Hey! Leave those kids alone

The job of editorial page editor — the way I choose to do it, anyway — involves a curious mix of leadership and collaboration.

As I frequently tell readers, our editorial board makes decisions by consensus, meaning that even if not everyone in the room buys into the position completely, it has been shaped to the point that each member can live with having the editorial appear beneath his or her name (which, while editorials are by definition not signed — only columns have bylines — is always up there on the masthead with the rest of our names for all the world to see. For an illustration, zoom in on the upper left-hand corner of this page.)

My colleagues occasionally say I’m not being entirely candid when I say that because we don’t always reach consensus, and sometimes we take a certain position only because I insist , despite the lingering objections of one or more members. True, there are times when I consider it necessary to take a position, and a consensus proves impossible — on some political endorsements, for instance. Unlike other issues, an endorsement picks one candidate or another, yes or no — leaving no room for the compromises that make consensus possible. And I firmly believe that failing to endorse — when one of these people will be elected — is a copout.

My response to this gentle remonstration is that just as often (if not more so), I give in and go along with the consensus. An example is today’s lead editorial. Personally, I’d like to see summer vacation start at Memorial Day and end after Labor Day. I sympathize with those who want their kids to enjoy the same sort of three-month idylls that I remember
from my own youth. And while I’m a big advocate of standards in the schools, I personally fail to understand what is magical about 180 days of instruction. I seem to recall many thousands of hours that I spent in school as being superfluous. I believe what I learned between kindergarten and 12th grade could have been taught in half the time.

But my colleagues pretty much unanimously insist that I’m completely WRONG on this, and since I have to confess that to some extent my position is based in sentimentality rather than evidence and logic (and I tend to treat positions based in "feelings" rather than thought with contempt), I’ve gone along with them.

But I only go along so far, and the copy has to get by me to get on the page. An example — a paragraph in today’s editorial originally read like this:

On a practical level, the bill approved Wednesday by the House Education Committee isn’t quite as bad as some previous attempts to set local school calendars: It allows schools to start back as early as the third Monday of August, rather than holding them to the agrarian, post-Labor Day schedule that the businesses on the beach seem to think will benefit them. But then, if you want to talk practicalities, the whole notion that starting school in August somehow shortens the summer vacation is nutty: An early start means kids get out of school by the end of May instead of mid-June. The actual length of summer vacation is the same no matter when it starts and stops.

I was willing to go along with all but one word of that. I paused in the editing process to send an instant message to the writer:

A couple of points re this…
1. Summer vacation IS shorter than it used to be. Kids didn’t get off in mid-June; they got off around Memorial Day.
2. August is more summery than June. It’s hotter. In June, the ocean water is sometimes still cold. Most of June occurs in the spring. All of August (and most of September) occur during the summer.
I guess what I’m saying here is, I object to "nutty." "Unconvincing," perhaps — at least, to a consensus of our board.

So, being the editor, I changed the word, and the writer did not protest. But she still thinks it’s nutty.

10 thoughts on “Hey! Leave those kids alone

  1. steve

    I’ve always found the “we have to get high school classes done before Christmas” argument to be anti-education. What that argument implies is that whatever is being “taught” to students is somehow lost over the two week
    Christmas break. If that’s the case, then how effective can the teaching be?
    At an elementary school in the Northeast several years ago, we polled the parents as to their feelings on when the school year should start. With several hundred responses, more than 70% favored a post Labor Day start. I brought that information to the school board and got no response… Just blank stares and “why should we care what parents think?”.
    But, then, that’s why we’re paying Steve Hefner $147K a year along with a $700 car allowance… to make those tough decisions.

  2. steve

    Also, let’s not lose sight of the primary reason for the early start date – to get as many instructional days in prior to the PACT test. PACT drives everything at the elementary and middle school level these days.
    Are the schools better because of it? As a parent of three spanning elementary, middle, and high school, my answer is a resounding “No!”
    At the elementary school level, at least seven of the 180 days are spent on testing alone (PACT, MAP, etc.). Also, once PACT testing ends, there is very little classwork done except for busy work. The last two weeks of school at the elementary and middle school level has evolved into a “cooldown” period rather than teaching time.

  3. Mike C

    The diagnostic value of the PACT — one of the reasons that the tests take so long to score — is minimized because the results aren’t available until school has been in session for over ten weeks. Teachers then pore over the results for their students to determine what remediation they can cram into what’s left of the term.
    Block scheduling can of course aggravate this since half the students will have the English or Math course only for the first half of the school year.

    A S.C. State trooper pulled over a pickup on I-85. The trooper asked, “Got any ID?”
    The driver replied, “Bout whut?

  4. Mark Whittington


    As evident from your own writings, you view the other editors as being your employees, and I suspect you treat them as such. I’m guessing that your employees are hand picked, and I know that in large measure your employees share your views. No one criticizes The State for the technical quality of its writing on the Editorial Page, but the editors seemingly are of one centrist mind. The employer to employee relationship is bound to stymie creativity. It’s hard to distinguish one writer from another. I wouldn’t care except for the fact that The State is the local mainstay newspaper where legitimate debate should be taking place among people who have real philosophical and class differences. When there are significant differences of opinion, or new or different ideas, it usually occurs with syndicated columnists, and even then, it’s usually conservative or libertarian commentary. The most liberal opinions are usually left off of Sunday’s Editorial Page. For example, you’ll run a strongly pro conservative, pro neo-liberal Wal-Mart piece on Sunday’s Editorial Page (when most people have time to read the editorials), yet you’ll publish a slightly liberal counterpoint on Thursday. The State never publishes Social Democratic opinion pieces.

