Schools: Noel Hammatt challenges community to research, get involved and take action in public education
By Jim Hagerty
Former Louisiana school board member, teacher, Louisiana State University instructor and noted researcher Noel Hammatt chimed a familiar message Monday, March 21, at Court Street United Methodist Church.
Hammatt was the featured speaker at the “United to Save Our Public Schools” rally, hosted
by Watchdogs for Ethics in Education (WEE).
Monday marked Hammatt’s third Rockford speaking engagement since last month.
During his first speech Feb. 21, Hammatt encouraged a large crowd to unify for change in the name of public education. March 21, the longtime educator echoed that challenge and urged the audience to not be afraid to question District 205 leaders.
“You don’t have to worry about who’s in charge, because who’s in charge is you,” Hammatt said.
Some of Hammatt’s message was also centered on the difference between school reform and education reform. School reform, he said, focuses on tying student test scores to teacher performance and closing and repurposing school buildings.
Since first speaking here, Hammatt has preached that teachers and schools are not to blame for student failure. We are all to blame when students fail, Hammatt says.
“Those in prominent positions today are pushing the idea that the schools are going
to fix our problems,” Hammatt said.
Hammatt isn’t blind, however, to obvious gaps in education, most notably among disadvantaged students. Educational shortfalls were evident when Hammatt taught middle school many years ago and even more prevalent today.
Single-parent families, lack of books in homes and low-income environments all affect how well our students perform in the classroom. Each factor can be proven, Hammatt says, by corresponding data. That data, however, is often used to blur other statistics school reformers use to sell communities on teacher incompetence.
“Just because someone says something over and over,” Hammatt said, “doesn’t make it true.”
Hammatt cited illogical arguments that successful schools should be used to gauge the potential of others, regardless of how many detrimental factors exist.
“How many of you have ever run a 4-minute mile?” Hammatt asked. “Someone did, and others do. But (it’s) the exception–the outlier.”
The goal for true education reform is for every school to be as successful as outlying examples. Reaching that goal must include community involvement–even among those accustomed to remaining on the sidelines.
“To say, ‘I’m not involved in politics or political activism,’ is to say, ‘I don’t really care about my community,”” Hammatt said. “Unless everything is copacetic
and everything is running smoothly, I believe you do have to be involved. There’s different ways you can get involved, but I believe you have to be involved.”
Hammatt, in turn, issued a new challenge for Rockford. That challenge is for citizens to become researchers and compare statistics with ideologies leaders instruct people to believe.
It is vitally important for communities to become familiar with muddied findings surrounding teacher accountability, charter schools and political agendas that
may be mired in propaganda.
“There are those who say, ‘You simply need to believe in (teacher) accountability, No Child Left Behind; and you need to believe in these things so much that no evidence can get in your way,’” he said. “The bottom line is, we have to study, and we have to research.
“If I start to see a body of research that challenges what I’m here to tell you tonight,” Hammatt said, “I’d be back and tell you I changed my mind. Because the data
(would) now suggest something different.”
From the March 23-29 issue
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