This year has been quite abysmal for the nation's public schools. The closet opened in the spring to reveal a 30 percent dropout rate &

a skeleton that has lingered behind closed doors for decades. Lumbering around in plain sight is the elephant of child sexual abuse in public schools &

an issue exposed by a media investigation, which manages only a whisper of discord from those few educators who even acknowledge such a creature exists.

Before we can close the door on yet another year filled with failure, more news comes our way.

Suburban plight

When Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced earlier this year that public schools were manufacturing failing students like a factory assembly line, she was primarily referring to those forgotten areas of urban blight where students suffer intellectual abuse within the bowels of school districts' "dropout factories." But when the Medford Mail Tribune directed a public spotlight on the issue of "reading coaches" employed by local school districts ("Reading Coaches Improve Scores," Nov. 13), the problem of a failed system hit home for those feeling comfortable living here in our cushy corner of paradise.

The problem, it would seem, isn't merely the fact that school districts have recognized Johnny and Jane can't read, but rather that Johnny and Jane's teachers haven't taught them to read.

The existence of reading coaches begs the question, "Why haven't teachers employed the tools necessary to ensure students learn to read according to their grade levels before pushing them to the next?"

Semantics

While reading coaches may indeed be helpful, their employment is an apparent attempt to assist lagging students in catching up to required reading skill levels. I was under the impression that's what teachers were employed to do. Imagine my surprise when I read this quote from Ashland Dean of Students Glenna Stiles:

"The wisdom was by the time kids get to high school they know how to read. That's not necessarily true. Usually, they can read fiction but don't necessarily know how to read instructional materials, which is often nonfiction."

I find it difficult to understand how students move through several grade levels lacking the reading and comprehension abilities required. It appears criminal to allow such a catastrophic circumstance to continue through 12 grades. Reading coaches are not correcting the cause of the problem. They are merely a Band-Aid approach by FEMA-like educators to a Katrina-like disaster.

F is for fun

Students aren't just languishing in public schools, the system itself is a failed component designed around a philosophy of social priorities that assures its own doom.

The need for "reform" in public schools has been a constant cry since long before I graduated from one of these failed institutions of public education 27 years ago. I believe the only way for highly educated educators to maintain a constant track record of failure over the course of many decades is to deliberately do so. Reading coaches are simply a diversion from the underlying root problem.

If public schools truly desired success across the board, leaders would copy curriculum and methodologies of successful systems, which exist both in public and private education. Social promotion experiments, which are contrary to focus on academic success, have proven to be the engine that fuels the high school-to-work programs.

Can you say, "Would you like fries with that?"

Mission Statement

I don't discount the fact that public schools have a tall order, in that they must accommodate a wide variety of students from all walks of life &

many whose parents fail to invest the proper time necessary to ensure their child's academic success. But school systems should be set up to ensure all students receive the tools necessary to achieve a standard level of knowledge from kindergarten through high school. And high schools should have no higher goal than to adequately prepare every student for academic success on the collegiate level. Reading is fundamental to achieving that overall goal.

The nationwide failure of students in reading (65 percent) is an indictment upon a public schools system that prioritizes social skills. Colleges don't offer entrance exams on fashion and friendship.

Preventing illiteracy

Today, it is not merely those quarantined in the war zones of inner city public schools who are impacted by illiteracy. The disease has apparently infected all of America, including Ashland, despite its reputation of well-run public schools.

Ashland, like other Rogue Valley school districts, has painted on a smile and exclaimed over improvements made by students on state assessment tests. These improvements have been attributed to coaches, who apparently have abilities teachers lack.

Thus, the failure of public schools to teach Johnny and Jane to read has been turned into success. But don't ask the colleges &

where one-third of entering freshmen require remediation &

just listen to the cheers for reading coaches.

is a columnist, author and the content editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at .