Problems Facing Education

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Column by Ron Deady and Robert LaRue

For the last 42 years, Ronald Deady endeavored to improve the conditions of the communities in which he and his family have lived. The most elusive of these endeavors has been the condition of our public schools.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 37 percent of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level in reading in 2019, while 26 percent scored at or above proficient in math. That means that in Twenty-First Century USA, more than six out of ten kids graduating from high school cannot read effectively and more than seven out of ten cannot perform simple arithmetic. Public schools launch these poor-performing students onto the world stage without the basic tools necessary to cope with life’s challenges.

Currently, scores Coeur d’Alene School District as “An above-average, public school district … It has 10,107 students in grades PK, K-12 with a student-teacher ratio of 17 to 1. According to state test scores, 46 percent of students are at least proficient in math and 64 percent in reading.” But that still leaves more than half of students without basic math skills and almost four out of ten unable to read proficiently even though the district graduates 90 percent of its students.

How did these low scores happen in America, supposedly the most technically advanced nation on the planet?

After retiring from a full military career, Deady took on a second career as a high school teacher. He was absolutely unprepared for the lackadaisical tone, and the lack of respect directed at teachers by students without consequence. It soon became apparent that the chaos teachers endure in the halls of learning often becomes intolerable and results in a high rate of turnover and teachers leaving the profession. In his case, he went back to school, obtained a master’s degree in psychotherapy, and took a job preparing inmates for civilian life at a maximum-security prison. Hardened criminals were easier to deal with than high school students.

Ronald has traveled the world a bit more than most Americans. He’s lived among diverse cultures including Germany and China; visited extensively in Russia and many third-world countries. Almost without exception, he found students in those cultures look and act like they are focused and preparing for life. The exception was Russia. In Russia, students looked and acted like those in America – poorly dressed and playing with handheld computers. Even in the poorest countries of Africa, students wear clean uniforms and show pride while focusing on their futures. Why not in the USA?

The answer to that question involves many issues. Here are some of them.

In 1962, President Kennedy enacted Executive Order 10988 granting federal employees the right to collectively bargain, setting the stage for NEA (National Education Association) and other public sector unions to pursue bargaining rights state by state. Since then, the NEA has become the largest labor union in the United States.

In recent years, charter schools have increasingly replaced public education, but only for the gifted and those who can afford them.

Homeschooling and the internet have become an option for many young families.

Schools are cutting hours and turning to a four-day week to stay within their budget.

Local media frequently gloss over problems with schools in their constituencies.

School boards often cop out and turn policy decisions over to administrators.

Classrooms are not monitored, and teachers can indoctrinate students with opinionated agendas.

Top-heavy administrations continue to flourish. The staff-to-teacher ratio continues to expand in favor of staff. Recently, when critics suggested cutting Coeur d’Alene district office staff to save money, Superintendent Shon Hocker declared: “No departments are overstaffed as reflected in the curriculum audit that was conducted in 2019.”

On May 22, 2019, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported, “The Coeur d’Alene School District received its own report card and disclosed results for public consumption Tuesday. It wasn’t exactly straight As.”

The report cost a hefty $50,000 and uncovered many problems, not the least of which, as the Press noted, “In classrooms, auditors found instructional practices to be primarily large groups, teacher-centered, at low cognitive levels with few effective instructional strategies in use. Strategies vary from classroom to classroom and are not consistent with research-based practices that support teaching and learning for all.” How the findings of this report support Superintendent Hocker’s response remains a mystery.

Please join us as we explore these and other school-related topics in the coming issues of the Kootenai Journal.

Ron Deady, Post FallsRonald Deady is from Chicago Illinois. BA in Zoology in1963. Entered USAF in ’64. Graduated from Air Force Pilot Training in ’65. Flew the Canadian Caribou in Vietnam for a year in 1966’67. Flew162 missions in B-52 in ’68, ’70 and ’71. Distinguished Flying Cross in ’71. Retired from USAF as Lt. Colonel in 1999. Master in Urban Education from Univ. of Nebraska in 1976. Masters in Psychotherapy in 2001. Taught  high school Biology in California for 5 years. Worked at a Maximum security prison (Ca. State Prison at Lancaster, Ca.) for 11 years preparing inmates for release. Has lived in Kootenai County for 10 years. Believes that our local public schools are ‘our weakest link’ – thus predicting ‘vastly limited futures’ for most of our ‘graduates’ and America. 

Robert LaRue, HauserRobert LaRue grew up on a ranch near the Eastern Oregon town of Halfway. He joined the Navy in 1956, qualified for flight training, and served as a Naval Aviator until 1960. He then joined the corporate world, worked as a computer programmer and systems analyst and wrote technical stuff. Now retired, he writes a newsletter for his local history club, historical articles for the club, and an occasional letter to the editor expressing his iconoclastic views for the local newspaper. His writing credits include historical fiction pieces in literary journals and a novel titled War No More, available on Kindle Vella. When he is not writing, he can be found enjoying the great outdoors surrounding his home in North Idaho where he has lived since 1986. At age eighty-seven, he has earned those rights.