LET ME START my annual back-to-school column with a simple question. What is at least one thing that HBO's John Oliver and Black Lives Matter have in common? Both are both opponents of charter schools. The Atlantic.com reports that Black Lives Matter's recent plan to fix public schools argues that charter schools are decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources. I think this argument is sincere, but completely off base.
On the other hand, Oliver's recent snarky attack on HBO on charter schools, particularly in Philadelphia, is exactly the type of rant that is the signature call of the dilettante who cannot feel the hope and desperation that are driving parents to seek out alternatives to the sometimes bad public schools that their kids are forced to attend.
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, a fan of Oliver's and, in my view, an architect of the charter school movement in Pennsylvania, was a lot kinder in a recent rebuke of Oliver than I'll be. Oliver's broadside is also an attack on parents. He is saying they are fools easily lured into the fool's gold of charters. I see these folks as responsible parents who, through charters, are given some of the leverage that richer people who send their kids to private schools have.
In addition to the stir Oliver has created, the other big back-to-school news is the letter that a second-grade teacher in Texas wrote to her parents telling them that she would not be assigning any homework this year. Brandy Young's letter told parents: "Research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance. Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your children to bed early." I endorse all those things, but I also think homework is necessary.
We can debate the type of productive homework or the amount of time assigned each day. But homework is practice, and the people peddling the "no homework makes Dick and Jane better off" are shortchanging kids.
This viral outbreak of the "no homework" fans is similar to the lowering of standards trend that you'll see in area schools. New Jersey and 14 other states are requiring students in the class of 2017 to pass what are called exit exams to graduate from high school. Pennsylvania has postponed using such exams until 2019, and a new report from the Pennsylvania Department of Education recommends against using exit exams.
The Inquirer reported that the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry argued essentially that dropping the exit tests would weaken standards. They are right. I don't believe local school districts in many cases can be trusted to certify that all graduating students are able to compete in our society.
Lower Merion School District is not a school system that you would usually associate with the lowering of standards. Apparently, to be competitive with other school districts under a new grading policy, a score of 90, instead of the previous cutoff of 92, will be enough to receive a grade of A. As a result of this change, a failing grade will now be 59 and under. That means a student wrong 40 percent of the time on tests lines up for graduation. Say it ain't so, Lower Merion!
What all these trends have in common is that we'll be happier if we just pretend things are OK with public education. Let's take Oliver's advice and get rid of those charter schools that are messing up the standard public schools. Let's take the Young's recommendation and get rid of the chore of homework.
Like child sports, let's bring the "every kid gets a trophy" mentality to the task of educating students. Let's adopt a policy in Pennsylvania that says that if a kid sticks it out through four years of high school, he deserves a diploma. Let's salute school districts such as Lower Merion that set the low bar of 60 as a passing grade.
So parents, students and taxpayers have no worries about public education. The kids are going to be all right.
Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). Contact him at www.domgiordano.com