Why? Not Who?

Bill Neinast


There was an interesting discussion at the Brenham Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting last week.  The discussion was over who should prepare lesson plans.  Should it be the teachers or unknown bureaucrats of unknown lineage in unknown hideaways?

The wrong question, however, was being debated.  The question should be why instead of who.  Why are lesson plans required?

Not too long ago, public schools were expected to prepare children for life by teaching the three Rs--readin, rightin, and rithmetic.  The schools were funded with taxes on property in the district and controlled by local property owners.

Students passed or failed on the judgment of their teachers, and there were no “social promotions” to keep failing students from “losing self-esteem.”

Graduates of that system were able to communicate among themselves orally and in writing and were able to cipher (youngsters may have to find the meaning of that word in a dictionary, if any such are still around) well enough to make change even when the computer operated cash register is down.  Those graduates were able to construct huge military bases almost overnight, to build the largest, most deadly military force in history, invent the computer and nuclear weapons, and on and on.

After the big war, however, things began to change in the education community.  Learning the three Rs was no longer sufficient.  Now every student had to be prepared to earn a college degree.  Every student meant every child of school age.  

Mentally disabled or learning challenged children had the right to be in the classrooms of their age group and they had to be taught at the same level.  This was the genesis of the dumbing down in education where instruction had to be geared to the lowest level in the classroom.

Concomitant with this move to teach to the lowest level was the curtailment of teachers’ authority to maintain discipline and decorum in the classroom.  To  publicly humiliate or punish a student might hurt his or her self-esteem.

Then it was noticed that some city schools were more modern and nicer than the rural schools with smaller tax bases and that the city teachers were being paid more than their country cousins.

That was not “fair,” so more money had to be funneled into those poor school districts.  The only source for that money at the time was the state government.

So the big guys in Austin who are very magnanimous with other people’s money stepped in to equalize the system.  Big Mistake!  With money comes control.  

Government bureaucrats are not going to ladle out money without the authority to direct and supervise how that money is spent.  And how will they know if the money is spent wisely?  By testing, of course. 

The old testing or teachers’ judgment is no longer reliable.  Only smart bureaucrats isolated from the classrooms can develop tests to discern if the students have really learned whatever it is that they were being taught. 

If too many students from one school fail the tests from on high, it is obvious that neither the teachers nor their supervisors are doing a good job.  So to incentivize   them, we will prepare and require more tests.

These tests then changed character very quickly.  They were no longer viewed as tests of students’ knowledge, but were tests of teachers’ ability to impart knowledge.  Failing grades are now the fault of teachers, not of students.

When teacher employability, promotion, and salary became dependent on the grades of their students on tests developed by personnel outside their schools, instruction had to change.  School textbooks became largely irrelevant if they did not relate directly to those foreign tests.

So teachers can no longer teach to the texts, they have to teach to the tests.  This is a big difference.  The teachers can have a textbook in front of them and know how to impart the knowledge in that text to their students.  Those foreign made tests looming at the end of the semester, however, might emphasize things in the text different from what teachers think is important.

So forget what’s in the text, just make sure the students know what bureaucrats think is important.  In other words, teachers must teach to the tests.

The best way to do that is to follow lesson plans developed by bureaucrats on the same plane as the bureaucrats who draft the tests.

That is why the question should be why rather than who.

So here’s the perspective.

Local control of schools in Texas is a fiction.  To keep funds rolling in from higher sources, local schools must bow toward Austin every morning and pray for guidance on how the bureaucrats want the students taught.

We asked for it. We got it.  We must live with it.  There is no turning back. Government bureaucracies are the most intransigent things on earth and no school wants to bite the hand that feeds it.

If a bet is ever proposed on what is more permanent, the pyramids of Egypt or government bureaucracies, put your money on the bureaucracies.


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