EDUCATION: New Doesn’t Mean Better

By NORMAN M. COVERT

(FREDERICK, Md.)—I returned this week from a wonderful reunion with my high school class of 1961 in Newport News, Va.  A common theme was the quality and integrity of teachers and administrators in our school system, which handed us diplomas having value. We were ready for work or college!

Consider that many students attempting to enter Frederick (Md.) Community College must take remedial English and math classes just to start their quest for a bachelor of arts/science degree.  This prompts the question: What has happened to education here?

Several weeks ago local teachers began protesting rejection of a significant pay raise in the 2013 county budget  by “working to contract.” That means they clock in and clock out; no more, no less than is required in their job descriptions. It is a concept ordered by Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) union leader Gary Brennan, who fails the “Character Counts” criteria. Mr. Brennan’s fantasy campaign of lies and distortions to justify teacher raises has been easily discredited.

More money or else, he demands, in an economic environment where entitlements threaten local government solvency. The union suffers a self-inflicted black eye.

A review of pay charts reveals most Frederick County Public School (FCPS) employees earn competitive salaries. Teachers are not leaving and commuting does not inhibit their desire to teach here.

The voters’ revolt two years ago brought in new school board members who forced retirement of then Superintendent of Schools Linda Burgee (PhD). Theresa Alban (PhD) was choice of the school board’s selection committee, undoubtedly based on her credentials as chief financial officer of Howard County (Md.) Public Schools.

There have been no enlightened education initiatives from Dr. Alban or the school board, which used a scimitar to excise what it thought was a culture of corruption and academic malaise.

Wresting control of the FCPS checkbook seemed the political imperative. Writing checks based on a hoped-for windfall of money is not fiscal responsibility. We need to fund plans to refurbish crumbling school facilities. Teachers and administrators must wait their turn.

Dr.  Burgee had qualities I found in my high school teachers. They, too, were committed to their vocation. They felt an urgency to help us succeed, spending hours before and after school to help us overcome challenges of learning English, mathematics, science, history and government.

My teachers wouldn’t understand “working to contract.”

One of Dr. Alban’s first orders of business was to dismiss “with prejudice” several of Dr. Burgee’s administrative staffers, citing “incompetence.” It was a show of power, highlighting a clumsy and amateurish “takeover” of the school system.

Education is more than getting rid of the discredited TERC mathematics curriculum, or sanitized history and social studies textbooks. My grandson’s second grade experience brings no joy to me or to this capable and loving child. I could teach him arithmetic better using what I learned as an A-plus student in eighth grade math—my senior year.

My classmates’ success is indicative of our high school experience. They are owners/operators of international corporations; secondary school and university educators, writers, doctors, lawyers, principles in music and New York theater and successful community leaders.  Several athletes achieved success as high school and college coaches.

Our city school board members were products of the quality secondary and university education network. They took advantage of liberal arts and specialized curricula, which lost emphasis in the turmoil of the 1960s.

I fully support our community college’s approach to helping students get started, but continue to perceive that many four-year colleges and universities are on a downward academic spiral! Beautiful and modern campuses and alumni contributions don’t necessarily equate to quality education.

We visited our old high school, which now is owned by the U. S. Government to house U. S. Navy personnel assigned to ships being built or repaired at Newport News Shipbuilding. We were allowed to walk past the former principal’s office and found ourselves recalling there could be no good outcome from a call to see the assistant principal or dean of women. Once the principal was through with us, our parents were the next challenge.

What a sad reality that a local high school student recently had the courage to assault a teacher, who was escorting him to the principal’s office for being disruptive and using foul language.

Consider, too, a teacher in a failing Montgomery County (Md.) school was told recently she needed to identify more with her students, to dress like them and speak in ethnic vernacular in order to be a better teacher.

Bad manners and disruptive behavior cannot be excused! We have lost focus because we are afraid to offend an ethnic group or individual.

I hope successful local school board candidates in November’s election will show more than their self-serving rhetoric, which appears to attack symptoms and not the “disease” infecting teaching/learning in education here.

We can never truly “go back home,” but I did, realizing a greater appreciation for my academic roots. Would that Miss Suttle, Mrs. Nettles, Miss Maguire, Miss Wise and so many others were here to guide our children. I am indebted to them.—©2012 Norman M. Covert

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 This commentary also appears at www.thetentacle.com and is used by permission of the author and The Octopus, LLC.

You may contact Mr. Covert at nmcovert@thecovertletter.com