Barwick: Why don’t teachers do more about student achievement?

The discussion about the teacher walkout tells us all we need to know about the state of education in Arizona.

What did we hear for several weeks leading up to the “walkout”? Let me recap for you. Teachers are helping our kids by asking for higher salaries, lower class size, more supplies, lower insurance cost, better facilities and the list goes on.

You may agree or disagree with those positions but should those things be the most important standard for a quality education? What about academic achievement? I have not heard one teacher or teacher organization offer to increase our students’ achievement in exchange for their demands. I have heard them talk about “quality education” but that term is meaningless and used by politicians and teachers to cover their butts. I am talking about success that can be objectively measured by a strict set of standards. This problem is not new.

In 1983 a Reagan era report was issued entitled “A Nation at Risk.” The report set forth a compelling argument, using objective evidence, that our schools were failing in their primary mission to educate our kids. There was a brief time of reflection and some honest attempts at solving the problem but in time complacency set in.

Nothing really changed and our reputation as an education leader in the world declined even further. That decline continues as we speak and very little is being done to address the problem. In a 2018 NAEP study Arizona ranks 44th among the States in K-12 education. Internationally we rank 35th in math, 24th in reading and 25th in science as of 2015. From 2012 to 2015, on the international testing, we dropped 11 points in math and remained relatively stable in reading and science. This test is administered every three years.

Which brings me back to my discussion in the first paragraphs. Why don’t teachers do more about their most important objective, student achievement? They don’t do more for the same reason administrators and school boards don’t do more. It’s hard to admit your failures and the road to increased student success is very difficult. The hours are long and the commitment is stressful. Being accountable to the students and parents they serve does not seem to be their top priority. It’s not as easy as illegally walking out on your kids without any consequences. Larger salaries, lower class size and beautiful building may make teachers feel better but what about the kids?

To be sure, there will be some teachers who will not be offended by these comments. They are striving every day to achieve excellence in the classroom but the commitment to excellence must be made by everyone. In three years, after the teachers have gotten their 20 percent raise, will our kids be more knowledgeable and wise? Don’t hold your breath. Chances are there will be another walkout and our kids will again be held hostage for more of the same.

Neil Barwick
Apache Junction



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