Autumn brings us many enjoyable, time-honored traditions such as Friday night high school football games, colorful mums adorning people’s porches, and family visits to the pumpkin patch. Another less popular annual fall custom is the Ohio Department of Education’s release of its idiotic school district report cards. In the last few days, newspaper articles have been reviewing the state’s latest report card, which uses data from last school year (so much for that immediate feedback the state promised schools), to, as our political leaders like to proclaim, “tell you how your schools are performing.”
As has become customary, the release of the report card is followed by a spate of news articles in which local superintendents try to explain what the mounds of useless data is telling us about our schools. They do this even though, in many cases, they have no idea how the final results were obtained or what they are supposed to mean. They participate in this charade knowing full well that the environment in which a child lives often determines his or her success far more than the school does.
But, if they they don’t show the proper respect and requisite concern, especially if their district did not earn a grade that the people who created the system deem acceptable, they are accused of making excuses for their ineptitude. If their district happens to do well, they can say how pleased they are with the results while riding off into the sunset, safe for another year from meaningless blather.
In reality, the report card system itself is a ridiculous waste of time, effort and money. But, there is hell to pay for any superintendent who would dare say such a thing. Believe me, I know that from experience.
The deficiencies of the report card are too numerous to list here, but one of its most damaging effects is that it provides the public with a false impression of what excellent teaching actually is. The state would have us to believe the most important role a teacher plays is imparting academic knowledge to kids and the most important skill students can demonstrate is the ability to pass tests.
Neither is true, of course. But, that doesn’t stop our state “leaders” from continuing their foray into what I like to call their fake news.
The fact is, the most important thing our best teachers do, and our schools are packed with them, is change lives. They do this in so many ways, whether it is by providing emotional support for students whose personal lives are a mess or by finding the appropriate social agencies that can help them; by personally financially supporting their pupils or finding other ways to ensure that a youngster has enough money for lunch, appropriate clothing, or necessary school supplies; by helping protect a child living in an abusive situation by working with the appropriate legal agencies; or by teaching children appropriate social interactions that will help lead to their success and happiness.
They recognize that students for whom they are responsible come with different life experiences, advantages, disadvantages, abilities and dreams, and the support each of them needs to give them the greatest opportunity for success.
This is not to say teaching subject matter doesn’t matter. Of course it does, but the best teachers do so much more than that. In fact, one could easily argue that teaching kids academic knowledge isn’t even the most important thing a teacher does.
But, you’d never know that by listening to the constant political blather about the importance of test scores, as if that is all that matters. It is this obsession with numbers and ratings that illustrates that policy makers really have no idea what educating children is all about. Yet, they continue to create policies as if they do.
Most adults can name a teacher (or many teachers) who had a major impact on our lives, and it isn’t because they helped us pass a test. It is invariably because they invested the time in us personally to provide every support we needed when we needed it.
In other words, they impacted us for a lifetime in ways that appear nowhere on the state’s report card.
And, that tells you all you need to know about that pathetic document.
Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.