The woman seemed confused from the beginning. She was attending a one-day teacher workshop on middle school math education that was being conducted by a prestigious national organization. But she seemed completely lost when it came to actual math.
At one point, an exercise required simplifying a fraction. Hers was 16 over 20. She had no idea that it simplified to four-fifths. She was then supposed to convert that into a percentage. She not only didn’t know off the top of her head that it was 80 percent — which most people could do — she also didn’t understand when someone punched four divided by five into a calculator and showed her the results.
It’s pretty bad for a math teacher to be this ignorant of the very simple math she’s supposed to be teaching, but it’s actually worse. The woman was at this workshop because she’s writing a specialized math curriculum for her entire state. She works for her state’s department of education — and this woman who didn’t understand the basic material is about to write what all the kids are supposed to learn from.
Are you scared yet?
I can’t tell you where this took place or what state the woman is from. I’ll just say that I had a first-hand report. How would you like to be the poor students who get stuck being taught her curriculum? And how would you like to be one of the teachers forced to use it?
I have a number of friends among teachers, so I know there are a lot of good and dedicated teachers. The smartest woman I know is a teacher, and some of my smarter friends are teachers or have been in the past. But the system they have to navigate is so insane that they seem to spend a large percentage of their time trying to simply fight off their own bad administration.
Here in the suburb where I live, the school superintendent was fired earlier this week. It’s a highly rated school system with a sterling reputation and high test scores, high graduation rates and low discipline rates. The fired superintendent was a finalist for national superintendent of the year just a year or two back. She was paid close to a quarter of a million dollars a year to run this education powerhouse. But it’s all a sham.
I talk to lots of people — students, teachers and administrators — in the local schools, so I have a reasonably good idea of what goes on there, mostly because all the stories line up. They’re all tales of a school system running hard to make things look good on the outside, but with little real regard for actual education.
Teachers tell me that discipline problems in some of the schools are ignored and the administration refuses to document them, because that would mean a discipline statistic. There was a grade-changing scandal a few years back — when a principal was caught giving students higher grades than they’d earned, in order to pass them — but it appears people above her were involved, but never were caught. And the middle school here is run like a terrorist fiefdom of a power-hungry control freak of a principal.
But because there are no alternatives — and the people who know what all is going on are afraid to speak too loudly — the scam has continued for years.
Over the past seven years, the local high school has had five principals. This is a model facility which was the most expensive high school ever built in the state when it was constructed about seven years ago. (That’s the front of the main building of Hewitt-Trussville High School on the right.) But principals keep coming and going once they find out about the reign of terror from the top. The principals who stay in the system are the ones who are quite happy being a part of the reign of terror.
If this were a private business, something similar to this could develop anyway. The difference is that there would be alternatives. Some parents would quit using the company and accountability from the top would require an accounting for why it was happening. In a government-run system, though, there’s a well-meaning school board that’s kept in the dark and kept ignorant by a superintendent who doesn’t want to get off of her gravy train.
If our kids are confused and aren’t learning, not all of it is their fault. Yes, there are lazy and stupid students. (There always have been.) But even the brightest students and the brightest teachers are handicapped by a system that rewards incompetence and political skills. There’s no market to discipline it when it’s off-course.
It doesn’t take a lot of incompetent people to ruin a monopoly system. It just takes a few ignorant people placed into positions of power — people such as a certain incompetent woman who’s writing a math curriculum for an entire state.