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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 (72711.1414@compuserve.com)