Lecture dissects problems with failing public education system

Ron Berler speaks on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at the Cashion Academic Center. Travis Taylor | Lariat Photo Editor
Ron Berler speaks on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at the Cashion Academic Center. Travis Taylor | Lariat Photo Editor
Ron Berler speaks on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at the Cashion Academic Center.
Travis Taylor | Lariat Photo Editor

By Madi Allen

According to Ron Berler, the current problems in education are not the teachers or the students; they are a lack of parental involvement, standardized testing and an underappreciation of teachers.

Berler, author of “Raising the Curve,” a book that explores the problems in a local elementary school, visited Baylor on Wednesday to speak about his book and what he thinks are the current problems with America’s education system.

Berler spent a year embedded in Brookside Elementary, a school in Norwalk, Conn., to observe the classroom and school environment while assessing what he saw wrong with the system.

“I had previously been a mentor at this school,” Berler said. “I knew it was a failing school, but I saw all of these teachers doing all they could, and I asked myself, ‘How could they be failing if they’re doing their best?”

During the time Berler spent at Brookside, he took up the position of an unpaid teaching assistant to better observe the classroom and help the school identify its problems.

“I think Ron’s story is true not just of schools in Connecticut but also in schools of Texas,” said Dr. Tony Talbert, assistant chair and professor in the Baylor School of Education. “We have to return to an education-based system instead of an information-based system.”

Berler identified one of the main problems of education in America as a lack of interest from the students’ parents. Students are in school for six hours a day; there are another 18 hours unaccounted for by the school system. Berler urged more involvement from parents regarding their child’s education, claiming many students aren’t able to go to their parents for help.

“This is the hidden problem we don’t want to talk about,” Berler said. “If parents pulled their weight, we’d go a long way toward solving this problem.”

A second problem identified by Berler was the importance of teachers in the students’ lives. One of the reasons Berler wrote the book was to see if teachers deserved the blame that had been heaped upon them.

“I came to appreciate the job that teachers do, and I never had before,” Berler said. “I learned this spending every day at Brookside.”

Although Berler sees blame being put on teachers in the education system, he does believe they have the power to change and that it is an ideal time to be a teacher.

At one point, he addressed the crowd, mostly composed of education students, and encouraged them to continue.

“Ironically, this is the best time to be a teacher,” Berler said. “This is a time when you can get creative. Your administration wants to listen to you; it’s your time.”

A third and final problem found was the perniciousness of standardized testing, Berler said.

He found that nine weeks, 22 percent of the school year, was spent on test prep, focusing on the two areas that the students were tested on — math and reading — as opposed to a well-balanced, liberal arts education.

“Study guides replaced textbooks, and the students stopped learning organically,” Berler said. “There is no art to teaching out of a study guide, and students get bored.”

A large problem in the students’ school years was the interruption of their routine to begin preparing for statewide tests.

“State tests were one of the goofiest things to ever be put down the bike,” Berler said.

From Berler’s perspective as a journalist and his hands-on approach as a teaching assistant, he was able to get hands-on experience by consistently being in the classroom and presented education from a fresh perspective.

“I think Ron had a very interesting take,” said Allen graduate student Tyler Ellis. “He was able to give a unique outsider perspective on the problems in education.”