Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Teaching (Part I)

There are many variables involved in the teaching of school children and teachers are arguably the most important variable. Good teachers can partially compensate for poor funding, poor parenting, and even poor curriculum. The U.S. spends nearly double what other developed nations spend per child on education. Despite this the U.S. drop in education performance over the past 30 years has been cataclysmic. During this period the U.S. has dropped from number one in high school and college graduation rates to 18th. During the same period the U.S. has gone from a leader in math, science, reading, and problem solving to 25th, 21st, 15th, and 24th respectively. And what’s worse is that socioeconomically challenged kids and minorities fare much worse. So it begs to reason that teachers are coming under much more scrutiny these days.

Recent studies have indicated the obvious – two teachers teaching the same grade in the same school can produce widely different results regardless of the socioeconomic status of students. The same study concluded that by replacing the worst performing teachers (bottom 10%) it can turn the educational downward trend in the U.S. around. However, this is easier said than done since teacher shortages are brought about because of low pay and unions bend over backwards to protect bad teachers.

What makes a good teacher? A good teacher sets high goals for their kids and has a strong work ethic to meet their goals. A good teacher is continuously working to become a better teacher through higher education and training to keep up with all the latest concepts, ideas, and technology. A good teacher not only gets parents (the community) involved but holds them accountable for the progress of their children.

The big question that remains is how to measure teacher effectiveness. Unfortunately, the only answer that bureaucrats have is to grade teachers based on how their students perform on standardized tests. There is just too much of an emphasis on standardized testing in our educational system and under the Obama administrations “Race to the Top Program” it is going to get worse. This narrow view of grading teachers and students will lead to teachers “teaching the test”, fraudulent reporting of test scores, less focus on developing other curriculum based subjects, it holds back overachieving students, and it fails to identify children with learning disabilities in a timely fashion.

Obama’s “Race to the Top” program wants to mimic schools that use programs such as “At the Knowledge of Power Program” (KIPP). Most of the schools using KIPP are located in socioeconomically depressed areas and have shown dramatic improvement in student test scores. KIPP schools start at 7:30 am and run to 5 pm while teachers must be available for questions to 9 pm at night. Good teachers already work these schedules, but there are three important conclusions that one may draw from KIPP programs. First, parents are failing to perform their role in the educational process (but we want to blame and place the entire onus of educational success on teachers). Secondly, increasing teacher’s workload without pay increases is not going to attract top teachers. Thirdly, more is not necessarily better. Just because KIPP programs are successful in minority and poor school districts, it does not mean the success will translate to wealthier school districts. Kids can only retain so much information on a daily basis and trying to increase information flow usually results in more information being forgotten.

The bottom line is that the onus of education starts at home with family and education does not need longer days and education does not need more government intervention. Finally, education should cover much more than the narrow scope of standardized testing.

My Book: Is America Dying? (Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble)

No comments:

Post a Comment