Sunday, May 27, 2007

Improving Public Schools

This was another essay required by my English Comp course. It was a problem solving essay--define a problem and offer (a) solution(s). I scored 100/100

Educational institutions aren't educating our children as well as they should. Many public high schools pass our children from grade to grade and finally graduating them without ever having delivered an education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 28% of entering students take remedial courses in math, reading, or writing before starting core curriculum course work. The number is far higher, at 42% for 2-year public schools, like junior and community colleges. (NCES)

Teachers of children are wonderful. They do a job with an enormous responsibility. I have had teachers that have changed my life by the education they gave me. From kindergarten through college, I can recall teachers that have made a positive impact on my life. On the other hand, I've also had teachers that did nothing—or worse, actually discouraged my educational advancement. After taking Algebra II—or rather sitting through a class by that name—in high school, I knew I had learned nothing that would prepare me for the next level of math, so I didn't progress. There are some teachers who merely show up to work to collect a paycheck and perform with barely enough competence to avoid getting fired—just as there are in any other line of work.

Many of us have stories about a particular teacher that, because of that teacher's passion for the subject, a spark was ignited within ourselves and we, too, became impassioned for that subject. Conversely, many of us have also experienced the opposite: that certain teacher that, instead of teaching, maybe hurled the subject at us with such force and difficulty that it knocked us on our backs, and we learned to despise the subject . What does it help if students sit through class with that “fun” history teacher, but are never taught history? How is anyone benefited when a lazy teacher gives out good grades to those students who bring donuts? Too much is at stake. We can't afford to keep bad teachers or those who only pretend to teach. But what can be done about it?

Teachers need to be graded. We need our teachers to have meaningful performance reviews, and if they earn too many F's, they need to be fired. Maybe this sounds harsh, but it's no more terrible than what the rest of us face. If you or I fail to accomplish the job for which we've been hired, we too may face termination. I've determined that teachers must be evaluated with a composite of several different sources: student scores, supervisor reviews, and student reviews. An average of student scores would be used to determine whether the teacher is effectively delivering the required curriculum. Supervisor reviews would act as a means of evaluating goals and achievements. Most importantly, but handled very carefully, would be student reviews. I envision student surveys being conducted at 4 different times: halfway through the class, at the end of the class, and then one year after the class, and four years after the class. This would provide a comprehensive view of how effective the teacher was in reaching the students, and what sort of lasting effect was left by the teacher. These, taken together, would be able to provide a clear picture of how well a teacher is doing his or her job.

Teachers also need to be rewarded according to their performance. If a teacher is good at motivating students to learn and skilled at helping them do so—as reflected in their performance reviews—then they need to be paid accordingly. Hopefully this may also be an incentive to keep the best teachers working in the classrooms for a very long time.

Starting salaries need to be raised in order to attract ambitious and talented people. Many bright, sharp and gifted people I know have considered the career path of a teacher, only to find that the pay is too low for their them. Yes, there are intrinsic rewards that come from being an educator, and knowing that your work is making a difference in peoples lives. But those rewards don't pay the bills. The American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and the US Department of Labor all report that the national average for teacher salary is below $50,000 (AFT, NEA, US Labor Dept), with an average starting salary of less than $32,000 (US Labor Dept)—based on the typical 40-hour work week, that's roughly $15/hour. If starting salary was raised to a level commensurate with the difficulty of the job, there would be more competition for teaching jobs, allowing schools to pick only the best and brightest.

Lastly, if a student isn't performing well under the guidance of a particular teacher, he or she needs be given the opportunity to have a different teacher. Sometimes, no matter how good the teacher is, it's not the right teacher for that student. In these cases, students need to be offered the same course from a different teacher, or even from a different school.

If these things can be done, our public high schools will see immediate and long lasting improvements. Quality of education will rise, enriching the lives of students and their families.

Works Cited

Wirt, J., Choy, S., Rooney, P., Provasnik, S., Sen, A., and Tobin, R. (2004). The Condition of Education 2004 (NCES 2004-077). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

George Jackson. “AFT Salary Survey: Teachers Need 30 Percent Raise Teacher Pay Insufficient To Meet Rising Debt, Housing Costs in Many Areas” March 2007. American Federation of Teachers

“neatoday” “Teacher Salaries” May 2007

Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Teachers—Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle, and Secondary” section “Earnings” May 2007 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

1 comment:

Wes Larson said...

Comments from my English Prof., Audra Barrett:

Wes, What makes this essay so successful is the absolute clarity of your style. Each paragraph opens with a direct, declarative statement. Your voice is earnest but not strident or off-putting. You offer your reader clear facts, but, as importantly, a genuine sense of the human dimension of the problem and how it affects us all. Audra