Reformers Go Home: Let Teachers Teach

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So let’s say your moon rockets keep blowing up on the launch pad. What would you do? Would you carefully test each component and refine the design? Or would you ask a politician what to do — and then hastily implement changes when he checks with his political consultant and says “we need more yellow flames.”

Letting the politicians dictate the redesign probably would not get you to the moon — and it is not going to fix our educational system either.

Arizona education reformers are set to implement yet another round of school changes mostly focused on standardized test scores, school grades and increasingly harsh punishments for schools if the weakest students don’t get better on those standardized tests.

The reforms rely on setting worthy and ambitions goals for reading, mathematics and graduation rates.

Mind you, very little evidence suggests that this obsessive focus on standardized testing to rate schools, students and teachers will actually improve the system.

But it gets worse: Instead of providing teachers with the help they need to reach those goals, the state has mostly reduced support. That has forced school districts to abandon programs researchers have repeatedly demonstrated really do improve student achievement.

More money being spent on education does not guarantee increased student learning. Money has to be spent carefully and the decision on where it will be spent needs to be made at the school district level, not in Washington, D.C. or by state legislators.

School district officials and teachers know best where to spend the available money for the best results. Setting goals for high school graduation is great, just let the local schools figure out how to achieve the best results.

Instead of piling on more mandates and rigid guidelines, we must let teachers teach — and give them the tools they need to help our children succeed.

International comparisons show that countries like Finland have achieved much better results than U.S. schools by doing exactly that. They set standards for teachers and pay them accordingly — then get out of their way.

The key to reforming the system remains rooted in the classroom and in the expertise, creativity and enthusiasm of the teachers. That means we must free principals to weed out the handful of bad teachers, bolster the skills of the average teachers and empower the great teachers. It means we must pay teachers what they deserve instead of driving them out of the profession with bureaucracy and meaningless restrictions.

The politicians might want pretty yellow flames for which they can take credit, but that won’t get you off the launch pad if the o-ring seals are cracked.

The politicians have done enough damage already.

Time to turn to the experts: The teachers who have dedicated their careers to our children.

Food drive demonstrates values of Rim Country

Forget the great weather. Forget the spectacular views. Forget the after-work fishing. Here’s why we love Rim Country: The food drive has already taken in nearly 50,000 pounds of food and $25,000 in donations to support hard-pressed local food banks.

What a wonderful outpouring of support from people willing to help their neighbors.

Unfortunately, the need continues to escalate. In past years, the Payson food banks have been able to count on more than 12,000 pounds of food a month from food banks down in the Valley. This year, that source of extra help has dried up, thanks to increased need in the Valley as the downturn drags into a third year.

So the churches and community leaders supporting the food drive have raised the goal — to 65,000 pounds of food and $30,000 in donations.

We have no doubt that the residents of the best little town in Arizona will respond to the great need of their neighbors — as you have each year since the downturn began.

Mind you, St. Vincent de Paul alone has been giving out 30,000 pounds of food a month — helping 2,000 local families survive the job drought. So even a generous response from the community now will only provide about two months worth of food packages for people trying desperately to not fall off this last ledge.

But without the extra help from the food drive, the food banks would have run entirely out of food weeks ago.

So we salute every person who contributed to this marvelous effort and take pride in the compassion and community spirit those contributions represent.

And if you managed to get through Christmas and all the post-Christmas sales with a little money and a little love leftover, we hope you’ll donate this week to the effort. To donate, drop food off at any PAFD marked box located at businesses and grocery stores throughout town. Send checks to PAFD, P.O. Box 703, Payson, AZ 85547.

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