Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Five Ideas for Education Policy Makers

There a some edu-bloggers who mostly rant about the many problems facing education, and then there are some who, like The Science Goddess, add to the ongoing dialogue. The Science Goddess recently memed me, if that's how you say it, asking me to discuss the five important educational understandings that education policy makers should know.
She references my most recent year of teaching, which came at a low SES, high minority (mainly Hispanic), school in Connecticut.

1. Fair and Balanced funding should be of the highest priority. The current mix of property taxes, state funding, and federal funding creates a serious gap between the wealthier school districts and the less fortunate school districts. In my current district, it took three budget proposals before the town finally approved one. If the Federal government is going to require that every student be taught to the same standard, then the Federal government ought to ensure that every student receives the same financial backing, the same safe environment, and the same quality of teachers. At the very least, this would be balanced.
However, I want it to be fair. And the reality is that low performing schools do need additional resources, all of which do not directly relate to what happens in the classroom. For instance, the school I teach at, one where fights happen often and students come to school with little guidance or direction, does not have a resource officer--there's no room in the budget. These types of resources can have an indirect impact on the classroom environment. But while wealthier towns, with far fewer instances of violence, truancy, and failure, enjoy the benefit of additional resources, many low SES schools do not.
As it stands, those districts with a higher SES, tend to do better than those districts with a lower SES. Now, there are many other factors in poor performing schools, but first let's start with the money factor.
2. Merit pay can work. I don't know how, but it can. This notion that protecting the tenured teachers and paying them well because of that tenure actually benefits the students is laughable at best. Teachers need to feel a little competition; we've become complacent, resulting in poor pedagogy and indifference--especially in low performing schools. Teachers in the district that I live in (not the one I teach in) certainly work diligently at creating lesson plans, holding students to high standards, and more; but they do not have to work as diligently at keeping their sanity because they don't have students sprinting the halls to evade security, or better still, calling security on themselves before sprinting out of their classroom singing, "You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man."
3. Leadership matters to a school. So when a school isn't succeeding, come on in and clean house. Fortune 500 companies tend to seek out and develop great leaders. When a leader doesn't move the company forward, he gets a hefty buyout! Education leadership lacks a significant and serious voice. There is plenty of anectdotal evidence of principals carrying bats, but nothing that provides young and talented leaders with the opportunity to explore. Instead, we have to add a Master's Degree in Education Leadership, or some other title, in order to be considered for such a leadership position.
4. The traditional college isn't for everyone. We seem to think that the only way to have a successful country is if all of our students attend the local state school or better. Not so. We need to reevaluate our goals for students when they enter school. We need trade schools. We need schools that teach the skills that students need to learn.
I'm sorry, I still don't see the point of teaching a literature class to students who are not interested and won't use the skills I teach. The purists of English teachers will scowl at me and claim that everyone deserves to experience Macbeth and The Canterbury Tales--in middle English. Not true.
5. Spend some time in real classrooms. Why not? Are you afraid? I don't mean, drop in for a photo opportunity. I mean invest at least as much time in observing your local schools as you do pandering to Moveon.org, Focus on the Family, or shady land purchases.


At 9:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach in a typical urban school district and I can totally identify with your points. It would be a minor miracle if anyone actually spent some time inside classrooms. I can think of so many ways that this would benefit education. Thank you for your insight!

At 5:56 PM , Anonymous JJP said...

How do you feel about graduate students obtaining a degree first. Then going to the classroom. I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I understand the inequities in education and have seen them through other facets in education. But, I don't agree with the idea that you must teach first to have an idea of what is needed and to truly improve education. Coming from a family of teachers I feel that I do not have to teach first, in order to be knowledgeable of the issues and in the conversation to make improvements. I think that is a misconception: "You can't truly understand until you've been in the classroom". Under this principle, one can argue that you can't understand why resource allocations are the way they are now. I think both frameworks are somewhat ignorant. Rather than bickering about who knows more, we should be figuring out ways to compromise, work together, and disseminate theoretical and pragmatic perspectives for both audiences.

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At 3:07 AM , Anonymous Web said...

Thanks fir everything guys!


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