Why This Web Site?
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First, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this web site is not to undermine the public school system.  It's purpose is to salvage public schools. To that end I do see merit in charter schools, since the competition does encourage traditional public schools to become more responsive to parents.  In light of my personal experience with public schools including the use of a lawsuit (SLAPP) to silence me for nearly two years, I now favor vouchers.  I do believe that separation of church and state is important, but I also believe that the welfare of children is even more important.  

Michigan has had several Anti-SLAPP bills but none have passed yet.  Join our efforts to pass Anti-SLAPP legislation in MichiganCheck out all the legislative ideas.

Blame for the current public school situation belongs to parents, teachers, and administrators alike.  Most parents fail to document problem teachers and administrators in writing.  Removal of poorly motivated or arrogant staff from the school system can only happen when problems are documented.  

I want to acknowledge that there are also many very good teachers who teach because they love to learn and love to see others learn.  Those teachers deserve to make a living wage.

Some teachers burn out over time and simply do a rather shoddy job.  Many entered the profession for the wrong reasons, such as those in the 1960s who became teachers to avoid the draft.  

Yet another problem are washed up jocks who did not have what it took to make the big time.  Many of them become teachers whose main interest is sports and their motivation to teach academic subjects is minimal.   

While not fair to those teachers who are motivated, the saying "Those who can do.  Those who cannot teach." most certainly has some basis.  My personal observation is that many jocks become coaches and administrators and that many of them are more interested in sports than teaching.  This led to my own version of the saying which is: "Those who can do.  Those who cannot teach.  And those who cannot teach become coaches and administrators." 

Unfortunately, once these jocks get themselves into a position of authority they often promote sports to the detriment of academics.  Even worse is that they routinely promote like minded people into school administration.  The end result is most school districts are now run by this group.  

It is my view that as long as schools are producing children who can not read and write, that scarce resources should be used to address academics, and sports should be funded by booster organizations.

I hail from a family of teachers, and I understand schools cannot undo the damage caused by parents who fail to nurture.  While most of my personal experience with schools is with the Lake Fenton district (which is located just south of Flint, Michigan), I am in communication with parents throughout the US who are having similar problems with their schools.  Many teachers are excellent, but in my experience 20% to 30% fall into the dud category.  

Now if this was a business and a consumer found that 20% to 30% of the staff were lazy, rude or indifferent, they would do business elsewhere.  But schools have a monopoly, and long established patterns of getting away with what they want.  

Schools often complain that parents do not get involved.  My personal experience is that a big percentage of teachers and administrators only want the public involved when they want more money.   

I always tell teachers I want to be told if there are problems.  I want to know if a paper or test results in my child getting a grade lower than a "B".  If an assignment is not handed in I want to hear about it midway between the due date and the drop dead date.  Yet I have had an amazing number of teachers tell me they do not have time to contact me, and even more who never refuse, but also never initiate contact - even after repeated requests.  

On more than one occasion I have sent a letter detailing my concerns which received NO RESPONSE from the school or the school board.  When I followed up on these letters I often found that the Principal of the school or the Superintendent were not in and did not respond to messages for many weeks, if at all.  The end result was that I simply gave up on my hope of effecting change through those people, but not on fixing the problem.  

In my opinion blame for those problems belongs squarely on the shoulders of school administrators.  While 20-30 percent of teachers are duds, I think most, the majority who fall into that category would be acceptable with proper management.  Probably only a percent or two are unsalvageable.

I have found school administrators and some teachers are prone to use children as pawns to protect their interests.  Administrators often try to paint school system critics as unreasonable or even as being nut cases.  The use of such tactics is perhaps the most damming indication of just how sever the problem has become.  

Another issue is that parents and students tend to suffer in isolation, since all complaints are treated as confidential.  Each parent then wonders if their problems are unique.  But if parents can share their experiences through web sites like www.QualitySchoolsNow.org , then collectively they can effect change.  It will be virtually impossible for school administrators to sweep problems under a rug if the parents can voice their concerns in a way that remains public.  

I realize there is potential for abuse.  We do not want parents trying to punish teachers because little Johnny has not done his work.  We do want to make sure that school staff are doing their jobs - and far too many are not.  

I believe some teachers, administrators and school boards have fallen into a habit of simply stonewalling parents until those parents' children move on to the next school.  They are only interested in parents when they want more money.  They know there will always be a new group of parents coming up through the system whom they can recruit to push for new revenue.   

This has always worked in the past because they could turn out parents to vote while the rest of the public were were generally unaware the issue was even on the ballot.  But demographics has been changing this for several reasons. 

First, is the fact that people are delaying starting families until later in life, if at all, and they generally will vote against increased taxes for schools if they have not had children. 

Second, is that an aging population means many more retirees who are vigilant about stopping tax increases. 

Third, is the fact that public schools have become so arrogant in their handling of parents that many of those parents are not voting in favor of increased taxes for schools.  

As far as I can tell, one the most effective levers the public has to effect change in the schools is to refuse to give them more money until they demonstrate they have made lasting changes.  Another lever which is unproven at this point are web sites like this one and the use of Freedom of Information (FOI) statutes to monitor schools. Freedom Of Information Letter Generator

I understand that withholding funds may not be fair to those teaching professionals who do a good job.  But it appears to be one of the best tools we have which has any chance of rooting out the bad apples.  

Ronald J. Riley  www.rjriley.com

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