Thursday, August 18, 2011

Everyone's down on education

From the Onion:
Despite years of putting up with underperforming teachers, overcrowded classrooms, and a gradually deteriorating educational experience, American students reluctantly announced Tuesday that they would be giving the nation's public school system yet another chance this fall.

Saying they would "probably kick themselves later" for deciding to enroll once more in a system that has let them down time and time again, millions of American children agreed to put up with their schools' insufficient funding and lack of adequate arts and science programs in hopes that administrators might finally start providing a nurturing, or at least tolerable, environment in which to learn.
The rest goes as you'd expect.

If people generally agree that the American public school system is such a failure, why does nothing change? Why do we still see our performance come out so low on international rankings? Why do we still see such a high achievement gap? Most of all, why are people generally so unhappy with the system?

Here's a suggestion for how to improve schools: stop hiring education majors. Or at least, stop hiring only education majors. Need a math teacher? Hire someone with a master's degree in math. How about science? Even someone with a bachelor's in chemistry, physics, or biology could probably do a world of good. Particularly at the high school level, my feeling is that endless lists of courses in pedagogy just really aren't that important for teachers who specialize in a subject.

There are plenty of people out there who would make brilliant teachers, precisely because they'd taken the time to master a particular subject. It takes a great deal of confidence to get up in front of people and teach them a lesson. What better way to have confidence in your teaching ability than to have a rich understanding of the subject extending beyond the material being presented? We all know that a teacher's enthusiasm for a subject improves the students' ability to learn it, and likewise a teacher's anxiety about a subject greatly harms the students' ability to learn it.

This is really a very simple, practical way we could start improving public schools immediately, and in fact it's already being done in charter schools. Private schools have always been free to do this. Why not public schools? I have no idea. Sometimes political realities are just incomprehensible. I guarantee you, it's not about the children.

If we're going to fix education, it might just have to be the hard way: demanding more charter schools, or taking the homeschooling option (without being exempt from paying taxes to fund public schools, I might add). The political process is broken. Indeed, I find it a little difficult sometimes to distinguish the Onion's reports from reality:
Grateful for another opportunity to amend its past administrative blunders, the Department of Education was quick to promise it wouldn't let students down this time and would do all it could not to mess everything up again.

"We want to thank all of our students for this vote of confidence," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a special televised press conference. "We are seriously going to work harder than ever before this year and make some real changes. I promise. Students will not regret giving us this chance."

"That being said, funding is a little tight right now, so try to keep your expectations within reason," Duncan added.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are right, Jameson. The credential barrier to entry makes no sense, but it is actually worse than that. Once teachers are hired, the only way they can get raises (beyond showing up for another year) is by taking classes at ed schools. So you have teachers who have to pay for classes that have been shown to have no positive impact on what they do in the classroom, wasting time and money on a distraction. Kids lose, teachers lose, taxpayers lose, ed schools win.

    But entrepreneurial energy is not lost in the equation - it is just channelled into less than useful directions. Since a course unit is a unit is a unit on the pay scale, the rational thing for the ed schools to do is ignore quality get their costs as low as possible. I know people who got course units for taking pictures on a trip to san francisco and writing a few captions about their historical significance. Another spent some time learning about google apps and writing a few paragraphs about how they could be used in the classroom. (In this case, they couldn't because they were blocked by the schools firewall.) One class consists of opening a big local cafeteria in the summer. Hundreds of teachers show up, check in, bring work, (or not, it doesn't matter, you just have to be there), and spend two mornings in the cafeteria. These things count as full college courses, mind you. Teachers pay a few hundred bucks, get the units and get a small raise.

    I would say what drives this all of this is an unholy alliance between the unions, the politicians who love them, and the ed schools, which like it for the obvious reason it allows them to charge people for nothing. The open corruption in this area is really incredible.


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