01/20/07 — Talk about reality: Academic success requires more than a better building

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Talk about reality: Academic success requires more than a better building

Americans talk all the time about the importance of education — and what it will take to make this nation’s students the best they possibly can be.

They lament the quality of schools and they wonder what it will take to get scores up.

They talk about facilities, teachers, administrators and classroom curriculum.

They talk about everything except the herd of white elephants in the room.

No one really wants to discuss what keeps some students from succeeding. We do not want to acknowledge that not every parent cares what happens during the hours of the school day or that some children simply do not have anywhere safe to return to when they arrive home from school.

We know there are housing projects in our community and there are students who are struggling to eke out lives there, but we are not sure what to do to help them. We know about drugs, teen pregnancy and other factors that affect children, but it is much harder to come up with a real plan to address those issues. We know there are children we are not reaching, but we wonder if there is a reasonable way to capture their attention before it is too late.

We believe in personal responsibility — but some of us do not know exactly how to demand it — or how to enforce consequences when it is absent. And we believe in discipline in the classroom but we are not sure how to enforce it fairly or consistently.

We do not talk about the number of students — rich and poor — who are not encouraged to pursue education or who are not forced to push themselves in school. We do not talk about those who come to school unprepared for the day or uninterested in learning.

That is a much harder subject to address than the traditional criticisms that accompany discussions of improving schools.

And all the money, personnel changes and politician-speak in the world will not improve schools in Wayne County or other areas of North Carolina without a serious look at these issues.

That does not mean that there are not areas that could be improved in schools. There could be better teachers in some cases, better programs and better facilities that provide more learning opportunities.

But before we throw money at the problems in our schools or chalk them up to poor management by our school district — we need to look harder at the factors that are making it tougher to create a successful academic program.

We need facilities. We need better pay to attract better personnel. We need an aggressive stance that demands that a child who cannot read will not move on to the next grade — and we need alternatives for students who have talents in other areas.

We need to be willing to talk about everything that affects the quality of schools and then be able to come up with a real plan to do something about improving it.

Then, and only then, will we have addressed the real issue.

Published in Editorials on January 20, 2007 10:52 PM