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A Plan for Education

I was taken to task yesterday in a comment for not providing a plan for education. Now, it is true that I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog over the years bemoaning the constant increases in education spending. But, let me clarify my position for a moment. I don’t actually have a problem with making large investments in education. However, I expect those investments to yield results. If you ask me for more of my money, it better improve student performance. To date, this hasn’t happened. Nor do I believe under the current system it ever will.

So, what’s my plan. Well, it basically boils down to five points. I’ll try and make my points and give you some insight into the thinking behind them. Keep in mind, that aside from having children currently enrolled in public school, I also have ten years of experience in education. Five as an educator in the classroom, and five running a not-for-profit organization that brought economic education programs into schools.

  1. Parents need to take responsibility for the quality of their children’s education. That means attending school meetings. Finding time to help out at schools. Acting as their child’s advocate. Turning off the T.V. and video games and making sure their children are reading and doing their homework. Schools for their part need to provide opportunities for parental involvement.

    For those of you who think this is only something the wealthy can do, think again. I’ve worked in schools serving some of the poorest communities, and have seen parent involvement that would rival any private school. What’s always amazed me is that a great many private schools (and charter schools for that matter) require parent involvement as part of attending the school. Yet, so many public schools do not.

    Here’s another thing to consider. Go watch children’s competitive sports one weekend. I don’t care if it’s soccer, baseball, football, or whatever. You’d be amazed at what parents do to get their kids on a “good” team. They’ll drive from the mountains to the Westside, or vice a versa. They’ll ask time off from work, so they can take their child clear across the state to that important competition. Again, not an income dependent situation. You’ll find the poorest and richest side by side. They’re all hoping their child is the next fill-in-the-blank star. Of course, we know very few will be. More importantly if they put that effort in supporting their child’s education, they’re children are more likely to succeed.

  2. Let good teachers teach, and fire the bad ones. People who are lousy educators don’t belong in the classroom. If they fail to perform at one school, they should not be moved to another. Teachers’ unions top priority are protecting teachers’ jobs, increasing teachers’ pay, and getting the best benefits package they can for their members. Okay, fair enough, that’s what unions do. But, please note, improving student performance does not enter the equation. Everyone likes to talk about the need (or failures of) business and industry to police their own, it’s time for teachers’ unions and education systems to do the same and remove the non-performers from their ranks.

    As to letting good teacher’s teach, how long has it been since you’ve actually observed the inner dynamics of schools? If it’s been awhile, you’d be amazed. Schools get their reimbursement from the state based on the number of bodies they have in the seats on a given day. Student performance is irrelevant. In fact, the worse the performance, the greater inflow of dollars into a given school. What is it they say happens when you reward bad behavior? That’s right, you get more bad behavior. Ask any great teacher, and they’ll tell you that. This is a broken system.

    There was a time when a disruptive child was sent out of the classroom and to an administrator’s office for discipline. The administrator would in turn call the child’s parents, and there would be consequences when the child got home. Those days are long since gone. Teachers are strongly encouraged to manage the behavior of disruptive children and keep them in the classroom. This is not conducive to teaching, nor does it prepare the child to be a contributing member of society.

    Along this same lines, we need to change how public education is perceived. The benefits of a quality education is a privilege. It is not an inherent right. Children and families from all backgrounds are given a unique opportunity in this country that can level the playing field for the rest of their lives. If they don’t take advantage of it, then they don’t belong in taxpayer funded schools. By the way, get great teachers in the classroom, re-introduce discipline, and you’ll be surprised how many kids opt on their own to take advantage of this privilege.

  3. Pay teacher’s based on performance, not based on artificial tiers or longevity on the job. In every other profession I’m aware of paying on anything but performance results in mediocrity. Why is education any different? It’s not. Yet, a high performing teacher can’t make more than a poor performing teacher. You can thank the unions and the poor performing teachers for that.

    How do you measure student performance? Simple. You measure what a student knows when they enter the class. You establish an individualized educational plan (IEP) for every student (for the life of me I never understood why only special ed students get these), and you measure what that student knows when they leave the class compared to that IEP.

  4. You eliminate waste. School budgets operate under the rule guiding all governmental budgets – use it or lose it. This is a practice that encourages waste. If you’ve got children in public elementary school in APS, I’m willing to bet any amount of money that the school has adopted at least two different math curricula between the time your child entered 1st grade and left at 5th grade. Each time they do this, they buy all new textbooks. Do you have any idea how wasteful this is. The irony is if you walked into a given classroom of any great teacher, you’ll see that they pull different lessons from different books. Why? Because contrary to whatever the popular text is that year, one size does not fit all, and great teachers know this.
  5. Allow all families to take advantage of school choice. The wealthy already do. Is there any reason that poor and middle income families shouldn’t be given choice? I don’t think so. Moreover, give people choices, and you’ll be surprised at how involved they become. Take away their choice, and they will quickly lose interest. Give the money to the parents in form of vouchers, and guess what? We solve three problems all at once.

    We have a proven means of involving parents. We make schools accountable for student performance in order to receive funds. We break the cycle of use it or lose it.

Come to think of it, maybe we don’t break the cycle of use it or lose it. We just change the “it.” It now becomes the actual education. Use the vouchers to get the best possible education for your child, or lose it.