Mike Murphy

Here are some thought-provoking facts based on the 2018-2019 school year recently released by the Idaho State Department of Education:

98.1 % of Idaho teachers earned overall scores of “proficient” or “distinguished” on their annual evaluations.

98% of Idaho principals earned overall scores of “proficient” or “distinguished” on their annual evaluations.

44% of Idaho students scored proficient and above on the math ISAT.

55% of Idaho students scored proficient and above on the English language arts ISAT.

As Elmer Fudd would say, “Hey ... there’s something awfully screwy going on around here.”

Now, I’m not here to knock Idaho school principals ... okay, maybe principals, but certainly not Idaho teachers. After all, I taught for 35 years and have a bit of insight as to what they’re up against. All I will say about the above evaluation statistics is that something doesn’t seem to jive, and it appears the process for both teachers and administrators could use some modification.

But since the new school year is coming right up, the more immediate concerns for parents and kids are last year’s student ISAT scores — what can be done to improve them?

Well, if we concur with the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s strategy, the best way to improve test scores for Idaho students is to simply eliminate the tests or, better yet, get rid of the Idaho common core standards they are based upon.

I attempted to find out more about the Foundation’s plan, but when I selected a common core link on the IFF website some stuff about socialism in school textbooks popped up. Perhaps the IFF folks need a refresher on the common core “Production and Distribution of Writing” standards.

How eliminating state standards will improve student proficiency is a mystery. However, one very expensive silver bullet which does not seem to be working is more technology in the schools.

As I approached the end of my teaching career it seemed that every year there was some new device, program, website, “smart this” and “smart that” which was going to do the trick, none of which panned out.

Sure, kids found the tablets, laptops, Chromebooks, etc., fun diversions — and no doubt found that using them to divert from the task at hand was even more fun.

Meanwhile language arts and math skill levels have remained disconcerting. Why did this happen?

I think one answer is related to what Taewoo Kim, a chief AI engineer, told Business Insider in a 2017 article: “You can’t put your face in a device and expect to develop a long-term attention span.”

A 2017 survey found that Silicon Valley parents including former employees at major tech companies “have serious concerns about tech’s impact on kids’ psychological and social development.”

Even tech kings like Bill Gates, Tim Cook, and the late Steve Jobs imposed strict limits on their kids’ use of technology due to its addictive nature.

So, what will many school districts do this new school year to improve students’ long-term attention spans, help their psychological and social development, and reduce technology addiction? Why, they will let the kids bring more devices to school to put their faces into, devices such as their phones.

Granted, in rare cases it’s certainly possible that a school district has no choice since a student could possibly get a doctor’s note saying “Johnny suffers from nomophobia or NO Mobile PHOne phoBIA” — the fear of not being able to use one’s cell phone or other smart device. But even if that happened, the reality is more likely that Johnny has ergophobia, the fear of work.

You would think that school districts across the state would look at the lack of proficiency in language arts and math and determine that more of certain elements is needed such as more time in the classroom and more homework. Neither appears to be happening.

But the one thing that there does appear to be more of in the schools are phones.

By now most of us are familiar with an array of statistics concerning the harm of too much screen time for kids, the most alarming of which may be that, on average, American kids get their first smartphone at 10.3 years old.

Knowing all of this, why would school districts even consider allowing such devices in the schools? Here are some reasons given by administrators around the country with my reaction.

“Our rationale is students need to learn to use these responsibly when they are working, so we give them some freedom here to learn that responsibility.” Ever observe any of your fellow employees using their phones “responsibly” at work? Me neither.

“It’s important for students to learn how to appropriately access their devices.” What does that even mean?

“Students may use phones before school, at lunch, between classes and after school so long as use of the device does not cause a distraction.” Arghhh!

When it comes to lagging student proficiency in the fundamentals, the Idaho content standards are not the problem. They are simply a guide or map to follow in the journey to academic proficiency. Read the standards. Look at sample ISAT questions. What’s the problem?

Yet, whereas some technology utilized properly by teachers in the schools is certainly beneficial and enhances the learning process, personal tech devices in students’ lockers, pockets, or hands may be making them proficient at something, but it definitely is not science, math, or language arts.

Mike Murphy of Pocatello is an award-winning columnist whose articles are syndicated by Senior Wire.