Education Reform We Can Believe In
By Marty Nemko
Until career opportunities for women expanded, education was abetted, ironically, because so many women saw teaching as the highest-level job to which they could reasonably aspire. Today, woman have more professional options, so a smaller percentage of our best and brightest women enter teaching. And it remains a woman-dominated profession: Only seven percent of elementary school teachers are men, the lowest percentage on record.
In sum, today, we have less-good teachers attempting to teach much harder material to a much wider range of students, and with rewards mainly for improving the least capable students. I can't think of a more perfect storm for education failure, for education to fail to be the magic pill that enables the U.S. to live up to its potential or compete with China, let alone to close the recalcitrant achievement gap.
My blueprint for education reform
I Recruit better teachers by:
A. Having school districts screen prospective teachers before training them, including observing them teaching a lesson.
C. Make it easier for principals to fire ineffective teachers. Today, after a 2-3-year probationary period, teachers have their jobs for life except in the most extreme cases. Even if they're burned out, providing inferior instruction, or damaging kids psychologically, they're allowed to continue hurting class after class of children until they decide to cash in their generous retirement benefits.1. Universities screen applicants using criteria less related to teaching ability: GPA, GRE, and an essay.
2. The university-based teacher training program is more than a year long, expensive, and usually heavily taught by theoreticians who have never taught, let alone been master K-12 teachers. Many of them couldn't even control a K-12 classroom, let alone effectively teach and inspire most kids.
The previous suggestions would yield better teachers not just because of better selection and training but because it would encourage higher-quality people to enter the profession. Most capable people don't want to be in a field in which incompetents are protected and in which the best and worst teachers receive the same pay and title.
II. Make it realistic for teachers to effectively teach:
- Group classes by ability/achievement, at least for academic subjects.
- Give teachersthe optionto send kids who take too great a toll on the other students' learning (disruptive kids, special education kids, not-English-speaking kids) to special classes so those kids can get more of the on-target instruction they need, while the regular teacher's other 29 kids aren't deprived of their right to an appropriate-level education.
- Make easily accessible, on the Internet, fabulous teacher-ready curriculum, including online video lecturettes (rich with visuals) by the nation's most effective and inspirational teachers that the kids could use for homework instead of traditional homework, which too often gets blown-off, cheated on and, which certainly rarely inspires.
- Looking back on a half century of calls for major education reform, most change has been in the opposite direction I'm calling for.
- Too many of the educators I've interacted with over the past three decades have struck me as timid and/or more interested in protecting or expanding their turf than in well-educating children.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2018. Usage Rights