Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: Public schools: Institutions in turmoil

by Bill Welker

I was a product of the public school system. It was a positive experience that I will always cherish. But times have changed dramatically since my school days.

In recent decades, I have observed the decline of educational progress in our public school systems. The decrease of test scores and the rise of school discipline problems is quite evident across the nation. As a former K-12 educator, I believe there are various reasons.

Teacher educators

First, I want you to think about the qualifications of university educators in other professions. In the medical field, the higher-education teachers are practitioners: RNs, DPTs, NPs, PAs, MDs and DOs. Colleges of law consist of practicing paralegals, prosecuting and criminal defense attorneys and retired judges. Dental school instructors include dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants.

On the other hand, education professors have little practical experience regarding the K-12 classroom setting. Many of them acquire a bachelor’s degree, immediately followed by procuring a master’s degree. After that, they earn their PhD or EdD. And finally, they secure teaching positions at institutions of higher learning.

Yes, these educational professors definitely have very limited knowledge of K-12 classroom situations that practitioners have to face. Thus, they have filled their students’ minds with educational theory based on sterile, controlled research, not on real-life scenarios regarding the K-12 environment.

Furthermore, teacher-educators lack background experiences on how to deal with the myriad of discipline problems that public school teachers have to contend with in the classroom on a daily basis.

They rarely (if ever) stress that student learning cannot take place without classroom control or discipline. Ask any public school “master teacher.”

Thus, our young teachers are ill-prepared to deal with student discipline problems. So, what can they do? Well, they either figure out on their own how to handle their students or they leave the profession frustrated and traumatized with feelings of failure.

To be quite honest, I was one such naïve teacher upon graduation. And I received my “baptism of fire” in an inner-city school. After just two weeks of attempting to utilize the “educational theories” I was taught as an undergraduate, I realized the approaches were useless in the

K-12 domain. Fortunately, I had the fortitude to change strategies.

The Monday of that third week I turned an about face. I morphed into a stern K-12 educator, stressing that the classroom is run by the teacher, not the students. At that point, I developed the following philosophy: Be firm, be fair and be consistent. I adhered to these beliefs the rest of my teaching career.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I always listened intently to my graduate school professors when they shared their knowledge regarding my field of study. However, as soon as they started telling the class how to teach, that’s when I closed my notebook.

Test scores

Over the years, students’ state test scores in the core subjects (English, Mathematics, Science and Reading) have gradually decreased. I could state statistics that would fill many pages, but all you need to do is surf the internet.

Some educational theorists have suggested that COVID is the culprit behind poor test scores. But as I previously mentioned, this downhill trend started way before the COVID outbreak. And I firmly believe that the lack of classroom control or discipline is a major cause of lower test scores.

Bill Welker, EdD, has taught at every grade level during his 40-year K-12 career.  He published “The Literacy Handbook,” which was distributed to schools in eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia. Welker was selected as “Teacher of the Year” by the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce. He was also awarded the prestigious “Jasper N. Deahl Award” by West Virginia University for his accomplishments as a certified reading specialist.