Sports franchises look for the best players and coaches to create a winning team. They hire scouts to find the best personnel and pay them accordingly. I believe that if we paid for excellence and then insisted on it, the academic complexion of our schools would change dramatically.
At the public schoolhouse, the players are on the team by default. Public school educators do not get to choose who makes the team and who doesn’t. Everyone who walks on the field must be coached They may not all be first string, all of them may not make the college or pro team, but they must all know how the game is played and the rules for doing so.
It is impossible to create an excellent team with inferior coaching, with players who are allowed to make up their own rules. Championship schools and classrooms are deliberate, not accidental.
It makes sense to pay attention — our students give us clues about their lives every day. Signs that a student will potentially drop out are evident long before high school, but that is often when we begin to take notice. Negative and belligerent attitudes, poor academic performance, low attendance rates and a failure to develop positive relationships are evident early on in many children. However, our school counselors and social workers have been cut from the school budget, or have been assigned other duties.
A large percentage of children who drop out of high school read far below grade level. The problem presents itself at the elementary level, yet children are continuously passed on. Wouldn’t it make more sense to intensely focus on teaching students to read? Instead, we opt for placing them in special education. Not wanting to be considered “mentally retarded,” children are embarrassed and angry and therefore drop out socially long before their physical departure.
It makes sense to create a winning spirit in children. All may not want to attend college, but that is what we push for all. Why do we make the students who want to learn a skill or trade feel inferior to their college bound counterparts? That doesn’t seem fair, nor does it make sense. We have basically told children that they will be useless citizens without a college degree.
The last time I needed a plumber, I didn’t ask for his college diploma, I checked for this level of expertise and proof of customer satisfaction. Teachers should encourage skill excellence and passion for whatever students choose to do or become. It just makes sense.
Editor’s note: Rita F. Pierson, has been an educator for more than 40 years, serving as a teacher in elementary school, junior high and special education and has been a counselor and administrator. She has led development workshops for thousands of teachers. She spoke in May in New York at a TED Talks Education event that will be the basis for a show premiering Tuesday, May 7, on PBS stations. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to “Ideas worth spreading” which it makes available through talks published on its website.