Monday, April 2, 2012
I finally got around to begin reading a book I got for Christmas called “That Used to be Us" by Michael Mandelbaum and Tom Friedman. The book is about the United States of America, our major challenges, with some possible solutions and emphasizing that education should be our priority.
Yesterday my daughter was telling us about the new STAAR test, saying that her class will never pass that test because they are having trouble with what she’s currently teaching. The questions are confusing and the material is substandard at best. The test was developed by someone’s brother-in-law or it’s the cheapest test out there.
Historically America has educated its people up to and beyond the technology demands of every era. That lasted until the 1970s, but then we stopped keeping up. And when we stopped income inequality begin widening as a job opportunity for the high-school dropout shrunk. I believe everyone knows that we have to educate our young people up to and beyond the new levels of technology but are just spinning our wheels arguing about the same barriers. Local districts evaluate their success on how much better they are than their neighboring districts, but they should be measuring their success against students in China, Finland, Taiwan, and South Korea.
Teachers and principals should be at the forefront of any discussion about improving education. The book describes how a school district in Colorado mimicked the teaching methods of successful countries. They elevated the status of the teachers and promoted the gifted teachers and called them masters. The master's methods were filmed for other inspiring teachers to learn from, and they were required to sit in on a class of a master instructor. Teacher's tenure would be based on job performance and not years in service. Teachers were evaluated three times a year. The quality of an educational system cannot exceed the quality of the teachers. It's been recommended that we create a few West Point like universities for would- be teachers and principals.
If you take the lowest performing students and you put them in a classroom of highly effective teachers, we know that in three years, we will close the achievement gap. We also know that the opposite is true and that we'll blow that achievement gap open so wide, that will never be able to close it.
The principal should do the hiring and the firing of teachers rather than the local school board. The principle would also serve as an inspirational leader to bring out the best in teachers and students, and most importantly, they must be part of any evaluation process of any school system. The difference a good principle makes cannot be overstated in retention of good teachers. It would be up to the principle to get all the necessary groups on board and convince them how it's in their interest to get involved. How can the inner cities ever improve if we keep dumping the worst teachers on them? Yes, money may be saved in a short term by voting down tax increases for schools but if that results in higher dropout rates and higher unemployment, the cost to the state and communities will be higher.
When people start to think that we have an impossible task ahead of us, they should be reminded of the Tuskegee airmen, the first African-America aviators in United States Armed forces, who flew many successful missions in World War II.
You have to realize that back then, and it was thought that a black man did not have the courage, or intelligence or stamina to fly one of America's most expensive warplanes. They became the only squadron that never lost a bomber.
Have you noticed with a few notable exceptions, the people who know the global labor market best-the members of the business community- dropped out of national debate? Business leaders used to be known for lobbying for better education, infrastructure, immigration, free trade, and rules to promote constructive risk taking. They are simply taking their jobs overseas and not necessarily for the lower labor costs but for the most skilled.
Instead of lobbying Congress to double federal spending on basic research in physical science and support a national policy to promote high-speed broadband communication networks that Japan and Korea have done, business leaders have taken a line from Carly Fiorina, when she said, " There's no job that is America's God-given right anymore."
The number-one strategy in our economic plan should be education. As President Obama said, " the country that out educates us today, will out compete is tomorrow."