Rhettoracle's Blog

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Is the American education system in trouble?

Before we launch into all the issues, we first have to examine the question “Is education in trouble?”  The reason so much is changing (and thus the reason for the creation of this blog) is because our country has accepted the notion from the media that America’s schools are failing.  This is simply untrue.  Are there problems with our schools?  Of course!  Are there schools that are failing?  Of course!  But is our whole education sysem going down the toilet?  I firmly say no.  The rest of this entry is my attempt to help you understand why I make this claim…

1) This country proudly educates everyone. We integrate students with special needs as much as possible into a regular classroom to give them an education in the “least restrictive environment.”  Because of the ever growing efforts to include as many students as possible in the regular ed classroom, more and more students who in the past never took the standardized tests (the ones that are used to measure the US against other countries), it appears that the US is falling further behind.  Rather, our scores are falling because we are making a greater effort to include everyone, and thus those who might not be, shall we say, capable of taking these standardized tests are now doing so and hurting our scores.  Years ago, students had to either sink or swim.  If they couldn’t cut it in regular classrooms, schools pulled them out and put them in “special classes.”  Those students never had to take standardized tests.  The problem, then, was that this idea began to get abused where educators would put people in those special classes who might hurt test scores for the school.  Why do that?  Because schools that scored better were given more money.  So what are other countries doing?  Many other industrialized nations have a much more sophisticated system of putting students into tracks and educating them accordingly.  Therefore only those truly college bound students end up taking the same standardized tests that ALL of our students take.  In other words, these measure compare other countries’ best and brightest with our entire melting pot, and thus the test results compare apples to oranges.

2) America’s schools are failing is the same argument that people were using for political gain back as early as the late 1800s.  Back then the argument was over the centralization vs decentralization of school systems.  All of it was born out of the idea that schools were failing our children.  So then, if you buy into the argument that schools are failing today, you should also buy into the argument that schools were failing 100 years ago too.  Afterall, there were people then making similar claims about schools just using different ideas to fix them.  The only difference between the claims then and now is 1) the antidote the reformers want to use, and 2) today we have “evidence” from research that schools are not doing well.  And if I’m not mistaken, in the last 100 years, the United States has led the world in medical, scientific, and technical advances.  We landed on the moon, for goodness sake!  And Al Gore invented the internet *grin*!  How could our education system be failing?

3) In addition to all this, I have anecdotal evidence in my former students who have gone on to greatness – they have gone to schools like Duke University, they have embarked on careers such as being an attorney, and they have returned to the classroom to educate the next generation of Americans to greatness

No, this system is not broken.  Could it be better?  Of course!  Are we pursuing the correct path towards improvement?  Absolutely not.  I hope over the course of this blog that I can shed some light on why our current course of reform is ineffective and what could be done instead to make things better.

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April 21, 2010 Posted by | Failing Schools | , | 5 Comments

What to do when banks and schools fail.

There are so many issues that I could have chosen for my first official blog entry.  Instead of painstakingly trying to figure out what the perfect starting point is, I decided to just jump into an issue and see what happens.

So what happens when banks in the United States fail?  Over the past few years, we as a country have decided to lend them taxpayer dollars to bail them out, only to find that we are facing additional banks in trouble.  In return, some of those banks that were bailed out continue to pay millions of dollars to their top executives in bonuses.  Now before you haul off on me as a communist who does not believe in free enterprise, please allow me to finish…

If we accept the notion that education is in trouble (as has been beaten to death in the media with statistics showing the US slipping among industrialized nations on test scores), then why don’t we pay big money to top executives (principals) to come and save the schools?  What are we doing instead?  Well, let’s look at Florida.  Thankfully, the governor recently vetoed a law that would have tied teacher pay to student performance.  The argument for the proposed law?  Florida Congressional leaders said that this would help to foster a climate in which teachers are motivated to work harder for the pay.  And teachers working harder will then help turn around poor performing schools.  First of all, I will leave the whole discussion of students’ performance on a test as related to teacher effectiveness for another day.  Second of all, would someone please tell me where the incentive would be to work harder under such a proposed system?  Let’s examine the facts under such a proposed pay system:

1) students in low income communities perform worse on standardized tests than students in high income communities (as a whole);

2) teachers in low SES schools will have to work extra hard to get some of their students to pass the standardized tests on which their pay is based, whereas teachers in high SES schools will have to do relatively little (I’ve taught in both types of schools, so I know how much harder I have to work in a low SES school to get my students to even pass a unit test, let alone a standardized test);

3) teachers with more experience and advanced degrees are not interested in working extra hard, and they are in the highest demand in education because they KNOW how to teach (obviously, in general, there are exceptions to every generality).

The result:  When you add up those 3 simple facts, you are not going to make your poor performing schools better, you are going to make them worse.  The best teachers in those schools are going to seek the first escape to the school / district in which the likelihood of higher test scores (and thus higher pay) is much greater.  Thus, in the end, you are going to have the best teachers making the most money in the ALREADY best schools.  The poor performing schools will be revolving doors for teachers in which the best teachers will move on and the poor teachers will either quit or they will be kept on because no one else wants to fill the vacancies there.

I am not trying to say in this post that the banks should not have been bailed out.  There are billions of dollars at stake and our national economy to consider.  There are tens of thousands of jobs on the line.  It was not necessarily a bad move.  But what I am saying is that education is more important, that is, if we expect this country to continue competing economically in the world 30 years from now.  It is about time for our country to take a stand and fund education to the highest possible degree.  There has to be incentives to teach.  If you major in biology, what is the likelihood you will take a $30,000 salary in a teaching position, with the potential to make less given current funding proposals across the country such as the one in Florida, when instead, you could go onto med school or get a masters / PhD in research and work for a pharmaceutical company, etc, etc?  When we start talking about paying teachers for what they are worth thereby encouraging the brightest minds to enter education (as well as adopting a much better teacher evaluation system), then we can start talking about improving poor performing schools.

Many of the critics of education throw around buzz words such as market forces, privatization, vouchers, accountability, etc, to say that schools need to be more like businesses.  To that I say, well, then if we are to be treated more like a business, then why don’t you start paying us like a business?  You want to turn a school around, then you better pony-up the dollars to attract the best and brightest into the field of education.  You have to make it inviting for a physicist to want to leave NASA (or wherever) and teach high school.  Hmmm….$100,000 to work at NASA, or $38,000 to teach?  DUH!

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Failing Schools, Funding | , , , | Leave a comment