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Education Matters

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by Arthur Mallory

Mostly, when I hear the term, "the bottom line," I think of money. However, when I do some clear and serious thinking about the bottom line, I have to conclude that it is hardly ever about money.

Most of the great school districts in America seem to have an appreciation for and understanding of what is meant by "the bottom line."

All over America, throughout Missouri and in the Springfield area, school teachers invest their lives in being concerned about the learning potential and learning success of each student.

Both of my parents were teachers, having worked a total of 93 years in the service of children, youth and their families. My wife is a retired schoolteacher, and our three children are teachers.

I know teachers, and with very few exceptions, teachers worry, fret and feel great distress about any student who is not doing well. Teachers plan for and seek effective ways to begin reversing the trend of failure for students who are not successful in school.

At the same time they are constantly looking for ways to accelerate the success of those who are doing well in school.

One of our nation's educational goals is that all children be ready to learn when they start to school. This is a noble goal and one which will require a close working relationship with the family. In fact, the family is key to a child's or young person's success in school.

It is just an opinion, but I believe it is fiction to suggest that all students who attend our schools will achieve great academic success. But, ask any teacher and most parents, and that is their hope.

The bottom line for the teacher is student success and happiness. I didn't say, student success and fun. School is usually not, "ha, ha, funny," nor is it intended to be. Hard work, good study habits, a special place in the home for study and a special time each day to read and do lessons, enough sleep at night, a good breakfast and constant parental encouragement do more for school success, happiness and personal joy than most realize.

Success in school is never luck, rather, it is a family commitment. This is the bottom line.

Having said this, I continue to believe that nothing of value in this nation is completely unrelated to an American dollar. Our churches, families, schools and other mission-minded, philanthropic efforts are to a great extent driven by money. Our nation's defense relies on money. Good roads and safe streets require money.

However, as related as the two may be in this country, where many sincerely believe their duty is to serve, the bottom line should never be about dollars. Contradictory? Not at all.

There is a direct relationship between dollars available and a good schooling process. For example, smaller class size in the primary grades, kindergarten to grade three, will most often result in greater success on the parts of children. Research shows that the more time the teacher is able to spend with each child, the greater the likelihood that the young child will acquire the skills essential for learning. This is true in reading, writing, listening, speaking, spelling, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, as well as in basketball and believe it or not, these basic academic skills are more important than basketball. The more you practice the better you get. Smaller class sizes require more money, but the hoped for result is better learning the bottom line.

Sometimes it appears that school people speak more often about money than about student achievement. If money is the bottom line we will experience more failure than success, because our real needs and expectations of the school often seem to exceed our ability to secure dollars to meet those needs.

A nagging question is, "How do we measure the bottom line?"

This is a good question but not one without an answer. Simply stated, success in school is achievement, and that can be measured achievement not only in academic subjects but also in everything that goes on to make a well-rounded child and youth.

Each one of us knows what that kind of success is, and we recognize it when we see it. In the schooling process, we can identify the bottom line.

This is equally true for the American business and industrial community. The bottom line for business must be customer satisfaction, which is unlikely to ever happen unless all who are associated with the business, which includes the clerk and the supervisor, are as passionately committed to the "bottom line" of customer satisfaction as the great teachers who think about it all the time.

In the schools, achievement inevitably leads to family satisfaction, which then leads to more trust, which ultimately leads to more resources. That is true in business, as well.

One of the most important partnerships in America is and should be between private business and the nation's public schools.

This partnership requires a constant renewal of the covenant to maintain and care for something as important as the schools where our children and their teachers gather to learn.

We are getting ready to vote for school board members, legislators, and others who govern the public schools. We will vote on school issues which have to do with the resources needed for maintaining and improving our schools. As we vote, we must keep in mind the "bottom line."

(Arthur L. Mallory, EdD, is a former president of Southwest Missouri State University and former commissioner of education who resides in Springfield.)

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