Ten steps to improving our educational system

1) You hear a lot that “throwing money at the problem” doesn’t solve anything (mostly from the right wing, and mostly this is a lie). Unfortunately, money makes the world go around, and therefore money is the solution. However, the important factor isn’t that you’re spending money, but rather where you direct that money – I call it “intelligently throw money at the problem”. Financial incentives can do wonders, but all this “school choice” and “voucher” nonsense that the right wing pushes is trying to apply it in the wrong place. The point of contact for education isn’t with the school, it’s with the teachers. So start by tripling teacher’s salaries across the board.

2) As a result of this single action, teaching will become a highly coveted position in our society. Instead of scraping the bottom of the barrel to find teachers, the best and the brightest will compete for these positions. People who are experts in their field. People who will be willing to go through X years of additional education and training just to learn to teach because the salaries are that high – teaching schools will emerge similar to medical schools to help differentiate and credential potential teachers. Now we’re finally treating teachers like the professionals they are, and as a result you have highly trained professionals in the classroom, who know the material, know how communicate it, and know how to deal with the wide range of personalities and skill levels that they’ll encounter in the classroom.

3) Screw the unions. In exchange for tripling salaries, Principals get absolutely authority over all hiring and firing decisions, with the ability to effect them immediately. If a teacher fucks up or a principal just finds someone better to do the job, a teacher’s gone. Principals get overseen by the local education boards, who teachers can appeal to – but right now it’s simply too difficult to fire an incompetent teacher, and this fundamentally has to change.

4) Quit trying to objectively measure educational progress. It can’t be done, it’s a waste of time, and standardized testing has been a particularly disastrous exercise in futility. Every individual, every teacher, and every classroom is different – we need to acknowledge and work with those individual differences, not try to pretend they don’t exist.

5) Start subjectively measuring progress. Our highly trained professional teachers will be capable of making individual student assessments based on classroom performance, participation, and behavior. A report card with an “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, or “F” can’t distinguish between a bored and a struggling student – it can’t tell where the exact problem areas are or why they are problem areas. In 99.9% of cases, a teacher (trained to recognize such things) can. A teacher should be writing subjective assessments on report cards, not relying on piss poor metrics like arbitrary grading schemes to communicate student progress.

6) Principals get oversight when a student believes a teacher’s analysis is wrong. They can judge the merits of the case, and deal with it accordingly. These are the guys who have to see the forest through the trees – recognize problems with teachers or students, work with the school board and parents, and maintain the educational standards.

7) There is a horrific lack of cross state curriculum standards. Testing shouldn’t be standardized, but curricula need to be standardized (but with enough flexibility for teachers to do their jobs). If a college admissions officer is looking at a transcript that says “Four years of English”, that admissions officer needs to know, at least in a general sense, what that means. There need to be standards for what an “Honors” course is.

8) Start leaving kids behind. Sorry, but we spend ungodly sums of money on special ed kids while completely failing the top 10%. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see everyone get all the support they need, but seriously, our priorities need to do a 180. Challenge the smart kids as much as you can, they’re the ones that will go on to make a difference in society, they’re the return on society’s investment in public education. The dumb ones will probably manage to get by flipping burgers whether or not we wait for them to learn algebra.

9) Schools need to apply science to the way they operate. Developmental psychology and educational theory are two very active areas of psychological research, but right now you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher or administrator who’s aware of it. The current model we use (Teacher in front of class, explain, do sample problems, assign work) was shown to be sub-optimal almost forty years ago – schools need to apply the knowledge we’ve gained about gender differences, individual differences, how to utilize technology, and teaching models, to best serve students.

10) All that said, the real problem is the parents. That’s the single greatest determinant factor of educational success right there. Culturally, we just don’t place a high value on education, and it shows. Honestly, I don’t have the slightest clue how to fix that.

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