I attended a “country” school for the six years of my elementary education. I didn’t go to pre-school or kindergarten. In that time, I had three teachers: Mrs. Helmrichs when I was in first grade, Mrs. Mills in second grade, Mrs. Callahan in third through sixth. Each of these teachers taught all of the other grades as well as mine. We had no classroom aids, no principal or vice principal, dean of students, or custodians. The superintendent, a portly gentleman in a black suit, Mr. Vernon E. Bachman, visited annually. He was responsible for all of the rural schools in Ottertail County.
The students acquired a high level of proficiency in reading and math and always made AYP (adequate yearly progress) although those terms weren’t used then. No child was left behind if they came in the school’s door.
Mrs. Helmrichs, who taught at my school in the 1959-60 school year, said “Grades one through eight students and their teacher grew together like a family. When class was conducted for one grade, in a one room school, the other students were preparing their lessons. I know much learning took place by other students as they heard what was being taught to the different grades.”
A headline in the August 11, 2010, Long Prairie Leader announced, “St. Mary’s students excel on state’s tests.” The small private school achieved a reported 87 percent proficiency in both reading and math while a Star Tribune report said, “Minnesota students have not made much progress on state reading and math tests since last year, and the state’s stubborn achievement gap hasn’t budged, according to data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.”
I know the principal and staff at St. Mary’s. They function like the “family” of the country schools of the previous century. That model still works. The principal has three school age children and a passion for education. She and the other teachers are dedicated, not in it for the money since teaching in a private school here means accepting lower pay than working as a public school employee. Some of the classes are small but not all of them. The school exhibits ethnic diversity and varying economic capacities.
Brenda Gugglberger, the school’s principal, believes the high achievement scores are due to family/school connectedness. “We know the families. The teachers and families work together,” she said.
Then there’s the conundrum of what to teach and how to teach it. Some believe that it’s become impossible to adequately teach all there is to teach so the goal is to teach students to learn rather than to teach them the basics. The problem with that philosophy is that young people can’t begin to see the breadth of knowledge available in the world today if they’re not shown the way.
The bureaucrats of education can’t even see the way. A recent proposed solution to the problem of schools not making AYP is to add to the bureaucracy: fire existing principals, bring in new administrators, add additional ones to handle discipline, and hire someone for each school to document results. The salaries for those three positions could hire six teachers to reduce class size and teach.
The bureaucrats can’t even see that taking teachers out of the classroom to attend required meetings to discuss the achievement of proficiency and AYP disrupts the flow of education. They consider reducing summer vacation because of loss of proficiency during the days of summer but can’t see that over-use of substitute teachers during the school year have the same effect. Students have required attendance. Teachers should, too.
Judging by the writing and math skills that I see in my contact with the greater world, the basics have slipped. I think it’s time to get rid of the bureaucracy in education and put the money and manpower in the classroom. Our future as an aging population rides on the shoulders of those who are being educated today.
What do you think?