Constant rule changes hampering education
the things that attracted me to the world of education so many years ago was the
stability about teaching. The school world looked unchangeable.
Jul. 15, 2004
Once a teacher landed a job, they stayed at the same school, teaching the same
subjects, in the same manner. There was a sense of comfort in knowing that Mr.
Moore, my seventh-grade algebra teacher, and Mr. Arredondo, my seventh-grade
biology teacher, had been at my junior high forever, teaching my friend's
brothers and sisters long before I entered their classes. They really had time
to hone their teaching to a sharp edge.
My parents and their friends had no worries about whether their children were
learning the requisite skills for the subject or could pass achievement tests.
They knew that the schools would not keep incompetent teachers and they knew by
what we learned that something educational was happening in the classes.
Our test skills showed we were fairly smart, and most of us went on to become
productive members of society.
That was 35 years ago. Today, the picture is completely different. Parents have
little confidence in today's schools. Teachers change grade levels or schools as
easily as they change their socks. Students move from here to there and back
again, sometimes even attending the same school several times in one year!
Achievement tests - not educators - are now in charge and declare whether
students are learning. Evidently, parents cannot tell any longer whether their
children are learning until they have test scores in their hands proving it is
Change is constant in today's schools. Nothing stays the same. It's no wonder
schools have trouble meeting standards because they are never the same from year
to year. Teachers and administrators have little time to plan how to meet the
identified goals before they morph into something else.
What I am
required to teach my fourth-graders this year is not exactly the same as last
year. Sure, I'll still be teaching reading, writing and math, but the concepts
will be changing. Nor will the concepts be the same in two years, I guarantee
you. Many of next year's fourth-grade science standards were fifth-grade
What's more confusing is that the standards from state to state are different,
too. Does that mean kids in California are smarter than those in Arkansas or
Sadly, the concepts keep shifting downward until children are too young to grasp
them. For instance, first-graders will be required to make change for a dollar.
Perhaps my children are incredibly slow, but neither of my daughters would have
been able to do that.
Some may argue this is a good thing, but imagine it like this: You work hard and
learn to play basketball. You watch stars and try to do what they do. You study
the rules until you know them forward and backward. You practice, practice and
then practice some more. You join a team and you're ready for the big test!
Suddenly, you find that although the game is still called basketball, you have
to kick the ball through goal posts instead of shooting a basket, which is what
you studied. Needless to say, you don't do really well, but you go home, study
the new rules, and practice more. Then more again. You're ready for the big
test! This time, you're told to hit the ball with a bat.
Will you ever become a basketball star if the rules and requirements change
constantly, never giving you a chance to make that first basket you trained to
Just in the six years that I have been teaching, what is required of teachers -
and students - has changed drastically. Phonics became a big deal a few years
ago, thanks to Rep. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, who wrote legislation that mandated a
phonics-based approach in the schools. Why a politician knows more than an
educator about how best to teach raises another whole set of questions, but
suddenly, Arizona's elementary teachers were immersed in phonics. (By the way,
that legislation set off a buying frenzy at schools to obtain new materials to
meet the letter of the law. I wonder whether any money-conscious politicians
The last six years have been a whirlwind of changes: The AIMs test debacle,
all-day kindergarten, new achievement tests, a longer school year, Proposition
301, English as a Second Language instruction, and shifting state standards.
The newest politician-inspired legislation will now require all teachers and
administrators to obtain 45 hours of training in English-immersion training by
2006. Thanks to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, everyone will be
somehow shoehorning one whole week of training into learning how to teach
students who don't speak English.
While this may be a really good idea, every school already has identified those
teachers who are qualified to teach these students, so here we go again, making
changes for the sake of change.
Mr. Moore, my seventh-grade algebra teacher, had been showing students how to
work with variables for more years than I could comprehend when I was a kid. He
had been a fixture at my school and parents fought to get their students into
his class because he was such a great teacher. He taught the only math class in
which I earned an A.
Mr. Moore might have taken early retirement if he had to teach in today's
schools. He wouldn't have been able to perfect what he was teaching because
every year would have meant new concepts and new teaching methods, thanks to
politically inspired changes.
Honestly, I'm not sure we have improved the world of education. Instead, we are
making changes for the sake of change.
Stephanie Robertson is a fourth-grade teacher at Andersen Elementary School. She
can be reached at
The views expressed are those of the author.