Lacey Smith

Improving education without rejecting the system Pt 1

In Education on December 21, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Monday’s post took a very simple approach to solving our education problems. However that solution is a best-case scenario and not everyone will be able to chose that solution (and some just won’t).

There is also going to still have to be some other option for those who can’t or won’t chose to take responsibility for their own or their children’s education.

There is also going to have to be a period where we transition from the current system to something new.

So what other solutions do we have?

First we need to take a hard look at our teachers’ unions and our tenure policies. Teachers are public servants and they are paid with tax money.

Teachers unions and tenure make it really hard to get rid of bad teachers, even when they do despicable things.

There is a teacher at the high school I went to that makes her classes harder for conservative and Mormon students just because of their beliefs. She will probably teach there until she decides to retire because she has tenure and belongs to the union.

That’s a problem.

We need to create a system where teachers are still protected to a degree (because there are situations where they need protection), but not to the point where they lose accountability.

In the current system, a tenured, unionized teacher has very few consequences for good or bad actions.

If they fail to educate their students or behave unethically or even illegally there may be some minor consequences. However it is very difficult and very expensive to fire them and so it rarely happens.

Worse, though, are the lack of consequences for our good teachers. They don’t get rewarded for being outstanding. There is no incentive to be excellent, except their own sense of pride in their job.

Many of these teachers get burnt out and either become poor educators or leave the system.

Second, we need to look at the structure of our schools. There are ways to tailor schools so they meet the needs of individual students better.

Charter schools are one good alternative, but they are not the only one and don’t solve the problem.

We should consider taking elements from the old frontier schools and from the college system and integrate them.

Student should not be forced into age-based classes that are essentially arbitrary assignments.

If a 3rd-grade-aged student is at a 4th grade level in Math, a 6th grade level in reading and a 2nd grade level in history, they shouldn’t have to live in the boredom of 3rd grade math and reading course and struggle to keep up in history.

And semester-to-semester or quarter-to-quarter that student’s abilities might change and so should the grade-level assignments.

Of course this presents real logistical problems that will have to be worked out. Teachers may have to go from a year-long approach to a unit-by-unit approach that will allow for something like this.

Or there may be a better way to implement a system like this. All reform takes a lot of evaluation, testing and restructure.

On the secondary level, students should be provided educational opportunities to prepare for college.

A student like me who knew she was not going to be studying for a math-and-science-heavy degree should be allowed to trade out math and science for advanced English, history and communication courses.

We  should use aptitude tests and consider students’ preferences as well to set them up for college. Germany actually has a system that, while also quite flawed, takes this approach (see that here). They start much earlier and are more permanent assignments than I’m suggesting, but the idea is good.

Perhaps two diplomas – one of arts and one of science – is a good solution. Getting a “DA” wouldn’t preclude you from getting a BS, but would prepare you better for a BA.

We need more customization and personalization in our schools, both for teachers and for students. That’s a big part of what will help us fix our education problems.

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