Education in Rural Kentucky - Conclusions
What are my Conclusions?
Assuming that local problems must be solved locally because the
state is unlikely to have the resources, the authority, or the
sustained long term interest to actually improve the Clinton
County School System, I looked for support to parents, School
Board members, teachers, school administrators, and local
businessmen many of whom are also parents. Although I prepared
a plan for about 20 to 25 very interested people to spend 2
hours or more per week working to improve the school system, I
was unable to find more than five people who would commit to
such a plan. I concluded that this was not feasible. My
conclusions about each group are summarized below:
- Clinton County is a rural county which has had a drain of
the brightest people away to other areas for the last 50 to 80
years. Most parents do not know the elements of a good
education and have as a yardstick only the schooling they got
from the Clinton County School system in prior years. When they
ask serious questions of school system employees they usually
get canned answers that are mostly baloney but that most of them
do not recognize as baloney. Many feel that since a school
teacher or administrator has more education than they do such
answers must be gospel. Since reforming a school system
basically means questioning and changing the way things have
been done in the past, it is hard to get support. They will get
involved if sports are involved or if taxes may be raised or if
there is physical danger to school children.
- School Board members:
- In general, school board members have a high school education or
less and that education was obtained in the Clinton County
School System. They suffer from the same problems mentioned
above for parents. They usually are parents. In addition most
of them run for election to get the power of controlling the
school system, to be able to give jobs to their family and
friends, and because they think that they can improve education
by getting rid of the bad guys and putting in the good guys.
They usually oppose taxes, support school employment, higher
pay, sports, and increases in the school budget from state and
federal sources. They are generally uncomfortable discussing
issues such as curriculums, text books, sex education,
educational goals, performance testing, etc. They love to
discuss employee positions, new busses, new buildings, new
sources of funding, sports facilities, etc.
There have been exceptions to this, of course. One member of
the school board in 1990 seemed to me to be very interested in
education. His daughter was one of the best teachers in the
system but she quit in disgust at the situation and went to
another school system. This school board member soon resigned
so that other members of his family could keep jobs in the
school system. He was replaced by a very intelligent and very
dedicated school board member who was chosen by a state
committee from among several applicants. This board member
served well and when he ran for election on his own was soundly
defeated, I suspect, because he did not promise voters that he
would give them jobs and throw the old rascals out.
- Of the hundred or so teachers in the system I suspect that 15%
to 20% are very good teachers, an unexpectedly high percentage.
I suspect at least 10% to 15% are poor teachers with little
chance of any improvement. The majority however, have the
potential to be better or good teachers if they had any
inspiration, training, support and supervision by superiors,
teaching materials, etc. Since there is no set of educational
goals, course plans, guidelines, or rewards and punishments tied
to the job done and very little in class supervision, it is
unlikely that they will ever do an excellent job.
My son just completed a high school biology course in which he
never did an experiment, never dissected an animal, never saw a
microscope or never went on a field trip. My older son had one
teacher who would start the class by telling the students what
chapters in the book to read during the class period. The
teacher would then go to the teacher's lounge or outside if the
weather was good and relax and smoke until the class was over.
In middle school my younger son had a physical education teacher
who gave the students tests of physical condition, devised a
series of exercises to improve their condition and then
periodically retested them for improvement. In high school it
seems that they go to the gym in physical education class and
then either play basketball or sit on the benches at their
option until the class is over. Sometimes other classes are
spent watching current popular videos, having pizza parties,
watching baseball and basketball tournaments on TV and in one
case they spent a few days assembling parent information packets
for the office staff. Classes sometimes have to be missed for
PEP rallies for the basketball team.
It is interesting that although most of the teachers are female
and so are most of the best ones, all the promotions to
administrative positions are males. It is also interesting that
no bus drivers or janitors are female, but, I think, all cooks
are female. I was told that the system tried a female bus
driver once only to find that females could not do the job.
The school system has never planned a teaching position needed
and tried to recruit the best possible teacher for that
position. They have simply picked the best teacher for any open
positions from the pool available from existing teachers or
applicants who live in the county. Very few teachers in the
system have any experience as either students or teachers in any
other school system other than student teaching required to get
their teaching certificate and many of them did their student
teaching in Clinton County.
I saw a report about three years ago that showed that Clinton
County School salaries ranked in the top third of all school
districts in the state. After passage of KERA the school budget
increased from about $5 million dollars per year to about $7
million. The school employees ended up with about 25% raises in
pay during a two year period then. During that time period I
heard a parent stand up and beg at a school board meeting that
some of that money be set aside for supplies for the kids. Also
during this period a teacher at the K-3 school who happened to
be the wife of the president of the teacher's association headed
up a committee to raise $15,000 to buy playground equipment for
that school. The committee got high praise from the school
board when they reported that they had raised the money
primarily by sending 1st through 3rd graders door to door
selling candy and other goods.
A principal told me once that teachers basically feel that they
are competing for a limited pot of money with students and as a
result are always in favor of fund raisers. The basic idea is
that the educational budget is for salaries not for students.
Due to this political situation good and dedicated teachers are
often not in a position to help to change policies especially if
that involves more supervision of teachers, more pay for better
work, or a larger portion of the budget being spent on students.
- School administrators:
- Most school administrators are good teachers who got promoted
into a job in which they have no background or experience,
especially when that job involves budgets, bus and equipment
supervision and maintenance, food service supervision, etc.
Some of them got promoted because they were poor teachers and
there was nowhere else to put them. They got kicked upstairs.
They tend to feel that the job of administrator is to be sure
that the school system has adequate buildings and other physical
facilities staffed with teachers who have the required
credentials and to see that the system is in compliance with
all state and federal rules and regulations. They feel that
other than this their duty is to handle disturbances caused by
teachers, parents, students, school board members and state
officials so that no one rocks the boat. They are quick to jump
on specific complaints and their answer to general complaints is
to point out that they have complied with all applicable rules
and regulations. I was able to find very few who were
interested in talking about any duty to actually see that
graduates were educated. When I asked the Supervisor of
Instruction about his plans for improving the education received
by students, he answered that parents would not have to be
concerned about that any more because KERA was designed to solve
all those problems.
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Last revised August 21, 1995.
Please send comments to: Duane Bristow (firstname.lastname@example.org)