Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

‘Too B or not too B?’
That is the question

The state Department of Education and public teachers union are slapping themselves on the back because 86.7 percent of teachers are "highly qualified" for their jobs.

"I think 87 percent is outstanding," cheered a mouthpiece for the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Wait a second. I seem to recall from my brush with public education in Hawaii that an 86.7 percent on a test is a B, not that I saw all that many of them personally.

So the union representing the people who teach a majority of the state's children thinks a B is "outstanding"?

I think the way a grading system is supposed to be viewed is that an A+ is outstanding. An A is great. A B+ is very good. A B is all right. A C is mediocre. A D is "no TV or surfing for a week." And an F is "My god, where have we gone wrong? That boy is going to be the death of me if he doesn't end up in prison first."

AS YOU CAN see, I'm a bit more familiar with the grades on the lower end of the spectrum, but I'm proud to point out that a certain science teacher at Aiea High School who tried to give me a G on a test was severely reprimanded.

Under a new federal law, states have to report publicly what percentage of their teachers are "highly qualified" for their jobs, which is why we now know that our public school system is basically operating at a B level, teacher-wise.

We are doing heaps better than Alaska, which reports that only 16 percent of its classes are being taught by qualified teachers. I suspect the Alaska teachers union thought that was "outstanding" considering that until 1983, 10 percent of classes in Alaska were taught by caribou and a physical education class in Nome was taught by a highly motivated Northern flying squirrel.

I can identify with that because the football coach at my high school sometimes substitute-taught English grammar. That was pretty amazing considering his personal association with English grammar seemed ambiguous, if not purely hypothetical. It was fun, however, to watch him diagram sentences on the blackboard.

("OK. The adjective goes here because it modifies the noun. I want the verb to fake a hand-off to the adverb and then throw long to the preposition. Watch out for these blitzing participles.")

When the coach came to substitute-teach, we knew we were merely being baby-sat, but I assumed that the real teachers were at least A level.

When the Department of Education launched its famous after-school program, it was called A+, not B. That's because A+ is as good as it gets.

If B's are now considered outstanding, then the entire grade scale is shifted downward, and I don't feel so bad about that D I got in American history. Especially since the class was being taught by the band teacher.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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