It seems like forever that we have been trying to improve the public schools in America, and, closer to home, in New York state.
It is time to be honest with the people our schools serve—we have failed in our improvement efforts. Presidents, governors, congressmen, senators have all failed in their endeavor to improve public schools. For decades we have heard the cry that public schools must improve or we will all surely experience national failure. Money has been thrown at schools to no avail. New programs have been developed just to meet with failure. The “learning gap” (whatever that is) keeps growing. Schools are more expensive. More kids are failing. We need more mathematics and science instruction. We need better teachers. We need more foreign language instruction. We need, we need, we need.
How about a new approach? There is nothing wrong with our public schools. The public schools are a gift to our children. It is time to stop beating up our public schools. Our public schools do not need a thing.
I want to be up front. I am a public school guy. I attended public schools for part of my life. I taught in public schools and I was an administrator in public schools for a total of more than 40 years. I believe in public schools. I believe in public school teachers. I also know that our public schools do a really good job overall with the students who are capable and ready to learn. Let me repeat that. The public schools do a really good job with the students who are capable and ready to learn.
Maybe we are trying to solve the wrong problem. Instead of fixing the public schools, we need to repair the American family.
To improve the results of our public schools, we need to put the family back in school.
Nowhere in the discussion about school improvement are students and their parents mentioned. Until we put that on the table, any discussion of school improvement is a waste of time and usually a waste of money. Public schools are meant to educate children, not to raise them. Unfortunately their role has become the latter. If we continue to expect public schools to raise children, they will fail miserably.
In more than 40 years of working in schools, I have never seen a student fail who came to school regularly and tried. That is the secret to school success … Come to school regularly and try your best. That is great news for educators and lawmakers. Schools don’t need more money. They have enough already. They also do not need more senseless mandates that take away from the mission of the school, which is to educate students. More specifically, the mission of the school is to teach students what they need to know, when they need to know it. We have strayed from that mission. We expect our schools to not only educate our children but to feed them, to counsel them, to transport them, to babysit them, to motivate them, to provide medical care for them, to keep them from being bullied, to keep them from bullying, to be sure they ride their bicycles safely, etc.
The fact is that we are giving schools an impossible task. We want our schools to single-handedly make all of our young people successful. They cannot do that alone. Parents and family members need to be in the game. Additionally, students, once they are old enough, need to take responsibility for themselves and their learning.
A year contains 8,760 hours. The average child is in school for 1,260 of those hours, or 14 percent of the time. Thus, they are somewhere other than school for 86 percent of the time. What happens during that time not only determines how the child will do in school, but in life in general.
We are searching for the answer to improving our schools and it is staring us in the face every day. That answer is to do what the students who attend school regularly, try their best, get involved in school activities and do the right thing every day, do. Those students are all around us. Why not try to get all students to do those few simple things instead of wasting time on chasing issues that do not have anything to do with public education?
I openly challenge anyone to find me a student who attends school regularly and tries who is failing. Find me one, and I will be the first to declare the school that child attends a failure. Until then, let’s solve the right problem and keep the blame where it belongs, and it does not belong with the schools.
The public schools of this nation are a gift to children, a gift that many places in the world can not even begin to bestow. Those who take advantage of that gift will thrive; those who do not will not realize their full potential. However, the blame needs to be laid on the correct shoulders and it is not those of our public schools.
Dr. John Metallo is a retired teacher and administrator. Among the positions he has held are the principal of Albany High School and adjunct instructor at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh.
He lives in Slingerlands and can be reached at (518) 577-7530 or [email protected]