Some time ago, I blogged about Our (non)Education system, to which James O'Malley, El Gringoqueño, commented in part: "...How can we possibly fix this mess? What discreet steps can we take to pull our public education out of the sewer?... If I had the ear of the education secretary, what would I tell him?"
Nothing like a friend to make Me work...
Back in 2007, I wrote a three-post series offering solutions to Our educational system (1, 2 and 3.) If you want to (re)read them, feel free. But I'll save you some time and offer the short version here, with brief updated comments.
1. Flatten the Department: Apropos of the current government contraction, get rid of 30% of the Department's employees, where 49% of them all are NOT teachers. One "boss" per "teacher"? Are you kidding Me? Lose that "upper" 30% and you save about 40-45% of the largest single budget in Our (non)government...and you improve performance.
2. Make Regions compete for funding within the Department: Especially now when the intestinal offal is proximate to impacting the rotating oscillator, We need to make Our schools improve by making their bottom line a true bottom line: Get better or prepare to work someplace else.
3. Provide a tax break for home schooling: This one's long overdue. Although public system teachers then complain that the best students leave the classroom, the fact is that many of the best students have already left the classroom, either in private schools or by plunging into indifference. Let's face it: schools are much--much--better equipped to deal with sub-par performers than aces. Letting the aces fly at their own speed--or at least letting them have the option to do so--frees up resources and generates a more hopeful outcome than the dreadful crashing bore We have now.
4. Raise teacher standards to world-class levels: The U.S. of part of A. has sucky standards. Pick the best standards (Finland will do), make them known to one and all in the Education system and aim for nothing less. Don't tell Me the Finnish are smarter or more capable. They aren't. But they have Us beat by miles in one simple aspect: They care more about education than We do.
5. Have teachers pass certification tests to teach and be recertified every five years: Teachers, shut up. Just shut the hell up. You all act like learning is a burden only you are entitled to avoid while placing on others. Get over your lackwit attitude and wrap your minds around this: until you prove you are worth more--and the evidence right now is very much against you--you are not entitled to get more.
6. To secure world-class standards, pay world-class teachers what they are worth: Money isn't an issue in Finland, but We aren't them and money is an issue here. So here's the offer to teachers: Get better, get better people coming in instead of the university dregs who can't qualify for anything except a Pell Grant and begining in 2015, your salary will go up 5% a year--but only if you requalify every 5 years. Over a 30-year career, this plan will quadruple your initial salary...but you have to earn it. (We can start pooling the future salary fund with the money We save throwing out the rotten vegetables that clog the "administrative" levels of the Department. The money should overwhelmingly go to teachers, not parasites.)
7. Make education the reason for progress, not the excuse: Like Finland, Singapore, South Korea and other countries kicking Our sorry asses with their education systems, We have to actually give a damn about education as the priority for Our children. Not "American Idolatry," not surgically-altered airheads strutting a runway, not consumerism: education. If We want Our future in Our hands and not in those of an indifferent and often-idiotic world, then We have to focus on education as the principal path to progress. And demand, every day, that it get better.
8. Refocus Our curriculum to create leaders, not followers: The days of factory drones and cubicle rats is over. The future is here and it belongs to people who can think and learn and analyze and use their creativity to come up with a better idea, process or method...and do it again and again and again. People who lead, not people who sit back waiting for the Big Boss to condescendingly hand them a check and maybe a pat on the back. Is that scary? To those who haven't been taught how to use their minds and energies to keep learning, it's terrifying. Why do you think We have so many morons in Our government? But to those of Us who have learned that We can learn, that every situation encapsulates opportunity and that living and learning is far better than boring serfdom, We're not terrified: We're energized. We're the future. Our children need to be, too.
And here's one more:
9. Open the classroom to anyone who wants to teach something: This seems contrary to raising teacher standards, but it isn't. Think about the best teacher you ever had. What two qualities did s/he have that made him or her such an influence on you? I bet you mentioned one or both of these: passion and knowledge. The best teachers are those who want to teach, who seem to vibrate with intensity when teaching. And they are often the best-prepared and most knowledgeable teachers you ever had, able to teach you not only their subject matter, but how it connected to Life. There are plenty of people out there who would love to teach math, history, sciences, literature, not every day, but for a day or even a week. Imagine the impact in a classroom of an actual chemical engineer teaching chemistry, or a lawyer describing the influence of Julius Caesar on Our legal system or a boat captain describing how daunting and challenging Columbus' voyage really was. Think the kids won't care? You think they'd rather listen to a dry recitation of formulas or a litany of dates instead of exploring a topic with someone who loves it so much they came to teach it? If you're worried about standards, have the person apply for the "Guest Teacher" role they want and submit an outline of what they will say. Nothing fancy; 1-2 pages will do. And then let them unleash their passion and knowledge on students... while the regular teacher takes a break. (Now I got the teachers' support!)
As to what (else) I'd say to the Education Secretary if I had his ear, it'd be this: If you can't see the future of education as vividly as you see the present, get out.
He most likely will lie to himself and stay, but the standard for his position is right there: see the future of education as vividly as you see the present. And help Us get there.
The Jenius Has Spoken.