Monday, September 27, 2010

Let's talk about education...

BRANDON, 9:00 AM -It's another Monday morning and I still relish the fact my commute is now a mere 25 feet down the hall to my study rather than out on the road heading to some school as a teacher!

I haven't talked that much about my former career in this space. I'd long since stashed my Florida Teaching Certificate when I launched this blog and I have no intention of dusting it off any time soon.

But I am very much involved in the world of education. I teach all the time. Plus I have many, many great friends who make their living in the classroom. I've been talking with these friends, and what I'm hearing is not good. It's still September, but the cynicism and the sense of unreasonable burden is already taking its toll.

And - this is something I must make clear to the uninitiated - no, it's not the kids who are the problem. It's not classroom management either and it's certainly not a lack of professional expertise. The problem is the politics, the way the politics are applied, the school board, and the huge gap between what people think they know about education and the reality of great teachers doing great work.

GATES FOUNDATION: Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has "gifted" Hillsborough County Schools with an education grant to the tune of some $100 million.

I’ve often wondered what good could be accomplished if we ever put our money where our priorities should be and actually invested in education, but I'm honestly not sure that this is what any of us need!

You see there's a huge elephant in the room we simply must address. I’m talking about the foundational set of premises that drives the 100 million dollar train.

Here goes: Better teachers = better schools... better schools = better education... and better education = successful children who become fully functioning adults. So far, so good.

We’re concerned about the future, and we know our children really should be better equipped than they currently are. Okay, no argument there.

Therefore… ergo… we need to improve the teachers. All this leads to the following conclusion; poor teaching must be the reason society is – essentially – on the brink.

Flawed logic! There you go. That’s American education in a nutshell, and there’s really not much to argue about in anything I just said, at least prior to the conclusion. However (and this error is at the root of much that passes for contemporary social and political debate), stringing a series of statements together that are – ostensibly - true does not necessarily prove the case, nor justify so many sweeping generalizations.

In the case of education, there are good teachers and there are the not so good. Professional standards, supervision and accountability often work together to accomplish a "so-so" job - as in any profession.

But, and this statement needs to be hung on a huge banner in every legislature in America - and a few school board meeting rooms for good measure, "Classroom time = a mere 14,4% of a child’s year – and that’s assuming perfect attendance. Kids actually spend more or their lives with the computer and the TV than a classroom teacher! The key variable in preparing children to succeed in life is the home."

That’s worth repeating: The key variable in preparing children to succeed in life is the home.

But the legislature can’t get inside my house or yours, and neither can Mr. Gates (unless Windows 7 is even trickier than we knew!). So we do what we can do and we throw rocks at the teachers instead.

The Gates Grant’s end game is the laudable goal of identification and implementation when it comes to best practices in terms of classroom instruction. But, the initiative seems to be being parsed as “Fix the teachers and everything will be Okay.”

Well, no, it won’t!

  1. Bottom line, the majority of teachers don't need fixing. Hillsborough County’s teachers are already well qualified and competent. They will doubtless benefit from the Gates program in the same way they profit from any of the extensive in-service trainings they already pursue.
  2. The Gates program is a distraction that's already being used more as an offensive weapon than an opportunity to grow. Such an approach will, in all likelihood - negatively impact the classroom.
  3. What public education really needs is a general revival of family life; one that takes more active responsibility for raising children, supports education, and works to re-craft the values that define our culture.

But that’s another post – or series of posts. Meanwhile, we should understand that we can’t blame the teachers for what we seem to be unwilling to take on ourselves.


lanelle813 said...

As another former teacher (except that I, too, still teach--just not in school). And I believe that the buck on education stops with parents. Unless they insist that their children be morally responsible; that they show respect for authority (even when they believe those in charge have made an error); and that they view school--not cellphones, Facebook, movies, and the entertainment industry--as their first priority after God and family--unless parents hold their children to these standards, schools and teachers cannot do their jobs well.

lanelle813 said...

I also believe I should have read my comment and corrected the error in the first sentence before posting it. Oh, well....

lanelle813 said...

I also believe I should have proof-read my comment before posting it. Had I done so, I would not have begun with an incomplete sentence. GRRR!

Jesse said...

Did I read that right? 14.4% of their time in school seems kind of low... Okay, I'm a bit of a math weanie - but 40 hours per week equals a full time for an adult worker. That's 35.7% of waking hours. Our kids are typically in school about six hours per day - thirty hours per week. And homework time (while it varies) runs close to an hour. That would put them at 35 hours - That's more than 30% of their waking hours on school stuff. I think that's adequate time for school. But hey, I think my own kids are getting a great education.

Jesse said...

Alright, so I'm a short-sighted math weanie. 180 (or 186 or 190 or whatever it is now) is about half the days of the year... That'll get us to 14.4%.

No wonder God called me out of engineering!

kathy k said...

Bravo! Families are supposed to raise children to be responsible adults, not teachers.

jacqueline said...

As a retired teacher but still working as a resource person for teachers, the stress I see is unfathomable. There is NO TIME to prepare a quality lesson. The clipboard checker/evaluators from the state and Springboard play gotcha. You should see the whiteboard configurations which are required. By the time everything of 'necessity' is written on the board, there is NO SPACE left for instruction.

jacqueline said...

Ugh...the time recorded for my message is 4:42 a.m. Sorry, my computer reads 7:44 a.m.