Friday, April 26, 2013

What's Really Wrong with Education?

The powers that be keep trying to fix the education system in America and it isn't even broken. Sure, there are improvements that could be made. But the problem we are having with education isn't the educational system. It's American culture. And, unfortunately, that is much harder to fix, especially when no one is trying to fix it.

There are parents who understand the value of a good education and do all that they can to instill those values into their children. There are also parents who couldn't give a rat's ass about education, except that school is a good place to send their kids to get them out of the house and from under foot. Or it's a cheaper alternative to hiring a baby sitter. There are far too many parents who fit the second category. Their priorities are messed up. They can't see the value of making sure their children get a good education because, too often, they don't have a good education themselves.

Sure, I know; it's easy to place blame. But way too many American kids are not getting a proper education, especially in math and science. That is why we rank toward the bottom when compared to other industrialized nations. Countries that consistently rank near the top have a culture of education. Their governments place a high priority on educating the masses.

Part of it might stem from the fact that America's education system is too disjointed. States and local school boards run the show. That is what most people seem to want. But is it really the best way to educate our kids? It doesn't matter whether a student graduates from a school in Massachusetts or Mississippi; they still need to compete in the global marketplace for jobs. They still need to be able to get into a good college or trade school, and that means they all need to have the same high-quality education. How can a student who graduates from a school district that still teaches creationism, for example, compete in science with a student who graduates from a science prep school? There needs to be national standards, and they need to reflect what the students are going to need when they graduate. And they need to be developed by educational professionals, not politicians.

More importantly, though, the best place to spend education money is on developing a plan to increase cultural acceptance of a high-quality education system. Education should be the top priority from the Federal government on down through the states and into the living rooms of parents. I've been a teacher since the mid-1970s and every couple of years the school district or the state comes up with some kind of program to improve education. Most often it centers around improving test scores. This does not improve education; it hinders it. Teachers spend most of their day preparing the students to pass the next major exam and they don't have time to actually teach what's important. Millions of dollars are spent every year on professional development programs that try to teach teachers how to teach. With minor exceptions, teachers know how to teach. The best thing a principal can do for a teacher is to give him a room with decent equipment and tell him to teach. Hold accountable those teachers who don't do their job and let the rest of us handle our classes as we see fit, as long as we follow the mandatory national curriculum.

As far as throwing money at education, that's all fine and good. But it needs to be spent improving the culture of education in this country, not on mandatory programs like No Child Left Behind or ISTEP+ testing. Schools are wasting too much time doing nothing but teaching kids how to take a standardized test. I waste 35 minutes every day in a class called Success, when a better name for it might be Sucks. It is a useless, horrendous waste of my time and the students' time. It's basically drill and practice on taking the ISTEP test or the End of Course Assessments. Divvying that wasted time up among the other real classes during the day would be a better use for that time.

Of course, it's far easier for a politician to come up with another educational program to fund than it is to tackle the real problem. The socioeconomic status of families is probably the biggest indicator of how well their kids will do in school. Bad parenting or deficient parenting due to family structure or single-parent homes plays a huge role. These are the things that need to be fixed. I don't have all the answers; if I did, I would get funding. But then again, maybe I wouldn't, because my answers would address the real problem with education, the problem the politicians aren't brave enough to even admit exists, let alone do anything about.

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