When I was growing up, my father would top off the oil and antifreeze in the family car whenever it had any trouble. It didn't matter if the battery was dead or the transmission was lying on the garage floor - my dad always went through the ritual of refilling the car's fluids.
Philadelphia School District officials seem to follow a similar logic. No matter what issues face our city's public schools, the bosses seem to believe that lengthening the school day and providing more professional development for teachers is the cure-all.
That includes the new Philadelphia schools CEO, Arlene Ackerman. Like Paul Vallas and David Hornbeck before her, she believes more is better.
I've been teaching in Philadelphia for 12 years, and I still don't agree with this philosophy. More isn't always better.
There are three parts of the education equation: teachers, students and parents. All three of these must be up and running at a minimum level for education to take place. Just as a car needs a working battery and transmission to operate properly, so a school system needs the support and cooperation of parents and students as well as teachers.
If parents and students don't get actively involved, how will extending the school day improve academic achievement? If education isn't made a priority in children's homes, what will requiring more professional development for teachers accomplish?
School District officials must realize that teachers are only one part of a complex instructional ecosystem. To maintain an environment conducive to learning, the School Reform Commission must strive to hold students accountable for their own education, and it must demand that parents get involved in their children's schooling.
Family has a lot to do with failures in the schools. There are those who say our communities are an extension of our school system, but I believe it's the other way around: Our school system is an extension of our communities.
According to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, only 51.8 percent of families in Philadelphia are headed by two parents. Only 21.1 percent of Philadelphians have a bachelor's degree.
And what about the students themselves? When are they going to take some responsibility for their own schooling? According to the Department of Human Services, more than 12,000 Philadelphia schoolchildren are truant on any given day.
So what can the Philadelphia School District do? Here are three suggestions for improving education in the district and getting qualified teachers to work where they're needed most:
Cut class sizes in poorly performing schools.
Instead of jamming 33 teenagers in a room, let's make the maximum class size 27 students in failing schools. Believe me - six fewer kids makes a world of difference.
Offer tuition reimbursement for teachers who agree to teach in failing schools.
In the suburbs, almost every school district pays for its teachers to get higher education. What does Philadelphia offer its instructors? Nothing.
This is ironic, considering that the School Reform Commission is constantly pushing more professional development on us. Although the district should provide tuition reimbursement for all its teachers, giving it to those who teach in failing schools would be a good start.
Stop demoralizing teachers by making us the eternal scapegoats. In other words, hold parents and the community accountable, too.
Do more of the sort of thing former Mayor John Street and former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson did in 2006, when they gave summonses to 6,000 parents of truant schoolchildren, bringing them to Temple's Liacouras Center to talk about the importance of getting their sons and daughters to school.
Forget the generic solutions. If Ackerman and the School Reform Commission truly want to build a better district, they must be willing to provide teachers with the resources necessary to succeed. And they must demand that parents and the community take on their fair share of the responsibility.