of thirsty horses, but we won’t give them any water because they’ve tested too well. If we want to be a great state and a great nation moving forward, all schools must give attention to any student who wants to do better or gain additional opportunity.
The way teachers’ success is measured is based primarily on how his/her students do on standardized tests, but that simply isn’t an appropriate way to measure teacher success. Go out on the street and find a kid. Ask your new friend about “that teacher”. That teacher who couldn’t teach the sky to be blue. That teacher who couldn’t teach Fran Drescher to have an annoying voice. Your kid will be able to give you a name. There are a lot of genuinely bad teachers in our school system. These teachers are able to retain jobs for any number of reasons- maybe they teach in a middle or upper class neighborhood, maybe they’ve been in the school long enough to gain tenure, or maybe their students just have no means of informing the school “your teachers are bad.”
At this year’s Delaware Boys’ State, students made their concerns known by passing bills requiring greater scrutiny of people who found charter schools, ending the tenure system of employment, and giving students the opportunity to write anonymous reviews of their teachers for school officials to get a better look at how a day in the classroom really goes. There are a lot of reasons that a teacher may have students who perform well on tests that have absolutely nothing to do with his/her teaching. Until schools are given the ability to know a good teacher from a bad one and be freed to act on that information, there will always be a straightjacket on our system.
Brendan McDermott is a rising senior at St. Mark’s High School. He is a Boy Scout who is active in Delaware politics and theater.