Sunday Opinion

About 24 Denfeld teachers took the chance that almost nobody else does in these days of email an texting. They signed letters to the School Board and mailed them to the Superintendent. The consequences are antique. We are required to make them public and public they became with a long story in the News Trib titled “Failing Grades? You pass.”

“No Child Left Behind” wasn’t supposed to let this happen. But guess what? Things are as bad as I remember them being forty years ago as a new teacher. I’ll make the challenge clear with my own family’s example. My wife and I began buying and reading books to our children at a breakneck pace when they were little. Our grandchildren have a library bigger than the one I had by the time I graduated from college. But in some communities whole neighborhoods have been found to have only a handful of books for hundreds of families. And yet the children in those intellectually deprived neighborhoods have to compete with my family’s children. Schools aren’t supposed to live by that old motto, “life ain’t fair,” but that’s what’s happening.

Currently Senator Terri Bonoff (the same legislator who is trying to prevent school boards from capriciously removing unpopular colleagues) is facing a lot of flack for pushing a bill that would compensate teachers more on the basis of their competence than their seniority. It would be interesting to interview the teachers, who are frustrated that kids are getting passed without showing they can do the work, about how they would feel about such a program.

We will be having a March school board meeting to talk about these concerns about student progress because of the letters. However it has come with a bit of a rebuke to the teachers for having taken their complaints directly to the School Board and, because of their old fashioned letters, to the News Tribune and the larger public. I’m delighted.

There is a Sunday editorial today about this which takes the principals of two schools to task for not returning the Trib’s phone calls. I sympathize with them. Like the teachers they know no good deed (like speaking candidly) goes unpunished in ISD 709.

There are two accompanying columns. One by a substitute teacher puts a lot of the blame on inattentive parents. The other by Joseph Legueri has a table of how Duluth area schools compare in terms of their students need for remediation after graduation. Unhelpfully it does not show the results from Duluth’s schools. It ends with this observation and a question: The “obvious” problem is that, at present, high school coursework does not seem to align with what students need to know when they leave high school. Who is to blame for that?

While it may be true that we aren’t successfully teaching kids what they must know to avoid remediation in college I’m not so sure that the obvious question posed by Mr. Legueri is the question we must ask ourselves. Whatever it is we should be asking ourselves, however, should provoke us to ask “Who is to blame?” Better yet we could ask ourselves, Who can fix this?

I’d start with our teachers, the ones who wrote the letters. Even if they don’t have all the requisite administrative degrees I’ll bet they could rejigger our system for the better.

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