How would I change education?

What happens when you have a bunch of United Air miles that are about to expire, but aren’t enough to use for anything? They offer you magazine subscriptions, lots of them. One of mine was Time. The latest issue, had an article that really struck a nerve with me, it was on education, specifically the Chancellor of the Washington D.C. school district.

As a product of public education, I’m 100% opposed to private schools and vouchers. I’m more opposed to our current school system, which I think needs to be completely scrapped. Not just a little, but scrapped and started over, get rid of the teachers, the principles, the assistant principles, and even some of the guidence counselors (though that’s just cuz I think they’re lame).

One of my biggest beef’s with my pals the democrats, their allegiance to teacher’s unions. They’re as bad the auto makers unions, and unfortunately for us, they’re mess ups, are children, not just crappy cars.

Teaching is one of those jobs, where all you have to do is make it 10 years, or 15 years, and you’re set. You can suck as much as you like after you’re earned tenure. Man I wish I had that deal, so my job well enough to not get fired for a while, then coast until retirement. SURE not every teacher is that way, a great many are heroes in the truest sense, and have my undying respect, but easily as many, are terrible. I’m not being over dramatic, I’ve suffered through them, their not really caring about the students, or the curriculum, simply fullfilling the lesson plan requirements, whether we learned something or not.

What should we do? Make teachers live in the same world we do. If I start sucking at my job, EUI will fire me. If I’ve worked there for 10 years, they’ll still let me go if I start to do a poor job. Why should a teacher be any different? Why should we give them that break that gives them the freedom to stink it up?

My idea? It’s easy, make teaching pay what it’s worth in the market like any other job, and make it no more guaranteed than any other. Teachers should be paid what they’re worth, and fired when they stink, it’s really that simple. We shouldn’t promote poor teachers to principle, and poor principles to super-intendant. Sure every industry has it’s share of “promoted to highest level of incompetence” but teaching seems to have institutionalized the concept, and codified it into their very fiber.

This quote is awesome,

She says things most superintendents would not. “The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely,” she tells me one afternoon in her office. Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn’t respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. “People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,'” she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

Damn straight!

The data back up Rhee’s obsession with teaching. If two average 8-year-olds are assigned to different teachers, one who is strong and one who is weak, the children’s lives can diverge in just a few years, according to research pioneered by Eric Hanushek at Stanford. The child with the effective teacher, the kind who ranks among the top 15% of all teachers, will be scoring well above grade level on standardized tests by the time she is 11. The other child will be a year and a half below grade level–and by then it will take a teacher who works with the child after school and on weekends to undo the compounded damage. In other words, the child will probably never catch up.

I can’t agree more. I came from what I consider a pretty bad district, my high school opened with not enough teachers, and an empty library. I sat on the floor for more than a month in my 70ish kid english class. Several of my classes the first year, we had to share text books. The Gym, never had showers, etc. etc. I had a history teacher, and while I thought he was nice and a cool guy, he never spoke to the class. He assigned chapters, and tests. I went to that class about once every two weeks and passed with an A, and don’t recall a damn thing! I was in an AP class that so horribly prepared me for the AP exam, that I failed miserably. What Senior AP Lit class spends the class reading a loud? Mine did.

Teachers are brave souls, and I think we treat them mostly like dirt, but I think too many of them are doing our (actually ‘your’ since Nicole and I aren’t breeders) a terrible disservice, and we as a society have empowered them to do so. We bitch and moan about the state of education, yet parents don’t get involved, we throw money at “no student left behind” which really means, “pass the dummies so they’re some one elses problem”, rather than holding students AND teachers accountable. Every job has metrics, every single one. Yet somehow teachers don’t? Test scores aren’t good metrics, blah blah blah. There MUST be a metric, and we owe it to students, and teachers a like to find it, and make it standard, and hold all parties to it. That’s it, it’s not rocket surgery, it’s not impossible.

14 thoughts on “How would I change education?

  1. jwilker Post author

    True on tenure. I was reading something after writing the post, and saw that my guesstimate was much higher than the norm. I think in general tenure is a throwback, bad idea. I can only imagine what schools would be like it tenure transfered. OMG.

    My beef with vouchers is the inherent inequity they'd promote. No one would send their kids to school in compton, so compton schools would suffer or go away. Poorer people then have a higher burden to get their children to a school. Education suffers. afluent kids wouldn't notice a difference, or would have shiny mac G4s on each desk, but the poor and might as well be poor, would suffer greatly.

    I'm also against private schools not needing accredited teachers, so they'd never get my support until they had a bit more oversight. Not a district with it's burdens and management, but something more than "fast, loose, and how we please"

    I do agree on the paying for schools I don't use. i vote against anything that increases that spend, simply on principle that throwing more money at a problem, doesn't solve it. so raising taxes for schools, not the answer. I'm happy to continue my existing levels of support as a childless tax payer so that my future isn't in a world of (even more) morons, but I won't be a crutch. I'd love it if the tax was on each head, so the mad breeders paid more of their share, but that might be another post, LOL.

