Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to Fix the Schools

Countless tomes have been written on how to fix the schools. In a moment of clarity or of self-delusion, I believe that the K-12 schools could be vastly improved with just this half page worth of changes:

1. Recruit more heavily for engaging teachers. It will be easier to recruit them if all that's required is a bachelor's degree. Requiring all prospective teachers to complete 30-45 units of stultifying post-bachelor's teacher prep courses shoos-away many potentially excellent teachers. That hurts the quality of teaching more than most teacher education programs improve it.

2. Merit pay would help retain the good teachers and encourage the bad ones to leave.

3. Relieve teachers of the vast amounts of accountability paperwork that drives teachers crazy.

4. Eliminate tenure. Some teachers are fine for some years but then burn out. But being tenured, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. Meanwhile, they're hurting kids for many more years.

5. Group classes by student ability. That will dramatically increase the amount of appropriate-leveled education each student receives. Recent decades' move to mandate mixed-ability classes to ensure racially balanced classes has done more to hurt the quality of education than all the budget cuts combined.

6. Reduce standardized testing. In-class tests and teacher observations plus one short annual standardized test are enough. The number of days spent studying for and taking standardized tests could be better spent.

7. Put curriculum development in the hands of teachers, not professors.
The latter have insisted that all high school students learn such arcana as quadratic equations, the halide series of chemical elements, and the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars, even if they graduate without being able to resolve personal conflicts, be savvy consumers, or write a business letter.


Anonymous said...

Your last suggestion caught my attention. For some time now I've wondered what it is that a child really needs to learn to be a successful adult. I don't have the answer to that, but it seems to me that most of the skills that a child needs to become a productive and successful adult just isn't, and perhaps can't, be taught in a school.

The way the system is set up, kids are required to go to school. (And in California, a judge ruled that homeschooling is illegal without proper credentials, so that all California children really do have to go to school. I hope that's overturned.) But what are those kids learning to get through life?

I think the standards of what children need to know should be changed. And I don't mean lowered to accommodate the slowest and most challenged learners. I mean changed altogether to measure skills that are really needed. It's been a while since I took a standardized test, but I'd guess that the standards being measured still don't mean much and will be forgotten by the children fairly quickly.

All people need to learn basic practical things, like skills to survive in the modern world, and the necessity and value of work. Beyond that, there are various ways to make a living, and kids can learn several ways to do that. The more advanced learners can go further, and perhaps become tomorrow's leaders and innovators if nurtured correctly.

As I said, I don't have an answer on how to fix the schools. But if the system were really fixed to serve today's children, I imagine it would be a lot more efficient, take up a lot less time and money, and be far more effective. And a lot of teachers who teach nothing even remotely practical or at least interesting would have to look for a real job.

Dr. Michael R. Edelstein said...

If coed classes are made more boy-friendly, why would this not make them less girl-friendly (win-lose)?

Win-win would involve segregating by sex, or even better, segregating by lifestyle or learning style. Then making classes more friendly to the style of the class.

Abolishing compulsary schooling laws and separating school from state would not only fix the schools, but get politicians out of our lives.

Michael R. Edelstein
Author, Three Minute Therapy

Marty Nemko said...

The data is equivocal on same-sex schools, so I'm not convinced that's potent enough answer.

While I too distrust govt, private schools aren't that much better. Also, among our 300 million Americans, there are too many parents who, in the absence of mandatory schooling, might leave their kids quite uneducated.

I think our best shot is to try to improve the public and private schools along the lines I propose in this post.

Anonymous said...

I think Dr. Edelstein makes an interesting point. If it was decided that schools needed to become more boy-friendly, then they would almost certainly become less girl-friendly. And this overreaction is how this PC mess erupted in the first place.

Boy-centric is not automatically bad, and girl-centric is not automatically good, or vice-versa. Both approaches have aspects that can benefit both genders. When we can figure that out, we won't need to repeat this mistake down the road.

It's strange that while it's been decided erroneously that one way is bad and the other is good, it's also been decided that everybody has to feel good, and everybody has to be included, and everything has to be watered down so that everybody can get it. All inclusive on one hand, and excluding potentially valid methods on the other hand. No wonder there's a problem.

I heard a theory once as to why schools may never get fixed. Many parents think there's something wrong with schools, but not enough parents think there's a problem with their children's school. Their children's school is just fine. It's the others that need help. The schools may never get fixed if people continue to think that it's somebody else's problem.


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