Peculiar educational policies worth pondering

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

Every few years I write an article on one of my favorite topics – the baffling machinations of our educational system. Being a parent of two school aged children this subject is dear to my heart. As a parent, I have observed many things good, a few bad, and some downright odd. Ponder the following and see if you, like me, find the following policies and practices as peculiar as I do.

My first concern is a health issue. It is common knowledge that the best way to prevent the spread of colds, flu, and other diseases is by frequently washing our hands with soap and warm water. Oddly enough, I have never found a sink in a school that students have access to that has warm water! When asked, one teacher postulated the reason was that the school designers were fearful children would scald themselves if they turned the water on too hot. Nonsense I say. All you need is a regulator on the hot water heater to control the temperature. So what’s real the deal?

Why do some schools allow teachers to choose the classes they want to teach based primarily on seniority? Shouldn’t the principal assign teachers to subjects they will teach based on their test scores and proven experience? Doesn’t logic dictate that this is the best way to assign teachers to a particular subject? Yet many courses are assigned to teachers based merely on their seniority, personal preference, randomization, or favoritism rather than a proven performance record. Hmmm.

Under Superintendent Kriner Cash’s administration much emphasis has been placed on holding teachers accountable. It has been asserted that more time needs to be purposefully directed to good first teaching and targeting specific student needs. Yet Cash, by his very own actions, has consistently made this extremely difficult. For example, in 2010 the Cash administration terminated hundreds of teaching aides. The president of the Memphis Education Association stated this was a terrible blow to morale which ultimately piled the former aides’ tasks on to already over worked teachers. While a few aides were eventually rehired, the end result is that now teachers have been taken out of their classrooms to do nonacademic jobs such as watching students eat lunch and other housekeeping task for four or more hours per week. Educators with master degrees, doctorates, and even National Board Certification are picking up trash, monitoring noise, and clearing trays rather than developing curriculum, writing grants, and doing the work of actually educating students. Hmmm…a true waste of professional talent, eh?

Beyond this, problems abound concerning the public’s perception of Dr. Cash’s opulent lifestyle. In a city noted for its high poverty rate, Superintendent Cash makes an annual salary in excess of $258,000 plus benefits and is chauffeured around town in a school board owned car accompanied by a detail of police-style Memphis City School officers. It’s not just Dr. Cash who merits the royal treatment. Similar benefits are bestowed upon much of the upper management. While in its own right appalling, all of these over-the-top, taxpayer funded benefits are being heaped upon the Cash administration while they regularly announce teacher layoffs and decry the need for more money. In my humble opinion, these ego-stroking perks are a waste of tax dollars. What are the superintendent and his cronies so afraid of that they need to be escorted around town in security vehicles protected by armed officers? Could it be those very taxpayers they are bilking of millions to support their bloated salaries and benefit packages? Or is it the throngs of educators in the trenches—teachers, teaching aides, and support staff—that their administration has terminated. Perhaps they are afraid of a revolt by parents who are sick of seeing Dr. Cash and his entourage parading from one media spectacle to the next while each year more and more Memphis City Schools fail to make the grade. Hmmm, indeed!

Lastly, President Bush initiated No Child Left Behind where all students are to be 100% proficient in reading and math by 2014. Hmmm, everyone 100% proficient? As you already know, for 100% of any large group to be proficient in anything the bar has to be set mighty low, and that is exactly what happened. To make strides toward this unrealistic goal and avoid the penalties, many states chose to dumb down their tests thus enabling more students to be deemed proficient. Need I say more?

Despite my best attempts to understand the reasoning behind the actions of our local and national leaders, I remain at a loss. I guess these things are not meant for a mere taxpaying citizen to understand. If you have any similar type questions or answers to my ponderings, please feel free to email these to me, and I will try to pass these along in future articles.

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a parent, freelance writer, and Educational Consultant. If you have any questions or comments, please email him at




Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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