  2. Andrew Westberg

    What are your thoughts on eliminating the Federal Department of Education? I think we'd have many more ideas tried out at the state level if they were freed from the federal regulations. The states with the good ideas would bubble to the top and be replicated in other states. It seems silly for me to send my hard earned tax dollars to a federal bureaucracy when the money really just needs to head about a mile to my local school.

  3. JulesLt

    Generally, I agree – both my father and ex-wife are good teachers, and have a similar frustration over bad colleagues (the problem being that kids under bad teachers carry attitudes to other classes).

    However, there is a major flaw – the existence of so many bad teachers is not just because they're impossible to sack, but because there is a low supply of good ones. That starts early on – you can typically get onto a teaching course with lower academic qualifications than you'd require to get onto a straight course on the same subject.

    Then of course there's the question of salary. Good teachers tend to be bright, clever, and skilled in their field. That means that teaching is competing with other careers for the most talented people. Instead, education pays less and takes the second and third rate. The tenure is there to make up (in security) for the crappy and less than market rate salaries. Occasionally they hit lucky – people who don't want to work in business, or are skilled in uncommercial areas where education pay can compete.

    But how many good developers do you know who would quit their development jobs to work as a CS teacher?

    Oh, and you're utterly wrong about metrics. There are lots of jobs that don't have metrics, and every job I've known where there are metrics, results in the metrics being gamed. I worked somewhere where we improved code quality by banning anyone from raising bug tickets internally – the number of tickets fell. Make results a metric, and you will find schools dissuading potential failures from even sitting exams, or pushing poor pupils onto other schools.

    What we need is less metrics, and better management – a good head of department will know who their strong and weak staff are without needing the end of term exam results (too late, too late) – ditto the headmaster should know their strong and weak departments, and the district educational director should know their strong and weak schools.

  4. jwilker Post author

    I'd be totally open to dismantling or thuroughly gutting the Dept of Ed. I don't think they've done much good overall so, and trying new things is important to innovation.

  5. jwilker Post author

    I completely agree on salary. It should be competitive in the work force. I'm all for labors of love, but it's sad we expect teachers to suffer, not right at all. And yeah the bad outweigh the good. We should as a society glamorize teachers as much as we do lawyers, police, famous people working for Donald Trump, etc. That's on us.

    I never said metrics can't be gamed, but from what I have read/heard. Teachers can't even agree on a metric. some want test scores, some say those aren't the right one. etc. I don't think metrics are the solution, but I think they help. if nothing else a metric can point out what should be obvious. And yeah there will be gamers, they're everywhere, and we try to work around them. You're right a strong dept head knows who sucks and who doesn't. Good principles do too. They just need the power to round file those losers.

  6. Jeffry Houser

    It may be worth nothing that I went to private [Catholic] schools for K-12. I think I got a better academic education than my public school friends, but it was less well rounded [no music program or shop classes, for example]. However, class size was small; in grammar school the total class was <30. In High School ~100. I think smaller class size can contribute to better education.

    I forgot to add in my first post, we cannot devalue a parents role in the education of the child. T sees it all the time. The child with involved parents gets better grades. I think parental involvement is more important than anything a teacher can do.

  7. JulesLt

    I definitely agree – the headmaster/principle should have the absolute right to hire and fire, like any other senior manager. Will it result in some good staff being fired for bad / personal reasons? Almost certainly, but the same happens in business, and good staff always bounce back elsewhere.

    I guess the one problem with this view is that badly managed companies die, but bad schools ruin lives.

    I think the problem with test scores is that in some areas it's very easy for average teachers to get good results – a specific example would be my computing class where most of us got A grades, as most of us knew more about programming before we started the class than the teacher or the course provided. He was useless.

    In other areas, you can be battling parents who are hostile to education, and kids entering the school who still have literacy problems. Now there's a lot that can be done in schools like that, but you're never going to achieve the A- grades of a school in a middle-class area. So the metric these people prefer is 'value added' – how much difference you can make to the pupils predicted level of attainment.

    The teachers in good schools, on the other hand, prefer the absolute score measure – it's very difficult for them to add value (boost grades above predicted) when 70% are getting top grade anyway. On that measure they come out worse than the school lifting a fail grade to a bare pass.

    I guess the question is whether there is a universal metric that can be used, or whether different schools need different metrics. And I think, sadly, they do.

    I'd also concur with the comments about taking things out of centralised control, with one caveat – our local education authority was, itself, closed down by central government, due to years of below average results, and deservedly so – it's not the only area with inner city schools. Local democracy had failed to address the problem (well, when the population are proud to be ignorant, why would they want that to change!).

  8. quetwo

    I work in the education field — sure it's Higher-Ed., but I also belong to the same union that all the teachers in the state do. Heck, I used to be a teacher at an ISD (this was because ISDs didn't require a teaching certificate, which my Novell Instructor's Certificate was not a substitute for).

    We have a real problem with teacher pay in the industry. First off, to get your teaching certificate, it is required that you complete college, and have a reasonably high grade. If you graduated with below a 3.2, forget about most schools. Next, you need to take classes for two years, in addition to student-teaching. This is unpaid, and full time. Finally, when you finally finish that, you need to get a job. Average starting salary for a K-12 teacher is like $32,000 (in Michigan), and $36,000 for HS. Figuring that you now have racked up at least $50,000 in just education loans, you are in a really bad place. At least doctors can pay off their debt within 10 years.

