What is the solution?

Here are my thoughts on education…

Basically there are four key players: teachers, parents, students, and finally administration. Without all four players working together (and community involvement) we get nowhere.

First, you have teachers. Where is the motivation to go above and beyond? Intrinsic motivation (situated within) can only get you so far. You are paid the same whether you work in the ghetto or in a suburban middle class school. Also, you are paid the same whether you bust your ass each day or if you do the minimum necessary. You are also paid according to how long you’ve been there which is a double-sided sword. Once you have established yourself somewhere you don’t want to move because you finally have some seniority and you don’t want to have to start all over from the bottom. Also, if you have been there for 10 years and do a mediocre job but the second year teacher is doing a stellar job, you are the one who keeps your job in a budget crisis and the newbie is the one let go. Job security for tenure but not for job performance. Teachers who go the extra mile are only rewarded with more work as team leads for their grade and not given bonuses for their excellent attitudes and great ideas. As I said, intrinsic motivation can only get you so far. I see that in other jobs as well, only they have bonus structures for exceptional performance.

Second, you have parents. Where are they? Helicopters or absentees (also known as parental negative demandingness)? You don’t have a “normal” parent anymore. You have the parent who rushes in to the teacher when their child received a “C” grade demanding that their child is an “A” student and the teacher is an idiot for not recognizing this. Or you have the parent who works three jobs and is never around and cannot take the time to care about their child’s schooling. Or worse, you have the parent who has the time but doesn’t have the follow-through to do something about it. There are a great deal of parents out there who have little to do with their child’s education. They are not reinforcing values learned at school. They are not supervising and encouraging homework daily. They are not participating in the Parent Teacher Organizations. They are not spending their nights having family dinners (great research done about the effects on this). “It’s a serious concern, since statistics show that nearly one in five children aged 6-19 in the U.S. are overweight. That puts them at higher risk for many health problems later in life, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes – as well as emotional problems (source).”

Third, you have the students themselves. Students have not been set on a path to value education. They are trained to the major comprehensive assessment test given each year or so. They are told that schooling is about sitting quietly in your seat for 8 hours a day. They are given little freedom for self-discovery. However, they’re also easily influenced by the superficial trappings of this world and the instant gratification on a regular basis. They have a shorter attention span because their parents have allowed them play video games from an early age and they have never learned to utilize their own creativity. What ever happened to “go play outside!”? They have not been properly socialized because the opportunities their parents could have taken for instruction were given an easy out via the Nintendo DS at the dinner table or in the car or any other public place where a great lesson could have been learned on proper behavior. These children are not adequately prepared for the “real world” and are sorely behind when entering college. Not just in academics but with social skills. These are opportunities their parent could have taken to help them be productive members of society. Yet, even as the children age and reach a point of internal responsibility for their actions they are still unable to determine the correct behavior. They are disrespectful to others, including adults/teachers. They are lazy at times and can appear unmotivated.

Fourth, and finally, you have administration. The bureaucratic nightmare that is the administration within education is appalling (interesting article). Higher education is a whole other nightmare but at least the educators are given more freedom over curriculum and instruction. Administration visits the classroom maybe two times a year and tries to assess a teacher’s effectiveness on this limited observation. Instead of consulting with the educators themselves, they make decisions from the top-down, and expect the implementation to be accepted with no concerns voiced. They work out deals based on the bottom line and then realize that was probably a bad decision when it blows up in their face. They make curriculum decisions with little input from the faculty who would be utilizing the curriculum. They follow trends with little hesitation. They allow for inequitable pay and benefits and are completely afraid of the unions. The superintendent is selected by the school board which is voted into office by the citizens. However, this means that they are subject to the “two many cooks in the kitchen” and can make a decision for the county that might be good for one school but not another.

So, what is the solution?

Where do we go from here? What does it mean to put students first? I’ve been hearing all sides lately because the whole “merit pay” issue is up for debate here in Florida. Geoffrey Canada (Whatever It Takes, Waiting for Superman, Harlem Children’s Zone) stated that he pays one of his math teachers six figures because Geoffrey says he is worth it and he is afraid to lose him. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if public school education administration had the same ability? Wouldn’t it be great if they could reward those who are excellent instead of only rewarding based on length of service? Even if we kept everyone at the same incremental pay scale and added bonuses for work that goes above and beyond. I think that one of the main concerns it the achievement gap in this country and possible solutions that involve more than just the teacher.

My point comes back to the problem we have now with our ghetto schools because, let’s face it, those are the ones receiving national attention. The county has to make decisions that are applied across the board and with some schools that are “A” schools and some that are “F” schools we just cannot continue to operate in that way. There is little incentive for teachers to work in the ghetto schools because, for example, if you were paid the same whether you worked in an “A” school or an “F” school where would you work? You couldn’t get me to work in a school where the risk of safety is the first concern. Where students are fighting constantly, skipping school, disrespecting teachers, caring little about their education. The people choosing to work there have either grown up in that type of environment and feel comfortable or take the job because no one else wants them. Which is where KIPP comes in (and others like them). They have the authority (because they lack the union infringement) to demand more out of their students, and in turn, their teachers. The accountability is with a signed contract and they reward their teachers with exceptional pay for their service.

I’ve also heard some people argue that the KIPP model does not work everywhere. Sometimes there needs to be more inclusion (as with the HCZ) and maybe that is the solution? No matter what… it seems as though the solution involves money. Redistribution amongst faculty and staff or rewards and bonuses… it all comes down to how it is being spent, not necessarily an increase in revenue. My question to you is what do you think is the solution to all of this? I think that merit pay has its value but I also believe that caveats should be made for those students who refuse to learn. Just like how they can be kicked out of a KIPP school we should be able to have some recourse for those same students in the regular public school. Also, I think that merit pay solely based on test scores leaves little room for true discernment. What about the schools that consistently have high performing students? How would you grade the teacher who has children already at the top level? The grading for merit pay must take into account ALL situations involved in education. Again, what works for one county may not work for another and what works for one school may not work for another (another interesting article).