essays and articles by david g allen

We Needn't Accept Mediocre Education in West Virginia


The foundation stones of our public education system are wobbly bricks, not boulders of substance.  It was designed in such a manner by Count Bismark in order to churn out common denominators to staff the factories (and armies) of the industrial age.  And here we are, a century and a quarter later, still churning out common denominators as if big mills dominate the landscape.

The education bureaucracy has avoided changing this ancient formula that generates common denominators because modern standardized tests have been tweaked to mathematically prove that most students test “above average.”  Why should the bureaucrats change the system when they can fudge the test results?  The parents, more than anybody, are happy with the outcomes.

Parents hate to spend their evenings going over homework with their kids when they’d rather watch reality programming on television.  (“My Name Is Earl” can be considered in this genre.)  Parents love the fact that their kids are almost guaranteed to graduate from high school.  Parents are thrilled when their sons and daughters are bestowed with “honor student” bumper stickers.  Parents cherish the PROMISE scholarship for students with grade-inflated B averages.

You’ve read in your local newspaper that one-third or more of high school students are not only on the honor roll, but one-third of that group has a 4.0 average.  You have also read in your local newspaper that high school graduating classes now typically have multiple valedictorians.  Six valedictorians are not uncommon and a dozen or more is no longer rare.

This has gotten out of hand, but there is a solution.

Across the state, we have a cadre of outstanding teachers.  Perhaps the best algebra teacher is in Mason County.  Perhaps the best English literature teacher is in Berkeley County.  And so on.  Why not let these peer-reviewed, outstanding teachers teach every student in West Virginia high schools?  Technology can make it happen.

In this day and age, Mr. Jones could stand before a camera in Point Pleasant at 9 a.m. and broadcast his algebra class to every high school in West Virginia.  Ms. Smith could then go on at 10 a.m. to broadcast her views on “Great Expectations” from Martinsburg.  Every hour, your sons and daughters would receive instruction from the best teachers available.  This method of teaching would outshine even that of the most exclusive prep schools.

For my great expectation to work, barriers would have to be demolished.  First and foremost, the teachers' unions would have to admit that most teachers are mediocre and then convince mediocre teachers that they would be better off as highly-paid classroom monitors and teachers' aides.

The second, and even more difficult task, would be getting the parents on board.  Parents understand that Ms. Smith would have great expectations of her students when they took the exam on “Great Expectations.”  No longer would a last-minute read of “Cliffs Notes” on the internet suffice for an A or B grade.  Little Johnny might not be so learnéd in Ms. Smith’s class!

When one out of eight (12%) high school students make the honor roll, then you know that the system is doing its job of not only raising standards but also of weeding out the students who are not college material.  When one out of three students make the honor roll, then you can appreciate why colleges and universities struggle to graduate half or fewer of their matriculating classes.

There is one other aspect to my high-tech classroom of the air that merits consideration.  If done right, snow days would be a thing of the past.  Broadband can bring the classroom of the air to every house via satellite, DSL, or cable.  And don’t tell me that there are households that cannot afford broadband.  For decades, the satellite dish has been known as West Virginia’s state tree.

An education is not something you should ever sell out for.  When you do earn an “A”, your first question should be “Why wasn’t the class harder?”  Yet under our education system, we have embraced low expectations and rewarded ourselves handsomely with Ozian certificates for successfully guessing answers from multiple-choice lists.

The day is coming when China, Japan, and India challenge our position as world leader.  Asian parents have long understood that their children’s education is the way to success.  Unlike Americans, they could care less about bumper stickers.

We have given government a monopoly on public education.  That doesn’t mean we should accept mediocrity and an archaic system of teaching.

David G. Allen

Clarksburg, WV

“We Needn’t Accept Mediocre Education in West Virginia” appeared in the January 13, 2006 issue of the West Virginia State Journal.




Copyright 1990-2006  David G. Allen