    Now, you are teaching at a school. Most teachers are afforded less than $200 in supplies for 35 students. Anything above this, you are on your own. Many of the books are often state-mandated, and, if you are lucky, 10 years old. In recent years, the Federal Government also started removing state guidelines to teaching curriculum, in favor of standardized tests, similar to the IGAP, STANFORD, and the No-Child-Left-Behind tests. These leave very little room for creativity to help inspire students, as they need to learn XYZ by this date, and ABC by this date, take two weeks taking mandated tests to make sure they learned it, and move on. It's become very debilitating.

  9. quetwo

    In my opinion, in order to recruit the best teachers, we need to raise the bar for salary. We need to remove many of the federal guidelines and bring back the power at the state-level to help these things out. Our teachers need proper support to do their jobs. They need to be seen as more than free baby-sitters, and actually respected in their community.

    As far as private schools — I think they have a place in society. They give parents the ability to teach religious or specialized material. I don't think that it is right for public dollars to be funding them, however. This goes with my thoughts of separation of church and state… Why should my public dollars support the Catholic school down the street (who has the legal right to discriminate against its applicants), where the same is not available for my religious views.

    Michigan does have one thing going for it in regards to how the schools are setup. Each area (typically a tri-county area) are setup into super-districts. All the school income from taxes are pooled together and split among the districts in the area. This helps with the rich school vs. poor school issues (the money is split based on number of students, not property taxes). They also have "ISD"'s or intermediate school district classes, which allow for very specialized classes, that may only support a few kids per school be taught. For example, in the ISD I worked in, they offered baking, banking, diesel tech, CAD, computer programming etc., all classes that a normal district could afford to do. Students would go to this specialized school for two hours a day, free to the student.

  10. jwilker Post author

    Agreed. That's why I'm not in favor of complete school autonomy. I think some oversite is a must. It just can't be what currently exists as District Beuaracracy. A state Dept Of EDU that's actually involved, spot checking, unannounced, etc is what I think is needed.

    More than just different metric per school, I think it's a matter of more than one metric. It shoudln't just be scores. It should be scores, % improvement from Sept -> June, etc. I agree, there's no single universal metric, but I think a good approach is to weigh several factors. It's the picking and choosing of metrics that is partly to blame now. You're right some schools can't fail, through no work of their own, and get good marks for no reason.

  11. jwilker Post author

    @quetwo

    The whole no student left behind thing, seems to have done more harm than good. Some students need to be left behind, whether their fault or their teacher, promoting them does no one any good.

    Yeah salary is a huge issue and boggles my mind. I know what I make, I know what NFL players make, and I see a teacher make a fraction of that, and just can't fathom the logic. It seems to be one of those "just the way it is" things, with no logic or sense behind it.

    I think schools and districts would definitely do better if left to their own devices, with a minute amount of oversite. your ISDs sound similar to magnet schools which make sense to me. Offer those specialized classes at a special institution with seperate funding etc. Public schools should be allowed to focus on the core things kids need to learn.

    You're right on private school, and I'm all for letting them exist. But want nothing to do with them. They can charge what they like, reject whom they like, and all that, without a bloody red cent of my money to support them :)

  12. Jeffry Houser

    I remember many a conversation about stuff like this when I was still read the cf-community list. My GF [an elementary school teacher] was often slightly amused by such topics. I imagine in much the same way that we'd be amused if we were listening to a bunch of teachers talk about programming, design patterns, or application architecture.

    That said, tenure at the college level is a lot different than tenure at the elementary / middle / high school levels. T got it much quicker than 15 years (~3 perhaps?). But, tenure is not transferable in the lower school districts; it almost always is at the college level. In lower schools I get the impression tenure just relates to how long you worked there. In college it means you brought money into the university [via research grants and the like]. Neither have anything to do w/ teaching skill. (side note: Often at the college level, less than half of a professors job is teaching-related ).

    In regards to private school vouchers; I'm not opposed to the idea. In CT, schools are funded by property taxes, so everyone who owns land is paying for the local schools whether they use them or not. I can accept the fact that childless land owners should help pay for school [because it is in the long-term good of the community]. But, if I am sending my kids to a private school, I'd much prefer my "donated" school funds be deferred to the school I am sending my kids too.

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  14. John Wilker Post author

    Class size to me is huge. If even one thing was solved, the teacher:student ratio would be it. The few classes I had in highschool where we were sub 30 in the room, were by far the best. The lecture hall environment should be left to college.

    I put a great deal of the blame, on society in general, including parents. As a whole we seem, to think teachers are doing it for love not money, so we pay them crap. Then parents think that teachers are baby sitters. Worse yet, baby sitters they'll sue if they discipline the child. My mom was in PTA all through my elementary years and knew my teachers by name on sight. I think it made a huge difference. Parents seem to treat schools as some sort of black hole that doesn't require their involvement. Drop a kid off stupid and ill behaved, and pick them up a well rounded socially adjusted person. But don't touch or discipline to do it.

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