An educated guess: Our schools are not up to snuff

July 05, 1992|By William Korvin

I'm told that our children are not performing well academically in the public school system. I'm told that lots of money is being spent on public education.

At least that is the impression I'm getting from reports from various sources -- newspapers, television, some politicians and some parents. On the other hand, I have heard some high-profile educators say the system is working swell; that the public school system is graduating a higher percentage of students than in the past.

I have to admit that the preponderance of evidence indicates that there might be some truth to the position that something is not up to snuff in the education business.

Based purely on memory, I believe the academic subjects of cardinal interest are mathematics, reading/writing, geography, history, civics (and perhaps a foreign language).

I guess there are other subjects incorporated into the curriculum today. I'm not sure why other things should be incorporated if the purpose of the school system should be to elevate student's proficiency in the three "R's." If there is a perceived need to, say, raise the social conscience of students or to instruct them in driving a car or to avoid social diseases, then perhaps those subjects should be taught by experts in those fields of study and in some other forum. Do teachers' colleges prepare aspiring teachers to be proficient in "social diseases?" Maybe there are medical professors on staff at teachers' colleges.

Speaking of medical things, I read a newspaper account concerning two schoolgirls who were suspended from school because one girl gave the other a Tylenol tablet for relief of a headache.

Students are not permitted to give each other aspirin (or Tylenol). On the other hand, I understand that condoms can be passed out freely without parental consent. Now, even I know that you can't get relief from a headache with a condom!

But there certainly is a lot of money spent and time expended on improving the whole public school educational system. I read where school superintendents are routinely replaced because of lack of confidence in the incumbent by the mayor or school board or somebody. Do these superintendents really pull down $100,000 to $200,000 per year?

I also get mixed messages on the subject of how hard teachers work. A couple of weeks ago a teacher called in to a radio talk show. The teacher was saying how she worked 11 hours a day and was underpaid and got no respect from the public.

She volunteered that she made over $40,000 per year. I will have to admit that $85,000 to $90,000 household income is well above the poverty line. There was also debate on whether public schoolteachers have two or three months off a year and whether it was a 6 1/2 -hour or a 6 3/4 -hour day.

Then someone called in to the station and stated that the teachers have several sick days to take off each year and don't have to go to work on snow days and have several days off during Christmas season and spring holidays. Also, the teacher retirement benefits were described as being swell. Are these documented facts?

Just when I thought I had a handle on the subject of a teacher's work schedule and work load I read a "letter to the editor" from a teacher. It only confused me further.

The title of the letter was, "If You've Tried Engineering, Teaching's a Snap." Here are some of the points she put forth: "As a chemical engineer who switched to teaching to have a career more compatible with motherhood, I would like to offer a comparison."

She goes on to say: "My day- care problems resolved themselves; there were no worries over snow day crisis; no overnight travel nightmares. I had the glorious summers free with my children. I spent the last three years teaching math and science courses. At no time did I feel underpaid or overworked."

After the first year of teaching, planning is complete. As we all know, there are 185 employment days in the school year. Assuming 52 weekends, 12 paid holidays and two weeks vacation, there are 239 employment days in the engineering year.

The teacher receives a set of sick and personal leave days; the engineer does not. The teaching day is seven hours long, including a 40-minute lunch period. That means the actual time required at the place of employment is slightly less than 6 1/2 hours. The only reason teachers take work

home is that teachers waste enormous amounts of time during the day doing what they do best -- talking.

"Teachers are paid about what they deserve, and many are overpaid." (ref. Laurel Valenti, Evening Sun, 3/3/87).

More confusion! As any good investigator trained in the sciences and engineering would, I decided to do a little checking myself.

First, I called the county school hierarchy and talked to the head of the math department and volunteered to come work for the public school system as a math teacher to help alleviate the severe shortage of math and science teachers. He kindly volunteered that there is no shortage of math and science teachers in the school system.

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