Moderator: Hank Noble, retired Hilton Head Elementary School principal,
The consensus was that the impact of Covid 19 had been major and negative on students, despite the extraordinary measures taken by the professionals. Tests given in 2020 show 70 percent of students performing lower than expected grade level. Some students fared well with online learning; others suffered. Some students at home during the lockdown had effective adult supervision; others did not. Some had access to adequate WiFi service where they live; others had weak and unreliable service; others had none. Some subjects do not lend themselves to teaching or learning via screen.
“Worldwide, there has been a two-year loss of learning,” Barbara Nielsen said. As for public education in this country in general, she said, “In Finland they value learning; I’m not sure we do. There is a huge teacher shortage, and it will not be alleviated by raising starting salaries to $40,000 in this state. Our goal should be that every child can succeed, that every child can learn to think critically and analyze. Also, we the public must demand accountability. We need to take over schools that are failing.”
Hank Noble added, “Other countries hold school from 8 am to 5 pm, and on some weekends. Time on task matters. We don’t want to spend the money. There has been a teacher shortage since I’ve been in the field, and I don’t see that improving. Fifty percent of new teachers leave after the first year. And 50 percent had full-time jobs in addition to teaching in order to make ends meet. In addition to the salary problem, we need to let teachers teach and not force them to do social work. My granddaughter, after one year of college, is making between $80,000 and $100,000 working online. As long as that is possible, we are not going to be successful recruiting new teachers.”
Amanda Onan added: “Teaching could be a great profession, but it is the lowest paid profession. Teachers’ days do not end at 3:45 p.m. A lot of heartache and stress accompanies teaching. It is essential to motivate the motivated, something difficult to do. We have a culture of parents who don’t play any role in the learning we expect of students. In addition, American children are still taught the way I was taught: ‘sit and git.’” She explained that phrase as meaning they read a passage from a book, then take a multiple choice test on that passage and then read another and take a test and on and on. Other countries (and Heritage Academy), she said, engage students with hands-on projects – producing something and explaining it. Such a system, she indicated, produces better results than the “sit and git” system.
She invited anyone interested to visit Heritage Academy, where, she said, students are being taught creatively.
Gordon Haist, Ethics Society president, raised the topic of teacher expertise in the subjects being taught.
The audience learned that of the total number of physics teachers teaching school in South Carolina, only one was fully trained in the content. Haist added: It is knowledge that makes the biggest difference in a child’s life, not aptitude. When tests and testing came up for discussion, the educators all lamented that the many tests students take every school year (standardized tests, college admission tests, single subject tests) should provide data to improve instruction. Unfortunately, that is not one of the results, they said.
Amanda Onan described another problem with tests: Principals can “game” the system to get test results that look like improvements from previous test results in several ways, including discouraging some students from taking the tests, even suggesting they call in sick on test day.
Questioned about the national controversy over “common core,” Barbara Nielsen responded that it started out as a good idea, a way to meet the needs of every state for standardization of content taught. She said it “got out of hand” as politicians and textbook publishers started revisiting what it meant. They misrepresented it so that it no longer meant what its educators intended.
Sincere thanks to Barbara Nielsen, Amanda Williams Onan and Hank Noble for their outstanding presentation and discussion of this very important issue. Thanks also to Betsy Doughtie for Zooming our meeting and to Fran Bollin for her incredible note taking and summary of our meeting.
Our next meeting, Wednesday, May 4th, 2022, 3-4:30 PM, USCB, Hilton Head Campus.