Schools need consistency |

Schools need consistency

Bill Hanlon

Two of the biggest problems facing public education are a lack of consistency and different expectations. Those two factors alone create credibility problems for the public schools.

Intuitively, many of us understand the need to satisfy expectations and have consistency. If you were out with your kids and they were hungry, would you stop at a mom and pop type place or would you go to a franchise like McDonalds or Carrows? The answer for the majority is they would go where they know what the food will be like, how long it will take to be served and the cost.

Those expectations will clearly differ if I went to Ruth Chris’ Steak House. However, if I went to a different Ruth Chris’ the following week, I would expect the same service, the same quality of food and the same prices as the first. That dependability will determine if I return.

In too many public schools, parents don’t know what to expect. There is far too little consistency. A student’s education is too dependent on the classroom teacher without working with other teachers teaching the same material.

In one third-grade classroom, you might have a teacher stressing the multiplication facts. Across the hall another class with students of the same ability level in the same grade, students are working on addition and subtraction. One teacher gives homework regularly, the other teacher gives none.

A grade of “B” in one class does not equate to a grade of”B” in the class across the hall for the same work. This same problem exists in high school algebra and geometry classes. This inconsistency occurs in far too many classrooms and it confuses the parents and the general public. As a 25-year-plus educator in the public schools, it confuses and frustrates me.

This is clearly a case where the public school system is causing its own problems.

My thoughts to solve these problems are simple. First, teachers at each grade or subject should meet to determine what kids should know before teaching each major unit of study based on the district’s curriculum documents and the state’s academic standards. Second, those same teachers should meet to determine the number and types of questions that should be asked on a test of that material. Third, the teachers should agree on a difficulty level of those questions.

In other words, on a fraction test, teachers might agree to test kids on reducing fractions, the number of problems involving reducing fractions and the difficulty level. We would not want one test having students reducing 6 1/2 while another class is asked to reduce 111/213 on their fraction test.

That inconsistency results in different expectations within a school. It also results in the grades not being comparable. Shouldn’t teachers at least try to have a grade of “B” on a test or class be equivalent to a grade of “B” on a similar test in the same subject?

I’d be willing to bet if we compared tests of teachers who taught the same grade or subject, we would see remarkable differences in what they test. And while tests are not supposed to drive the curriculum, they really do. Test questions will reveal what was taught and stressed in a classroom.

If public schools and teachers want to have any credibility, they have to address common expectations and consistency, not only within the building, but across the district and state. An algebra class in southern Nevada ought to have the same expectations as the algebra class offered in northern Nevada, or for that matter, in Massachusetts.

That dependability will go a long way in building credibility and confidence in the public school system. People go where they know what to expect. I guess that’s why business franchises are pretty successful.

Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is