    The State can never honestly debate class issues because centrists don’t recognize the concept of social/economic class: all you can do is talk about a phony notion of equal opportunity when you must surely know by now that the system (capitalism) is rigged against ordinary citizens. It’s a big obstacle to reform because you can’t solve problems when you don’t even recognize their existence. You are not serving the community well by limiting the continuous debate within the confines of centrism.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Mike, the purpose of the PACT is institutional accountability. To put it in blunt terms, the Legislature, by passing the EAA, was saying, “We give you districts and schools all this money, prove to us you’re meeting standards.” So standards were drawn up, and the PACT was specifically designed to measure whether those standards were being met.
    It was never about diagnosing individual kids and developing remedial plans for each one. The kids are the ones who take the PACT, but it’s the teachers and schools and districts — and ultimately, the entire system — that are being tested. The kids have to take the test because the measure by which the SCHOOLS are being tested is how well they’ve taught the KIDS.
    All this talk about the results not being ready to help teachers help kids was started BY teachers — who weren’t crazy about the EAA to start with. You can’t blame them for that. They’re there to help the kids, God bless ’em. But it misses the point. To the extent that it is even rooted in the original purpose, the complaint seems rooted in a thought pattern that goes, “You’re judging me by how well the kids do on this test. So give me the results in time for me to make sure the kids do better the next time they take it.”
    That’s inside-out, or backwards or something. The problem here is related to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: The observer interacts with the observed through the process of observation.” The ideal would be if you could test the school system the way you test the water quality in a river. The river doesn’t know you’re dipping the bucket in. If it did, it might complain, “If you tested my water at a different time of day, I might be able to adjust my flow so as to improve the quality.”
    I wish there were a way to test whether standards are being met in a way that the teachers, the kids, the principals, the superintendents and everyone involved had no clue they were being tested. That would be more valid. I’m just not sure how to accomplish that. The closest I can come is surprise, “ambush” testing, whereby the test just shows up when least expected. But how would you get the tests onto the children’s desks without involving the system? Tricky.
    The odd thing here is, I think I agree with what I suspect is, for the teachers, the emotional center here: They wish the rest of society would just trust them to do the job. I wish that, too. But the political reality is that our society is far beyond that.

  6. Mike C

    Brad –
    Thanks for reminding me of the intent of the PACT. I live with a teacher, so sometimes I’m under the influence…
    As for your concluding thought, we’ve been losing trust in just about everything and therefore have to specify to the nth degree everything for everybody all of the time. Businesses do it (measuring productivity and profit), some public enterprises try to do it, pretty soon we’ll have churches doing it too.
    Education is one of those areas, perhaps the one that gets the most attention. Folks got the notion that something was wrong, that diplomas meant less than they did before, that kids weren’t learning as much, that they were not mastering skills as well as kids did a generation or so ago.
    The whole phonics versus whole-word reading method is but one battle in the education war. Other battles are the aversion to rote memorization, the concentration on building self-esteem apart from mastery of skills, and the dumbing down of standardized tests. Where they could (in conservative states like Florida and SC), confused parents pushed legislators to pass legislation like EAA and, at the national level, the NCLB, to bring some accountability to education. It’s interpreted, perhaps rightly so, as a threat, when it’s intended to give parents some idea as to whether their kids are learning.
    The ironic thing is that parents concerned with their kids’ education are the key. Earlier this month I heard some teachers — not wild-eyed conservatives by any means– complaining that all parents should have to pay something for their kids’ schooling. They were complaining that most parents are rarely seen. There are a few regulars with the SICs (school improvement committees), but less than half bother to show up on parents’ night. When one of the women mentioned how much of her school’s food it wasted, other teachers chimed in to say that they’d seen the same thing. Free breakfast and lunch rules specify that to get a drink, the kids have to get the meal. So they get the meal with the drink, then toss the meal. The consensus among the small group I was with is that half the meals are tossed. That strikes me as an exaggeration, but I’m an optimist.
    Mark’s exhortations and viewpoint (hey, he seems to call you centrist!) bring to mind two recent (right-wing) columns on the swarming of bloggers upset with mainstream media and media personalities. This one covers the attacks on Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, and the WaPo, while in this one the mighty Kos acknowledges his strategy for keeping the MSM leaning leftwards. At least George Stephanopoulos implicitly acknowledges that that’s were the MSM is.

  7. sm229

    busch gardens and soldiers and sailors busch gardens and soldiers and sailors,what to bring to closing and seller what to bring to closing and seller,net use reconnect on login net use reconnect on login,spongebobs freind cindy pics spongebobs freind cindy pics,info trac info trac,jessica extreme video jessica extreme video,georgetown hoyas fan pages georgetown hoyas fan pages,winchester model1897 trench gun winchester model1897 trench gun,days of words and proses comment on days of words and proses comment on,computer cant login to the domain computer cant login to the domain,

Comments are closed.