Solving Public Education

solving for education

I have a friend, who is a nice person, with mostly good intentions. She is a big supporter of Charter Schools. She is one of those people who see the Classroom Teachers Association as a big part of the problem. I don’t know. I have to confess I dropped out of college in 1980. I have continued my higher education in fits and starts, and mostly stops. But I am not the normal student.

But after over 50 years of personal experience with American education, public and private, I have a few thoughts. I do not come at this only as a student and a parent or grandparent. About half my family have been teachers, as have many of my close associates.

When I listen to the critics, they complain about tenure, about “teacher’s colleges” churning out subpar graduates to teach the rest of the students. I have heard “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, t, each.”

When I hear the “pro teacher” types talk, it is always about the long hours, and low pay. The problem is, in my opinion, both sides miss the point. The teachers I have known, from my mother and sister in law and aunts and uncles, to the public school teachers who have taught my three sons, do not teach to get rich. They either teach because they love it, or pretty soon they burn out and go into real estate or retail.

There is a problem with teachers sometimes not getting enough of the right training to be at their best, and in some cases, there are teachers who are not paid enough. But I think the two biggest issues could be resolved with not too much more money per school, it would solve the burnout of good teachers. Nothing will help the burnout of those who should not be teaching.

We ask a teacher to trade, for somewhere between $25,000 and $60,000, depending on the district, and the specific case, her (or his) life from about 7 am until 3 pm, with hardly a bathroom break, to deal with immature students who bring a myriad of issues from a wide spectrums of home life. We expect you the teacher to educate this room full of individuals, check the work you assigned them earlier, keep order, heal the sick, plan tomorrow’s lesson and generally plan and follow a plan for the entire year.  Oh, and realistically, the teacher ends up with 2-5 hours “after work” work.

This we ask of a 23 year old who has done nothing but be a student for 16-18 years, including a bit of student teaching towards the end.

My plan is simple. Most teachers who have been in the classroom for 10 plus years have a wealth of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. My thought is that we could greatly reduce the recruiting cost caused by good young teachers getting overwhelmed and/or lured away by private sector offers that typically are a lot less headache than being in a classroom. To combat this whole “learning to swim or drown that is too common, and to prevent the teacher who is a wealth of knowledge from moving on if he/she feels a lack of challenge in the classroom. When a new teacher is hired, she would be paired with one or two other new or newish and one senior teacher. The senior teacher does not have her own classroom. She writes the lesson plan, she covers for the teachers when they need a restroom break, she might even fill in for absentees.

The senior teacher is the advisor, the confidant, the trainer who takes over where the student teacher’s advisor had left off, the one, as time goes by, who teaches the newer members the ropes, so in the salary of say four teachers, instead of three, we create enough work force to do the job in a reasonable humane way. We stop the burnout, we make sure the kids get the best education possible. You could say, but we are paying our best teacher $50,000 to not teach. Wrong, we are paying our best teacher $50,000 to be in three classrooms, to teach the teachers and to help the teachers teach near to the level the one senior teacher can teach for 60-75 kids instead for 25 kids while 50 kids get a substandard and inconsistent education. We will offset a lot of this costs thru a lack of spending on recruiting, as the teachers stay and eventually move up to senior status, replacing the retirees and expanding as the need for more senior teachers arise. Done well, this would solve a lot of problems in a way that removing tenure and union bargaining never will. Done poorly, it would leave us with disgruntled senior teachers who wish they were in administration, and new teachers who never learn the skillset they need because they lean too heavily on the senior teachers.

I believe  committed leadership and community support would assure our children get a good education, our teachers would spend a lifetime feeling fulfilled by the great work they are able to do. If the tax payer gets better educated children and the business community gets a better prepared workforce, we all win.

As an aside, my youngest son has been in Gifted public schools since kindergarten. I think he has received a better education than most kids whose parents pay in excess of $20,000 per year. Part of this has to do with him being a pretty bright boy whose parents made enough money and had enough inside knowledge to know it was worth a few hundred dollars to get him tested when he was 5. (That part should not be, as it precludes too many poor children, especially poor children of color).

And secondly, again, because we were able to, and I am a firm believer in it, I was a regular volunteer at his elementary school. We need to find more ways to let parents be “part of the school”, even if they work long and odd hours, even if they barely speak English, even if they don’t really have enough money to buy groceries. Not only does very school need the help, and not only does every parent need to feel invested and empowered, and nothing does those two things like being a well used volunteer, but every school needs as broad of a base of experiences as possible, and if every parent can be a part of the school, it makes the entire school a richer place!

My biggest complaint about public education are all the “other kids” Yes my son tested at a very high IQ, and we even had to move him up a grade because his boredom even in gifted, was leading to behavioral issues. He is still a 10 year old boy, but he is no longer getting into trouble in ways that can directly attributed to boredom. I believe kids who are of “average intelligence” should be given the same enriched education opportunities now reserved for children like my son. Maybe there should be a gifted and non gifted grading system, but to say, at age 5-7, “oh, that child is ordinary, lets not waste our best teacher, our best teaching methods (including major chunks of learning opportunities outside the classroom) on this child.” is not only unfair to that child, dooming them to a likely substandard opportunities throughout his/her life, but also, quite possibly dooming the world as we know to missing out on the great work of “average people” who are challenged to reach their potential which is often much higher than anyone thinks!!!