Steps to solving Medford's education problem
Recent testing for Medford's schools indicate that the minimum requirements for students qualified to graduate or attend college are below expectations. For example, 37.2 percent qualified in math, 51.6 percent in English and 69.3 percent in science. These include all the grades tested and are mostly below the state's performance levels.
People often blame the problems in education on the lack of one or both parents. Others may blame the teachers union, lack of funding, federal intervention or other reasons.
We can all contribute in solving this problem if we recognize what has changed in the past, which is the first step in problem solving. During the past few decades, there have been major modifications in the education field such as:
- Failure to hold students back if their current performance does not meet the expected level of their grade. This is termed “social promotion” and is done to improve the image of the schools, gain a better opportunity for governmental funding and to appease the affected parents. In Medford during the last school year, only 12 were held back out of 7,509 elementary students (0.16 percent) and one was held back out of 1,971 middle school students (0.05 percent). During the previous year with 4,168 high school students, 145 were held back or graduated in the summer (3.5 percent). These numbers imply that the students are learning the subjects and should perform well in testing. They don't. Students are not learning the subject materials but are still being advanced to the next grade.
- Introduction of teacher “tenure” and unions that insist on receiving standard wages and benefits for all teachers regardless of the difference in their skills and effectiveness in teaching. We now pay extra for teachers who take college courses, even though it may not contribute to improved teaching. We should be able to reward our effective teachers.
- Federal programs that demand questionable ideas such as common testing that, if not adapted by school districts, will terminate federal funding. State controls have also been increased, especially testing standards in the past 15 years.
The next step in problem solving is to evaluate the effect of these changes and for our residents to encourage our Medford School District to implement corrective measures. Some of these are:
- Elect members to our School Board who have experience in business management. They must be committed to improve education and manage our district's resources. Increasing the percentage of pupils that graduate is a good goal, but it is hoped that the standards used by the administration and teachers for grading are not lowered to improve the district's results.
- Evaluate carefully School Board candidates who have a history or connections in education, funding or unions. Several of the current Medford School Board members fit into this category. They sometimes have a tendency to favor teachers and unions in their negotiations, even without realizing it. This is a situation where neither negotiating party has funds at risk, only the taxpayers who depend on their elected board members to represent them fairly.
- Demand that the Medford School Board insist on eliminating “social promotion” and require that teachers hold back students who have not met the minimum requirements for their grade. Our obligation is to teach the students, not to push them through the system so we can get aid from governmental agencies. Parents must accept what is best for their children.
- Assist teachers by establishing a local policy for testing. Concentrate on teaching the subject instead of teaching to pass a standard test. Know the subject first and then testing will become more effective for both teachers and students.
- Improve the effectiveness of funding. Many educators advocate more spending, even if it has been established that higher spending does not result in better teaching. To address this issue, all Medford school staff positions not directly involved with teaching should be evaluated for their contributions to the students' education.
- Transfer responsibility for activities that are social and not traditionally educational. Expenses such as meals, special student needs, teaching English as a second language and other programs should be completely funded and managed by the concerned agencies.
The economic success and a good quality of life for our community depend on a well-educated population. Our nation ranks very low in education for developed countries (28th) and Oregon is ranked near the bottom nationally (47th). This alone should inspire our school boards, parents, and all citizens to fully support our educational efforts for major improvements. We all can contribute by getting involved.
Gerald W. Anderson of Medford has served on the California Central Water Basin District board of directors, a school district budget committee in Troy, Mich., and the Medford Citizens Planning Advisory Committee.