Monday, November 2, 2009

Education Ain’t No Fun Vacation

This one’s for you, Walter. But education can and should be fun. There are no easy solutions to beefing up our public primary and secondary schools, but we can start with a simple reality: with about 13,000 separate and relatively autonomous local school districts in the United States, the “one sure thing” you know you are paying for is administrative inefficiencies with profound amounts of wasteful duplication. The U.S. is one of the few “educated nations” that does not have a real national educational policy, and we pay for it with inconsistency, local bias, missed national targets and waste.

I was distressed to hear from a friend of mine, training in the Los Angeles Unified School District, that teachers are kickin’ it old school: eschewing dust-gathering computer terminals and insisting that dated and worn text books should be the main learning tools. We are a nation of teacher-technophobes, relying on educational policies crafted decades ago before every kid living in a computer household is computer-literate somewhere between ages 3 and 4. With budget cuts, we have never had a greater need for programmed learning – where carefully programmed computers lead a child, step-by-very-personalized-step, through basics in grammar, foreign languages, basic math and science, history, etc. allowing the contracted teacher-base to focus on those children who are struggling with the lesson plans. And get this: kids love computers already! Duh!

Where are the distance-learning structures that can reach into the one-room school house (yes, you can still find these on Native America reservations and pueblos) and provide real, albeit virtual, classrooms that bring every child into an appropriate classroom with an appropriate specialized teacher? We call it a computer terminal with a cheap video camera, the kind folks use to upload those YouTube videos. And for kids who have grown up in homes without computers, it’s time to democratize the playing field. Pay your best teachers to work in difficult schools! Hey, corporate America, start adopting schools, donating computers and providing volunteers to serve an adjunct teachers and role models.

And let’s start dealing with the damnable impact of too many collective bargaining agreements protecting way too many incompetent teachers. Sorry unions, but the future of my country and the viability of my children’s ability to function are way too important to subordinate to protecting mediocre teachers who need to leave the school system forever. Can’t teach your kids through modern computers, OUT! How many of you actually know that YouTube is the second largest search engine on earth?! OUT!

If it’s teacher salaries that are getting in the way of recruitment (yeah, I know about the “budget woes”), then lets at least not make them pay state or federal income tax on all or at least a portion of their teacher pay (sorry administrators, I don’t think you get the same break). The trade off? Working a bit more during the summer, and growing the school day and the school year by a full month. Arne Duncan (Education Secretary) notes that so many of the Asian and European school systems, who consistently outperform their American public school counterparts, have significantly more class-time than we do. Sorry, after-school athletics, our nation does not compete in a global economy simply because we generate more NFL prospects – there’s plenty of time for both after-school programs and a good education, but we really do need to get our priorities straight.

Finally, let’s apply a bit more common sense to our educational policies. No more expelling troubled students so that we give them the free time they need to build their criminal skills. No more graduating students without the necessary skills they need to cope with life. If we have exceptionally difficult students, hasn’t anyone heard of boot camp? We have a quarter of the world’s incarcerated criminals and only 5% of the earth’s population, or doesn’t anyone see the correlation between delinquency, lack of education and a really stupid crime rate?

Want a summary? Better teachers. Apply cutting edge technology. Stop passing the buck from the school system to the criminal justice system (it should really be the same budget!). And have more classroom time to reflect global competitiveness. I didn’t even have to trash the horrific “No Child Left Behind Act,” because nobody thinks it works anyway. Don’t make the above changes? Watch our standard of living slip like a happy toddler down a water-slide!

I’m Peter Dekom, and I approve this message.

No comments: