I've been listening to the debate on education. A lot of focus seems to be on teacher accountability, on parent choice, and on testing.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of focus on the students.
Because if you focus on the students, fixing education in America is suddenly easy. It's ridiculous easy. It's a three step process.
Step 1: Hire more teachers.
We've past the point of capacity on classrooms. Now teachers can't actually teach. Their job is crowd control. Once you've passed 25 students in a classroom, there aren't enough minutes in a day to give kids the individual attention that will let them succeed. Instead teachers are all about group dynamics, and always end up dealing with the loudest kids, the troubled kids, the unruly kids, just to make the class tolerable. Which means the shy kids, the quiet kids, the happy kids - they don't get to interact with their teacher.
Instead, teachers give them all busywork. Just nonsense, hours and hours of nonsense. They aren't teaching, they're just reacting to 35 children in a room with no help or relief. The job of teaching is hard when you've got 15. It gets exponentially harder at 25. Past 30, you're just hoping no one bites anyone else. And this is when you're in a school where all the kids have three square meals a day.
Students don't need worksheets. They don't, in elementary school, need three hours of homework. What does that do, save make them hate school? A rule of thumb is ten minutes of homework per grade. One of my son's classmates just transferred in from a school that gave more than two hours of worksheet homework a night. In second grade. Now he has less than half an hour homework each week. And suddenly he's not stressed about school. He doesn't have nightmares about it. He likes his classes. He likes learning.
Students don't need worksheets. Students need individual attention. They need to be recognized as people, unique people with individual needs and a distinct personality. But when a teacher is teaching to a huge mass of students, only the neediest or most vocal students will receive that attention. It's like a MASH unit. Everything is triaged, and there isn't time to help everyone.
So we need to reduce class size by hiring more teachers.
Step 2: Teach more subjects.
Not every kid learns the same way. Some kids will respond better to reading something than hearing it. Some will experience the reverse. Some will get it automatically, some will struggle. Kids need as many doors into learning as can be opened for them. And that's where diverse subjects come in. Not just the 3 Rs, but Music, Art, and Drama. These are not extras. They are tools for teaching.
Personally, I think history is taught wrong. It's not dates. It's stories. Tell the stories, make it about the people and their ideas, their struggles and their lives. But that's my door into history. Someone else won't respond to that, they'll want the dates. So you need to have it all. Cutting subjects is cutting core education, not "extracurricular" activities. They're all curricular. They are all a part of learning.
So is recess. Kids need time to let their brains relax. There's only about 90 minutes of doing one thing before they get squirrelly and start to need diversion. And children need physical activity, and play. They learn social interaction through play, and they also apply what they've learned in the classroom in their play. So let them play!!!
Now we come to Step 3: Stop thinking education should be a for-profit enterprise.
This is the new one, and it's wrecking modern education. Corporations have seen all the money going into education and have decided they want a piece of that. But is the goal to put that money into education, or to make a profit?
Here's a scary fact - the private sector doesn't always do it better. Remember when soldiers got electrocuted in the field because the government outsourced the building of their barracks? Did you know that Medicare has a less than 3% staff wage rate - that is, less than 3% of the money spent on Medicare goes to pay the wages of those that run it. The rest goes directly to healthcare. That's astonishing, and minuscule compared to what private insurers spend on admin. Because there are conflicting goals. Provide healthcare. Turn a profit. Those two goals will always be in conflict, and greed will win.
The same is true with schools. Is the goal educating the next generation of Americans? Or is it turning a profit? Because once the latter becomes part of the equation, we suddenly have all sorts of corners being cut. In Chicago they've privatized janitorial services, hiring it out to the lowest bidder. It is more expensive than it was when done in-house AND the schools are suddenly filthy - rats and bedbugs are being reported all over the place.
If student-teacher ratio is an historic measure of quality, what does it say when we pile 35-40 students into a room - one without proper climate maintenance, because they've outsourced that too. The argument is competition is good. The results don't agree. Testing for charter schools is marginally better than public ones, and that difference is easy to explain - the public schools are being drained of that money, and charter schools get to choose their student population. Imagine if all that money was going to hiring more teachers, and giving the students more options.
Some things shouldn't be exploited for money. I think healthcare and utilities should be non-profit, but those ships have sailed. There's still time to save education, though.
These three solutions don't even touch a couple other problems with schools today - lack of student accountability and lack of parental involvement. To the first, remember when getting a B was good grade? When a C student was average? When earning an A meant a huge achievement? And to the second, parents don't have the time today to be fully engaged in their children's education. Income inequality means they're working all the time. Which is why they rely on teachers to make their children perform - and blame the teachers if the students are failing. Teachers are not to blame for a kid's failure. That's called personal responsibility, and it's the parents' job to teach that one.
Oh, and for the love of God, knock it off with the testing. If they spend more time testing than actually learning, what kind of education are they getting?
Focus on the students. So simple, it's obvious to a child. Now if only we could convince the adults...