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Finding a balanceteachers can bear

April 25, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

When it comes to accountability, how much is enough? During the 2002 session, the West Virginia Legislature said that teachers faced too much paperwork, and cut significantly the amount required for classroom educators. Unfortunately for them, the relief may be short-lived.

During a previous session, the legislature added many reporting requirements in an effort to make the schools more responsible for students' success or failure. But like many well-intentioned pieces of legislation, it led some systems to add requirements that actually discouraged teachers from talking to parents.

That's because in some cases, school systems believed that teachers were required to document each time they spoke to parents, how long the conversation lasted and what was discussed.

Teachers will still need to do lesson plans, but will no longer have to color-code each by subject. And their evaluations will be based more on observations of how they teach than on the amount of paperwork they complete.

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Lawmakers acted in part because there's expected to be a large number of veteran teachers retiring in the next few years. The fear was that if new recruits saw that their careers would involve filling out an endless number of reports, they might leave the profession early.

We hope federal officials realize that when they begin writing the regulations from President Bush's education reform program. The temptation will be to place new reporting requirements at every level to ensure students learn what they need to know.

But just as West Virginia discovered, there's got to be a balance between accountability and the freedom to try new things in the classroom. That's because each class is different and what worked with first graders last year may not help the same age group at all this year.

Like acting, teaching is a process, but it's also an art. We hope the feds remember that if they want the best to choose this profession, they can't bury that talent in paperwork.

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