Saturday, September 3, 2011

Still More Musings About Reforming Education With Values And Plan Planks, Sort Of

In a comment to the previous post Cory asks,
So to win, do we need to shout more loudly, or do we need to find judges with different paradigms?
If I may be permitted another debate analogy, we need both an extra-topical and an effectually topical plan that both wins on the facts and changes mindsets.

Let me offer two quick observations.  First, I apologize for the debate jargon sprinkled throughout the post. I'll try to keep it to a minimum. Second, I'm not sure I know how to accomplish any of what follows, but every task needs a to do list of some sort.

I have three points at the value level.  First, teachers need to stop with the "save the children" talk.  There's an organization that has trademarked that terminology already.  It has a website.  The other people who "love" children are parents and babysitters.  Neither gets paid very well for "saving" or "loving" children.  Further, it's hard to claim that education is worth paying professionals to do if those professionals use the same phrases as a tweener who will be raving about Lady Gaga 5 seconds after she explains how much she "loves" taking care of someone else's child.

Second, educators have to embrace the fact that they are the machines and robots of the educational industry. Most people are willing to pay for farm machinery and factory robots.  When those same people hear that 80% of a school's budget goes to salary and benefits, they assume their tax dollars are overpaying a bunch of babysitters.

Third, administrators need to learn some technological history to get better bang for the buck.  They go for the new or flashy when they should be trying to determine which technology will win. Further, they need to do more to determine how people will use the tech or react to it. 

For example, Betamax may have been a better product, but it lost to VHS.  Most people use microwave ovens as overpriced popcorn poppers that produces rather awful popcorn that might be bad for one's health. In the past couple of years, schools initiated laptop projects at a time when tablets seem set to become the dominant technology.  Right now, I'm willing to bet that the best bet would be to issue Kindles or Nooks.

More importantly, people a little older than I am may use technology, but they are uncomfortable with it,  They are also the ones who have the biggest financial resources, and they vote.  If they think money is being wasted on expensive toys, schools are in trouble.

Now for the extra-topical plan planks.

During every legislative session, someone should introduce a bill making four years of college free for South Dakota residents at South Dakota schools.  The idea that education needs to be a lifelong event needs to get ingrained.  I know it will never pass but having the argument every year will make.

Find or create a South Dakota equivalent to Politifact.  The big lies are too easy to tell and too easy to believe.  Right now, bloggers and reports who call out those who tell the "whoppers" are marginalized as "liberals" which in South Dakota is a dirty word.

The time may have come to eliminate local school boards and replace them with something like county school boards that hire a county superintendent.  I would hope that some of the small school vs large school problem would go a way.

Finally, I'd offer this "kritik-like" plan plank.  This South Dakota Supreme Court decision states,
We agree with the plaintiffs that the language of South Dakota’s Constitution means that all children are entitled to a free, adequate, and quality public education. The constitutional language and intent of the framers guarantee the children of South Dakota a constitutional right to an education that provides them with the opportunity to prepare for their future roles as citizens, participants in the political system, and competitors both economically and intellectually. The constitutional mandate does not contemplate a system that fails to educate all children or leaves pockets of inadequate conditions and achievement as a result of insufficient funding. As General Beadle so eloquently stated, “The genius of the poorest must have equal chance with the opportunity of the rich.” (italics in original)
The ruling seems to lack a definition of "adequate."  It also doesn't seem to define "prepare" or explain what's necessary to fulfill one's role as a citizen or economic competitor.  Given the vague nature of the state's constitution and the opinion, it seems that every South Dakota legislature's budget should have an "educational impact statement" or the equivalent that explains how the funding is "adequate" to prepare students for "their future roles as citizens, participants in the political system, and competitors both economically and intellectually."  I'm not sure if this requirement needs to be issued by a court or by the legislature, but the conversation must be moved from money first to preparation first.

I am now open for cross examination and points of clarification.

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