Don’t over-correct the education system

This blog was previously published in the Des Moines Register.

A speed bump was placed on the outskirts of a small, Iowa community. It was put there to slow down a teenager who “lit ‘em up” on his way out of town as he was traveling to school. As I watched the lone town motor-head, it occurred to me that he would also be the type who would fight for our country. He joined the Marines after graduation.

But before that, the speed bump was installed.

Public safety is important. Speed limits are good. Enforcing speed limits is better. But installing the speed bump was an overreaction.

It happens all too often. We get a good idea and then take it too far.

All around the country, parents have been a positive force in the education system. Throughout the pandemic, they demanded that teachers return to in-classroom teaching, questioned the efficacy of masking students, and challenged the teaching of critical race theory or any type of racism or discrimination. 

Parents have been successful, and it’s prompted our legislators to introduce meaningful education bills.

But, now, we’re starting to see a few examples of education bills going too far.  

A bill was introduced in the Iowa House that called for cameras in the classroom, allowing parents to view live footage. The bill failed—thankfully.

Most school administrators and teachers would welcome a parent who wanted to sit in and personally observe a classroom. But sitting at home, day after day, and remotely viewing through a supposedly secure Internet connection is too much. It’s unnecessary surveillance of the teacher and improper videotaping of children.

Parents can still do what parents have always done. Ask their children about what’s happening at school at the kitchen dinner table. There will undoubtedly be “fork-drop” moments. At that time, parents can set up meetings with school officials and discuss any concerns.

Cameras in the classroom are not needed.

In Indiana, House bill 1134 is on the move and will require teachers to post annually by August 1, every textbook, all printed material, audiovisual materials, electronic and digital sources, Internet sources, library materials, presentations, lectures and any other educational activity that will be used for instruction in the upcoming year.

The writers of the bill did smartly exclude copies of tests and scoring keys.  

It’s a lengthy bill that covers many areas, but at least this section of it seems to reach a certain level of ridiculousness.

Communication is helpful. A provided syllabus is good. Stating class goals is better. But requiring the posting of a year’s worth of every scrap of resource a teacher may use is too much.

The whole point of in-person instruction is so the teacher can, in real time, gauge whether the students are comprehending an idea, answer questions, determine where further reinforcement is needed or a new approach is warranted, and know through a continuous process of a type of “call and response” when the lesson plan can move forward.

Children aren’t computers. It’s not a simple matter of inputting data. Even the very best teachers will not be able to rigidly adhere to previously posted lesson plans, and it’s because they’re good teachers that it won’t happen. 

A 2021 survey found that nearly one in four teachers were likely to leave their profession. Job-related stress was a big factor.

Attempting to put cameras in classrooms or regimenting the academic year before it even begins only adds to that stress.

Nobody loves these children more than their parents, and it is right and good for them to be involved in their kids’ education. But let us be reasonable in the pursuit of improving the education system.

If too many speed bumps are placed on the career path of teaching, there will be no teachers left who are willing to join parents in the fight for a quality education for all.