Davenport Has Spoken

Local commentator and periodic News & Record columnist Charles Davenport frequently tells it like it is.

This past weekend, in his most recent column, it was no exception. It is a fabulous read, and I’ve posted it here, I hope he won’t mind.

Keep it simple, stupid: Reading, writing and arithmetic

“It would be nice for us to once, just once, value education the way we need to for these children.” –Guilford County Schools Superintendent Terry Grier

Spokesmen for the education establishment would have us believe that public education—a failure by any objective standard—can be salvaged by ever-increasing infusions of cash. The “underfunded” mantra has been chanted for so long that many of our fellow taxpaying citizens believe it. They are mistaken.

Dr. Grier’s remarks suggest that those who dare to question his recently-submitted budget for Guilford County Schools do not value education. This is obviously false. But county taxpayers do expect GCS to be accountable. That is, if the schools are failing to teach the fundamentals—and many are—then perhaps our elected officials should scrutinize GCS budgets more closely. And cut them liberally.

Most of us outside the community of professional educators would agree that the objective of public education is to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Yet GCS squanders incalculable time and money on initiatives irrelevant to its mission. For instance, according to Dr. Grier’s budget proposal, the system’s “core values” are diversity, empathy, equality, innovativeness, and integrity. The first three have absolutely nothing to do with education, and innovativeness has probably done more harm than good. Professional educators, it seems, disagree with the rest of us about the purpose of public schooling.

Little Johnny will probably lack the skills necessary to read the new Harry Potter book next month, but at least we know GCS is “developing a culture where our employees identify with and understand the feelings of our students and parents and their colleagues.” That’s the important thing, isn’t it? At least Johnny’s parents, schooled in the core value of empathy, will understand why their son can’t read, can’t get into college, and can’t get a job after graduation.
Under the core value of equality, Dr. Grier’s proposal states that GCS is “a school system where everyone is appreciated and judged based solely on their contributions and performance.” (Standards and equality are incompatible, aren’t they? But never mind.) In the spirit of equality, then, let us consider the recent performance of GCS.

Last year, 61 percent of Guilford County elementary and middle schools fell short of their goals on state ABC’s of Public Education and federal Adequate Yearly Progress exams. On writing tests given in the 2006-07 school year, only 57 percent of Guilford County 10th-graders were rated “proficient.” Scores at troubled Smith High fell 17.2 points, and less than 25 percent of fourth-graders at Washington Elementary passed the test. The biggest disgrace, however, took place at Kirkman Park Elementary, where only 4.2 percent of students are proficient in writing. GCS is a demonstrable failure.

Still, Guilford County Schools, like clockwork, has requested a 10 percent increase over last year’s budget. Never mind the system’s performance. Said Dr. Grier two weeks ago, “We’ve cut and cut and cut. What do you cut?”

Well, I am not a professional educator, but it seems rational to cut the things that do not have anything to do with the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic. For instance, because about half of our students are illiterate, one could eliminate the $106,000 Dr. Grier has requested for a Mandarin Chinese Program at four schools. If our kids are illiterate in English, why confuse them with alien tongues?

One could easily trim $234,000 from the budget request by denying the system’s request for four new “diversity specialists.” They have nothing to do with the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Likewise, jettison the proposed new social workers and “intervention specialists,” which would save the taxpayer $350,000.
Another wasteful expenditure is “GCS Connects,” in which teachers and staff mentor troubled kids as a means of reducing suspensions and drop-outs. Aborting this redundancy would trim $1,555,060 from the proposed budget. Good teachers double as counselors; many inspired and motivated me more than any “intervention specialist” or counselor ever could.

Finally, administration could probably be cut by about 20 percent. Administrators have nothing to do with the teaching of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Every position that is redundant, unnecessary or pernicious should be eliminated.

And what’s this $453,695 for “additional specialists and planning time”? The schools have too many “specialists” already, and teachers have about two months of “planning time” every year. If your job is outside the education establishment, march up to your boss tomorrow morning and demand two months off for “planning time.” Good luck.

Charles Davenport Jr. (www.cdavenportjr.com) (daisha99@msn.com) is a freelance columnist who appears in the News & Record on alternate Sundays.
From the (Greensboro, NC) News & Record of Sunday, June 24, 2007

E.C. 🙂

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One Response

  1. I think I’m in love with Mr. Davenport.

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