Education Reform: Teachers Should Not Assume the Neville Chamberlain role

08/12/2013 04:04 pm ET | Updated Oct 12, 2013

When Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro told those attending the 52nd annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators that she needed their help last week, she was absolutely right.

"I need your help; our kids need your help," she said, putting a politically correct spin on what was to come since those of you who have been in education know you could almost get away with any kind of heinous crime if you start out by saying it is for the kids.

For the next 15 minutes, Ms. Nicastro continued to perpetuate the idea that it is public schools that are failing and the only ones responsible for that are the people who show up day to day, then spend much of their evenings continuing their work for the next day.

The teachers are always to blame, especially when you are dealing with bureaucrats and school administrators who either are in agreement with that sentiment, or who have taken the unfortunate position that since "reform" is coming, we had better make sure we get in on it fast and take it at least part of the way the so-called "reformers" are taking it.

In other words, if it is "accountability," they want, we will test the kids to death whether it serves any educational purpose or not. After all, if we don't do to them, the "reformers" will make us give even more tests.

If the "reformers' want teachers to be evaluated based on standardized tests results, then the bureaucrats and administrators will urge us to come up with our own way of doing that so it will not be as bad.

Have any of these people ever thought about fighting for what is right instead of trying to make these horrible injustices to our public schools just slightly better (and even then, it is usually only slightly better for them and not for the suffering public schoolteachers who have to deal with the aftermath)?

The issue at hand in Missouri is a recent court ruling upholding a law that allows parents to pull their children out of schools that have been designated as "failing" and put them into an adjacent district. The decision, based, of course, on what is right for the children, causes problems for both school districts. The "failing" school has to pay for the cost of educating the child while the school that receives the students is overwhelmed with students it does not have the room or the faculty to handle.

At the same time, this feelgood legislation allows our elected officials a reprieve from the tasks they should have been tackling -- eliminating the poverty and crime that are the underlying cause of most of the problems facing public education.

When the solution is to move these children to a "better" public school (one in a district that has less poverty and crime), or if that district cannot handle them, a private school, something that has already been mentioned in the Show-Me State, then legislators can feel good about themselves, and in the Republican-dominated Missouri Legislature, can continue to cut to the bone the very programs that could make a difference in tackling poverty.

Someone show me a school in an affluent district that is failing.

When 100 percent of the schools that are not making the grade are in poverty-stricken districts, you might think that someone in the majority would grasp this pattern and propose doing something about it. Instead of lopping thousands off Medicaid and roaring with self-righteous indignation about how they are going to prevent Obamacare from being implemented in Missouri, maybe they could see to it that the people who do not have health insurance, the people who most desperately need it, have access to medical services.

Instead of having legislators making one wild statement after another on how they are going to stop the federal government from enforcing any gun laws and passing legislation to cripple the unions that are enabling workers to be able to afford medical help, maybe we could be fighting for workers' rights and not to enable businesses that are already succeeding to add extra dollars to their bottom line at the expense of the workforce.

The quickest way for public education to improve in Missouri and in the United States is to lift those who are in the poverty-stricken areas, the only places where there are "failing" schools, into the middle class. When the families are making a decent wage, their heath is being tended to, and there is food on the table, it will be amazing how soon those schools are considered to be successful.

In her speech to the school administrators, Ms. Nicastro said, "The failure is Missouri's, not just that of two struggling communities."

In that, she is absolutely right, but when she and other bureaucrats and upper school administrators say it is time for public schools to assume the Neville Chamberlain role, she is dead wrong.