Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Changing Education: A Minor Musing

Yesterday, Travis at Dahle Communication ended a long blogging hiatus and posted a few ideas for education reform along with a request for others to do the same.  Travis advocates a longer school year, taking steps to treat teachers like professionals not hourly employees, and paying teachers more.  I have no argument with any of those proposals, but since he asked, I'll add a few of my own.

First, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) need to start acting like the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Medical Association (AMA).  Right now both groups act more like labor unions.  If teachers want to be treated like professionals, our professional organizations need to model themselves after other successful professional organizations.

Second, education needs to develop diagnostic tests that give teachers more information about student needs.  On the first day of school, 25 to 30 students will walk into the classroom.  Three weeks later classroom teachers will start to get an idea of what each student needs.  It might take another three or four weeks to determine what works for each student.  If schools gave teachers better information at the start of a semester, teachers would be more effective and students would learn more. If people are worried about adding administrative personnel, I would eliminate curriculum directors and replace them with diagnostic test experts.

Third, the diagnostic testing should allow students to test out of certain subjects.  Sitting in classes and relearning or reviewing things is a waste of time.

Fourth, the class size argument needs to be framed differently.  A class with people who have trouble in the subject should have 12-15 students.  Classes with students who have no problem mastering the material can be much larger. 

Fifth, students who have tested out subjects need to be allowed a "personal interest period."  Students can use this period to take a literature or science class even if they have tested out of literature or science.  If they want, they can take a carpentry class, an art class, a music class, a computer class.  Taking things that interest them in school setting may help students understand that learning is a life-long enterprise

Sixth, high schools should have a junior college option for students who are testing out of most of the basic classes.  I'm fairly certain that most of South Dakota's AA schools have enough teachers with advanced degrees who are competent to teach 100 or 200 level intro classes.  With the price of college tuition shooting through the roof, this option should help a lot of lower income families send their students to college and allow the student to leave college with hill of debt rather than mountains of debt.

Finally, work to change the culture's view of education.  Right now, teachers seem to be viewed as sales people.  Let me work with the students; someone else can take care of the PR.  Right now, it seems as if everything has to do with marketing the school or a particular department or a certain class.

I realize that most of my proposals need the longer school year and increased pay that Travis proposed, but I think the results will be worth the investment.


David Newquist said...

I endorse your comments. When the NEA shifted from being a professional organization to a collective bargaining agency, it copied the way industrial unions conduct themselves rather than form programs and procedures that embraced the professional needs of teachers. And testing needs to assess what needs are with measures of performance taken only after indicated needs are being addressed. I maintain that the decline in education has more to do with when school boards began to think of themselves as corporate boards of directors, rather than the conduit of information between the public and the professional staffs.

LK said...

I had not thought much about school boards when I dashed off this post. Thinks for that background.

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