Clash in the classroom

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting differentresults.”
The above is most often attributed to Albert Einstein, although it's not clear whether he actually said it. Regardless, it reflects the biggest problem with our nation's public school system today, which everyone seems to agree is failing. The antidote is always the same - more taxpayer dollars - and the results have been dishearteningly the same, student performance far short of expectations.
Tina Coleman, the principal at Carroll Middle School who is ending her first year there, is doing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Faced with declining test scores at her school, Coleman is restructuring the way students are taught, going to self-contained classes for the fifth and sixth grades.
It sounds innocuous enough, but the move has meant that some teachers will lack the proper certification to return to Carroll Middle next year. The number depends on whom you believe. Coleman fixes it at five, but some teachers we have talked to say the number could rise as high as 15 to 20.
Coleman made the move to self-contained fifth-grade classes this year, and she says that preliminary end-of-year test results show improvement. Proponents say self-contained classes enhance learning through better discipline, increased comfort with a single teacher, and more time in class for students as opposed to the halls.
Critics say there is proof of none of that. They ask good questions, wondering why experienced teachers with strong credentials are being forced out at Carroll Middle School when the system is paying substantial bonuses to new teachers as it battles a never-ending teacher shortage.
The county school system has promised to find slots for displaced teachers, and we have little doubt that can be done. But it's easy to understand why these teachers feel kicked aside. Change can be difficult - especially when those who are most affected don't believe their voice matters.
But as Coleman charts a new course at Carroll Middle, it should be remembered that change can be a good thing, and is often preferred to doing the same thing again and again. Carroll Middle is blessed to be in middle of the most-educated school district in the county, which brings a higher level of scrutiny by parents who value education and involve themselves with their children's.
With her bold move, Coleman will either be given credit or blame, depending on the direction Carroll Middle moves under its new structure. But because she is the school's principal, that was going to happen anyway, which is why she is entitled. If student performance rises, then the complaints that we have heard in recent weeks will grow faint. If not, then they will return - only louder than before.

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