• Overlooking adolescent psychology has led to an emphasis in increasing third grade reading scores as an end in itself. While that is a worthy goal, a chaotic middle school experience can wipe out these gains like an incoming tide knocks down sand castles.
• Without firsthand current classroom experience, decision-makers will assume that classroom management is a secondary concern. Board of Education folks would likely be astonished at the barely controlled conditions that exist in many school classrooms.
As an overall example, let us take the new, expanded program to feed schoolchildren. Existing nutrition programs already have provided for feeding poorer children, and I doubt there is a more wasteful type of food service operation in the world than that found in American schools. (Those who doubt this should stand in a school cafeteria and watch good, often untouched food be thrown away).
In the meantime, students' innate hunger to learn is not awakened and fed because the intellectual enthusiasm of teachers has eroded and community and Board of Education support for quiet and focused classroom atmospheres has been inadequate.
A poll by Gallup of nearly 500,000 U.S. students has found that student engagement in elementary school is roughly 76 percent; in high school a lamentable 44 percent. As the Gallup blog states, "Student engagement with school learning is a gold standard that every parent, teacher and school tries to achieve."
But do we in West Virginia really try to achieve this? Are we even aware of how bad the problem is? Should West Virginians be proud of the fact that most middle school classrooms are places where the teacher must constantly harangue fidgety, bored, oblivious, sometimes angry, young folks? It may not be easy to observe this phenomenon because the arrival of one or more unfamiliar adults in a classroom will immediately have a quieting effect. But an anonymous questionnaire of thoughtful, not-in-denial students (e.g. top third of their class) or teachers (e.g. noted by colleagues for enthusiasm and effectiveness) would bring home this sad truth.
Many West Virginia high school students who graduate have been turned off to school for years, but they are eager to begin enjoying the privileges and freedom of adulthood. They are in for a shock.
Palmer is a former college professor, a former school district business manager in Pennsylvania, and is currently a substitute teacher.