Bert Berkley

Director Emeriti Stories: Bert Berkley

Years ago, former IEL President Marty Blank and Director Emeritus Bert Berkley were both part of a “kitchen cabinet” working with the Kansas City, Missouri School District as advisors to their executives. At the time, Bert was the President and Chairman of the Board at Tension Envelope Corporation, a family-owned business that manufactured envelopes, and later progressed to packaging and supplying the e-commerce industry in their requirements for packaging, and is now called Tension Corporation.

After meeting and working together several times, Marty asked Bert to join the Board of IEL, which he “was delighted to do,” noting he was impressed by Marty’s ideas for the Kansas City, Missouri School District and the IEL Board when looking at their qualifications and backgrounds, and adding “I thought I could learn something – a good deal from them, and was very interested, and continue to be very interested in learning.”

Bert shares that “that proved to be true. I was relatively religious about attending board meetings, so I gained a great deal from being on the board of Iel.”

Reflecting on what he thinks other organizations should know about IEL, Bert also notes “I think the most important thing is that school districts in this country should know about IEL’s involvement with other school districts, and how [their support] has been very beneficial to those particular school districts.”

“[Districts]…are going to be able to carry out their responsibilities in a more effective manner, simply because of what they can learn from the representatives of IEL who are servicing their communities…From my standpoint, IEL is such an effective teacher for those who have responsibilities and the teachers and individual executive administrators, to do a more effective job.”

Looking to the future, Bert sees an opportunity for IEL to be a leader in raising the rate of students who can read at grade-level:

One of the most serious problems facing this nation, not just the educational community, but facing this nation, is the fact that, of those children completing third grade nationally, only 35% can read at grade level – 35%. And prior to that, in 2017 the number was 37%. So prior to the pandemic we were already seeing a reduction in the percentage of children who could read at grade level. Over half of them will go to jail or be on welfare or
both. So we have a serious problem that faces this nation and the educational community recognizes the problem, but has not been effective in doing something about it. Is there a way to do something about it? Definitely. What has to happen is over fifty percent of the time teaching reading must be spent using phonics, and it’s my judgment, having looked at the field pretty widely.

There is no well-known educational organization that is out in front, leading the charge to see to it that phonics is used throughout the United States. That one organization that is highly respected and could do a [great] job is the Institute for Educational Leadership. So my recommendation is that IEL have as its primary objective now, and in the foreseeable future, doing something about the use of phonics, so that children can learn to read. Therefore [we should be] working with schools of education [and] with secretaries of education in each of the fifty States, because curriculum is normally
specified by the Secretary of Education, and even though secretaries now know that the the problem exists, they do not do very much about it in being sure that it is required that over 50% of the time spent learning reading is using phonics
.

[We must] do something about requiring the specifics of reading, of using phonics, even though the teachers of this country are upset about the fact that they are required to use phonics because they haven’t been taught in many cases how to teach phonics. Nevertheless, somebody has to be the leader, and I want and hope that IEL will be that leader.
Because otherwise we’re going to see serious, serious problems. Why more serious problems? Because when the Association for Educational Progress comes out with the numbers for 2021, which will be issued this year,
they’re going to be much lower than the 35%. Why? Because the age group that has the most difficulty with remote learning is Pre-K. So we have a situation where we know there’s a problem, we know there’s a solution, and I think IEL should be the one to lead the way to solve the problem and save America.

I might add that to take a leadership position, as I hope IEL will, is going to be very difficult, and subject IEL to severe criticism by the educational community. That is a very serious matter, because they are a very important part of this country, and I can only say to you that I hope IEL recognizes this going in. It’s going to be difficult. We’ll do some homework in advance of announcements that will be made, and we’ll look on it as something that is the most important work they can do in the future.

Incidentally, I might just tell you one small joke. This goes around now in the education community:
A mother was very unhappy about her daughter not reading well. She went to see the teacher.
She said to her teacher that my daughter’s not reading well, and I would like to know why – you use phonics?
‘Oh, yes, but your daughter was absent that day.'”