MEL'S MUSINGS: Be informed. Contact your local school board

Mel Olson
Mel Olson

Principal Bob Brooks hired me, fresh out of college, to teach social studies at Mitchell High School. To me he was a fatherly figure whom I did not want to disappoint. Early on, I expressed some doubt about my performance in the classroom. I’ll never forget what Mr. Brooks said, “You’re going to make mistakes; we all do. Make your mistakes out of a love for kids and a passion for teaching. You may not be right but you won’t be wrong.”

Over my nearly 40 years in the classroom, I pursued teaching with a desire to give children the best education I could possibly deliver. That included discipline when necessary, facing down bullies in defense of weaker students when called for and helping students develop the social and interactive skills that are part of the “hidden” curriculum that doesn’t show up in any state assessment or achievement test.

The World Bank defines a quality education as consisting of “Six A’s.”

Assessment, so one can know the students’ baseline skill levels and how far they’ve progressed in acquiring new, and advancing old, competencies.

Autonomy, both for students and the school; the school so it has the freedom to achieve educational goals the best way possible given its location and resources, and developing autonomy in students recognizing that they are ultimately responsible for their own success in school and beyond.


Attention to teachers, realizing that quality teachers are ultimately where successful education begins and ends. Qualified teachers, with deep content knowledge and excellent communications skills, who have outstanding rapport with their pupils, are the keystones to educational excellence. The report also suggests that administrators “get out of the way” of successful teachers and let them get on with it.

Attention to early childhood development, is key to initial and sustained accomplishment in school. The Project STAR research, conducted as a statewide study in Tennessee, highlights that small class sizes in the elementary grades are critical to a student’s success throughout the educational process.

Project STAR showed that students who had small class sizes (around 15 students) in lower elementary school were more than a year ahead of their peers from larger class sizes by eighth grade. The addition of other adults, like teacher aides, in larger classrooms did not produce any gains; small classes are the magic for attaining this outstanding student achievement.

Attention to culture, promoted fluency in the national language for all regardless of country of origin, as well as an understanding and appreciation of history, which is key to national cohesion and effective government.

Accountability, stakeholders have a right to expect and demand that their schools educate their children, not merely train or school them.

Harvard’s Graduate School of Education studies have found that schools’ academic offerings impact only about 20 percent of a student’s achievement; factors around school (like bullying, school climate, a sense of community, etc.) account for another 20 percent, while home life, family background and parental involvement are responsible for the other 60 percent.

The World Economic Forum studies emphasize that the proficiencies important in jobs that can’t be replaced by computers, robots or other automation are intuition, lateral thinking, inventiveness, creativity, empathy and entrepreneurialism, making instruction via the physical classroom paramount. They found that education should be conducted in person, utilizing interaction among students without technology, so these skills can be learned, practiced and demonstrated together with other real people present. Too often technology becomes the babysitter, the distraction from connecting students socially and the mode for cheating, lazy “good enough” attempts but no real learning.

When is the last time you attended a school board meeting? How large are the classes your kids are being crammed in to? Is technology a tool or an excuse to save a buck at the expense of your child’s future? Is your student being prepared for life or just the latest achievement test? If you don’t know, you should find out.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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