Originally created 02/08/00

Educators cite ills in classrooms



The answer to a question raised by an Augusta State University fraternity is yes, area educators say.

But exactly how to solve the problem and who's to blame can't be easily answered.

Phi Kappa Phi fraternity held a forum Monday that asked a six-member panel of educators if there is a crisis in American education.

The panelists included Andy Baumgartner, National Teacher of the Year; Beverly Barnhart, principal of John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School; Mildred Blackburn, Columbia County school board member; Linda Clary, curriculum director for Burke County schools; Donald Davis, principal of Thomson Elementary School; and Charles Nagle, assistant superintendent of Columbia County schools.

Ms. Clary said she isn't sure if the crisis is worse now than in the past.

"It is getting a lot more attention," Ms. Clary said. "Schools are a microcosm of society. We are having all of the problems that society has. As educators, we are being asked to solve far more problems than we have in the past."

Mr. Davis said one solution is to give teachers the tools they need to get the best training they can.

Mrs. Barnhart said she doesn't have all the answers but feels strongly that principals are part of the problem of inefficient teachers.

"Principals who find weak teachers and are too weak-kneed to evaluate them properly, they ought to be fired, and I mean that sincerely," Mrs. Barnhart said. "Principals had better wake up and smell the roses, because I have a feeling that some of them are going to be by the wayside if they don't start making sure that what's going on in their schools is truly a learning situation."

Educational conditions often stem from decisions made under pressure by policy makers and other non-educators, Mr. Baumgartner said.

"We know that most teachers work very hard. We know they face incredible odds," Mr. Baumgartner said. "We know most teachers come into the teaching profession because they care about kids and they want to make a difference in their students' lives. We know the salary, benefits, work conditions and the amount of professional respect received by teachers are inferior to that of all other professions."

One of the first questions asked of the panel was what can be done to refocus debate on standardized testing.

Ellen Underwood, a media specialist at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School, said as a parent, she wants her children to be measured against the norm of students nationally.

"I want to know that my child can perform," she said. "If they can't, I want them put in a program in which they can be successful. Yes, I want the learning disability identified, and I want them challenged accordingly."

Laura Arrington, a senior majoring in special education, expected to hear more from teachers working directly with students.

"I just didn't feel like any of the panelists have a very good basis to comment on the crisis in education. They all work in areas where students excel," she said. "I want to hear from principals and teachers who work with students who don't eat every night, who have parents who can't read a book to them ... I want to hear from them so I can know what to do when I'm faced with it."

Morale is missing in many schools, Mr. Baumgartner said.

"When I go to a school where there is a glimmer in the eye of the child because there is a glimmer in the eye of the teacher, that's a school where things are happening," he said.

Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.