Our nation’s shameful K-12 education system is in the spotlight this week. President Obama has called for radical change … see here
. I think that many education reformers are in the process of verbal fibrillation insofar as their suggestions for improving things. They, as expected, are generally calling for more spending, more competent teachers, smaller classrooms, more responsible parents, longer school sessions, and better testing standards. Some of these things I somewhat agree with, but, unfortunately, many are also arm-waving canards that will accomplish nothing.
I have been tutoring in the public school system for the last three years and have had an opportunity to observe a microcosm of our education system from the inside … so I have a modicum of credentials … and therefore humbly offer my suggestions on this matter:
1) Deemphasize (or eliminate) educational degrees. Any pedagogues who did or do not spend 90% of their learning experience within the subject that they are teaching does not deserve to stand in front of a blackboard. Teaching how to teach makes little sense if the recipients do not know their subjects to a fair-thee-well.
2) Cut the administrative overhead in our education system. The budget of Arne Duncan’s Department of Education has doubled this past year. We are now spending over $160 billion a year on this bunch of bureaucrats who teach not one single student and who, with shameless pomposity, spend most of their time trying to justify their bloated salaries. At one time, many years ago, New York City (NYC) had more school administrators than the entire country of France. I’m reasonably sure that this situation has not improved in the interim.
3) Cut the fiction that classroom size has anything to do with results. Class sizes in the Far East are often two to three times what they are in this country and educational results there are usually much better than they are here.
4) Create and enforce rigid, standardized testing for teachers that assesses them on their competency within their subject. The result of this test should be used not only as a basis for hiring, but also used partly to determine their salary. The remainder of their salary should be based on the change
in the standardized testing scores of their students … not on how long they have been teaching or how well they are liked. Department heads should also be evaluated on how well their stable of teachers performs.
5) Eliminate the recently created national student tests … since there is no guarantee that they will work as promised … and the penalty for a sub-standard result is too great. Force all states to develop their own testing process. Reward the states whose tests produce better educational outcomes so that poorer performing states can adopt them.
6) Utilize, nay emphasize, tried and true software programs (on the internet or in the classroom) to improve students’ subject comprehension. This past year I used such a program to teach a problem student his multiplication tables. It worked better than I had any hope for. However, this cannot be a hands-off experience. It must be carefully monitored. The fact that it may be “software” does not necessarily make it good. All such software must be peer-reviewed and back-tested.
7) Textbooks should also be peer-reviewed and back-tested. I have found egregious factual errors and agenda-derived propaganda in some of the textbooks I have had to use. Such substandard stuff never should be allowed in our classrooms.
8) Bring back personal discipline to our schools. Stricter dress codes, tighter truancy standards, reduced grade inflation, increased failure rates, and stronger hall monitoring should convey the message that schools mean business. Helicopter parents who insist on unreasonable
special treatment for their precious ones should not be indulged by our legislators, our courts, and/or our school administrators/teachers.
9) Any teachers’ union that strikes for irrationaly higher pay or benefits (e.g., NYC's “rubber rooms”) should lose its rights to arbitration. In fact, eliminating teachers’ unions entirely (at least for a while … until the pendulum swings back the other way) might not be a bad idea. (I also would have everything that Albert Shanker, the late President of the United Federation of Teachers union, ever wrote burned on a pyre of the thousands of other go-nowhere books by “education reformers” preaching the new math, phonic spelling, etc.)
10) This seems a small point but I think that the scrapping of cursive writing training in early education has introduced enormous inefficiencies for students in note taking, creative writing, and test answering. Bring it back.
11) I could be wrong, but I kind of buy the idea that the women’s movement and the resultant transposition of the best and brightest women out of K-12 education and into the corporate world is one reason for our deteriorating educational system. This sea change obviously can’t be reversed, but I have an alternative idea. Why don’t we tap the great reservoir of talent in our retired and out-of-work communities and encourage them to enter pedagogy? I, myself, have taken this step and I believe that there are many more who are brighter and more energetic than I who could augment our teaching ranks with their specialized knowledge and work experience. This of course would require a change to our rigid teaching certification processes … but why not, if it is the right thing to do?
12) Lastly, the most radical idea of all … let’s start privatizing our public school system … an expansion of the charter school concept. This might cut property taxes in half and dramatically reduce local, state and federal income and sales taxes. Let the free-market system start working to weed out inferior educators and schools. Now this is a very complex subject and would need to be solved without political agendas (an unique approach), but I feel confident that the money would be there to provide scholarships to the very poor under such a system. In 2006-07 the national average educational spending per student was $10,900 whereas the average spending per student in the New York metropolitan area is currently around $27,000 (see here
). Public schools are a social experiment that did indeed work well for many, many years but seem to have stopped doing so for at least the last quarter century. Radical change is due, indeed required.