Mamacita says: Rant, rant, rant.
This essay has been posted on many an education blog, for the past several years, and it’s just as relevant today as it was yesterday.
John Taylor, retired superintendent of Lancaster County School District in South Carolina, has nailed it. I wish every school board in the States had to hear it read by a parent at the start of every board meeting.
Absolutely the Best Dentist!
My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget check-ups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.
“Did you hear about the new state program to measure the effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?” I said.
“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”
“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory. That way, parents will know which are the best dentists. “It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said. “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice in South Carolina.”
“That’s terrible,” he said.
“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this state?”
“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry.”
“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”
“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele. So much depends on things we can’t control. For example,” he said, “I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work.
“Also,” he said, “many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay.”.
“To top it all off,” he added, “so many of my clients have well water, which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”
“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. I couldn’t believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.
“I am not!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s. My work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”
“Don’t get touchy,” I said.
“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth.
“Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”
“I think you are overreacting,” I said. ” `Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’ … I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.
“What’s the DOC?” he asked.
“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly laypersons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”
“Spare me,” he said. “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.
The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure
“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”
“That’s too complicated and time consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”
“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.
“Now, now,” I said, “Don’t despair. The state will help you some.”
“How?” he said.
“If you’re rated poorly, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.
“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help.”
“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”
“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children’s progress without regard to influences outside the school: the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”
I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. “I’m going to write my representatives and senator,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point.”
He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.
Parents, please don’t fall for this; start attending board meetings; become active in the PTA; volunteer in your child’s school. Be nosy; you’re a tax-payer and the school is obligated to answer legitimate questions. If they tell you “. . . on average. . . .” tell them that you are not concerned about the “average;” you want to know specifically how many children are in your child’s third-grade classroom. My daughter’s third-grade classroom – in one of the country schools associated with a huge school system – had 37 children in it, while the town schools averaged 18. One of the town schools had three third-grade classrooms, each with 12 students! but “on average” everything looked great. Demand specifics, NOT averages. Class sizes are not secret, so if the school refuses to give you specifics, thank them and tell them you’ll call the newspaper office and ask them. Schools, and in particular schools that are doing sneaky, shady things, fear publicity, so make sure you give them some.
No Child Left Behind is an insidious mistake that will not benefit anything or anyone. It’s especially horrific for our gifted children.
If you understood how absurd the analogy of the dentist is, then you will understand how outrageously ridiculous NCLB is.
Our children deserve much better than to be regulated and knocked around by legislators, most of whom haven’t seen the inside of a public school classroom since the early 1960’s. I am particularly offended by people who make policy for public schools while sending their own children to private schools.
As long as parents don’t darken the schoolhouse doors, though, the administration will do as they darn well please with our kids, and what they darn well please is to spend the least amount of money, put as many children in each classroom as possible, treat the teachers like scheisse, cater to the lowest common denominator, and listen only to those parents who make their voices heard. And heaven help the teacher who tries to do anything to help the students that isn’t mandated; he/she will end up in the Rubber Room.
Stand up, parents. Don’t put up with this idiocy. Our brightest students are spending most of their school day sitting idly, waiting for the others to catch up. The rest of their time is spent drilling and cramming for standardized tests. Call your child’s school today, and ask about art, and music, and recess, and gifted programs, and inclusion policies. Every child is a special child, and No Child Left Behind simply means No Child Advancing Forward.
P.S. If you know who the dentist in the picture is, well, you’re just COOL and that’s all there is to it.
People say, You must have been the class clown. And I say, No, I wasn’t. But I sat next to the class clown, and I studied him. — Dr. Pearl, Waiting for Guffman