I’ve been in a few debates recently about the problems with educational system. The current line of thinking seems to be that the problem begins and ends with teachers. This is bullshit. So, without further ado, if I were an all powerful dictator, here is what I would do to fix the school system.
1. Make parents accountable. How? Honestly, I don’t know. This is the one place where I really don’t have a solution to offer, but the single biggest problem in most school systems is a lack of parental involvement. Get parents to actual care about their kids and the kids will do better. I know, this seems obvious, doesn’t it? And it has nothing to do with teachers being terrible, but it would help. Maybe we could give a tax break if kids make good grades or something. Anyway, onto the more practical.
2. Realize that school is not for everyone. There is also a belief going around right now that everyone should go to college. This is stupid. It is the nature of our society that we need plumbers and electricians and hair dressers and even service workers. College is expensive. How pissed would you be if you were working the counter at JC Penney with $25,000 in student loan debt? Yeah, that’s what i thought.
So here’s what you do: Institute vocational programs right away. Require two years of high school and, after that, if you know it’s not for you, you can enroll in a vocational program that will teach you to be a carpenter or plumber or whatever. You will make good money doing a job you like and you don’t have to spend two more years doing something that you know is not for you. I love literature and science, but everyone does not need to know how to analyze literature or explain the formation of black holes. We have specialization in our culture for a reason. Now, of course, there will still be kids who slip through the cracks, but that’s always going to happen. No system is perfect, but this would make things a lot better for teachers and students.
3. Ditch most standardized testing. It isn’t helpful and is almost always poorly executed. Give the ACT or SAT and let that be it. Those test do a reasonably good job of testing your general knowledge, and they do it in a day. You want to require a minimum score for graduation? Fine, but let’s drop the whole two weeks of testing thing. Last year, I lost 30 days of instructional time to testing and test prep that was required of me. This is not the best use of my or the students’ time.
4. Revise technology standards. I’ve yet to see a study that shows that the use of technology helps kids learn about anything other than technology, but we are required to use it all the damn time. I love technology, and I’m pretty damn tech-savvy, but I barely use more than PowerPoint which, less face it, is the new version of overheads. So add a year or two of technology classes. People need to know about technology in today’s world, so let’s actually teach them about that instead of expecting there English and Math teachers to do it. Then the English and math teachers can go back to, you know, teaching English and math.
5. Accept that not all children are going to be interested in everything. Okay, this isn’t really a reform, but seriously, I would really like it if the world would stop expecting me to engage 120 students every damn day. Can you keep 120 people who are only in the room with you because they are required to be interested for an hour everyday for 180 days? I bet you can’t. And if you can, you are a very, very highly paid speaker and do not have time to spend in high school classrooms. I try to make my lessons interesting most of the time, and I always have at least a few students really engaged, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. It just doesn’t work. Subject-verb agreement is boring, but you still need to know how it works.
6. Reform the teacher hiring/pay system. You can do one of two things: 1. Continue to require master’s degree, eliminate tenure and pay all teachers at least $50,000 to start. Now, you can hire and fire as you like, but you do have to pay the same as other jobs that require similar educations. That the upside to tenure. Job security will get you a cheaper labor force. 2. Stop requiring master’s degrees and pay based on performance. I think it would be a good idea to let any competent person with a bachelor’s degree give it a shot as there is not data whatsoever to suggest that a master’s degree makes you a better teacher. The pay based on performance stuff makes me nervous though because, let’s face it, a teacher at the worst school in the state with the most difficult student population is not going to perform as well as he or she would at a swanky suburban school where the parents are all involved and give money to the school like it’s going out of style. There is a solution to this last bit, though…
7. Homogenize school populations with regard to socio-economic status and funding. Basically, this means that every school has roughly the same amount of rich kids and the same amount of poor kids and making sure each school has equivalent funding on a per student basis. Right now, in my district, there are school with 10% at risk populations and schools with 80%. This isn’t good for the teachers (stress), the district (high turnover), or the kids (to many bad examples). Mix them together a little better and watch the kids perform better. I have seen this work. One set of the population can pull another set up to its level as long as the numbers are done right. You can’t have to many at risk kids, but if you did it right, this could make a huge difference. And no, I am not saying all rich kids do better than all poor kids, but if you look at the numbers, that is the general trend, and it’s a pretty strong correlation. Further, most schools are funded on local property taxes this means that schools in good neighborhoods get lots of money while schools in bad neighborhoods get very little. That is the definition of unfair.
8. Fix up schools. I have shitty old desks, dirty floors, and broken down bookshelves. Why? There is no money. Make the schools into nice places and the kids will start to feel better about being there. Think about where you work and live. Doesn’t the appearance of the place affect your attitude?
9. Lower class sizes. I don’t really even think this is necessary, but more can get done if you have 15 or 20 kids than if you have 30 or 35. But again, I think we’re fine as long as we don’t get much above 30 kids in a room.
Okay, there you go, that’s my plan. Now, whoever reads this, please stop with the teacher BS. Sure, there are things that can be done to the system to make teachers better, and I don’t mind if you do those things, but there are plenty of other things that also need to be done, and many of them can be done relatively cheaply.