The President Discusses Education

Visualize Chuck moving a wooden box marked SOAP to center stage. He sets it down, steps up on it and says...

Today, at a speech in front of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, President Obama outlined his proposal of 5 pillars of reform for education and I'd like to comment on his thoughts. If you click on the title of this article it will take you to the White House blog entry for the speech. In short, here are his pillars:
1) "Investing in early childhood initiatives" like Head Start;
2) "Encouraging better standards and assessments" by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in;
3) "Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers" by giving incentives for a new generation of teachers and for new levels of excellence from all of our teachers.
4) "Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools" by supporting charter schools, reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day.

5) "Providing every American with a quality higher education--whether it's college or technical training."
And my thoughts:
  1. While the San Antonio branch of Head Start has had some management problems, there are numerous studies that show that children from disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to do much better in later school years when they receive support from the community at a very early age. It would be nice to see more put into those initiatives.
  2. I hate to say it but this seems to be a "throw-away" line. Everyone wants better standards and assesments but there are real arguments as to what those should look like. In Texas, the TAKS tests have been a dismal failure except to prove that people can easily find ways to punish schools, teachers and, by association, students. By "proving" that public schools "don't work" people can more easily push for charter schools or other personal designs. Every time I receive the grade reports on my students I am reminded of the axiom I was taught in my college statistics class, "If you torture a number long enough it will tell you anything!"
  3. Better recruitment and preparation = good thing. Incentivizing teaching is not a good thing. For many reasons. a) Studies show that "bonuses" bring improvements in a persons job for a very short time. Eventually the employee sees the extra money as an entitlement and they quickly return to their old ways. b) If you expect the best from someone and they agree to the payrate you offer, why would you ask for "better results" for more pay? Seriously, if I'm doing my absolute best then there is no such thing as 110%. Also, we don't REALLY give kids grades of 110...well, in class I do, but when the report card comes out it's rounded down to 100. You can't ask for more than the best and we ask for the best from our students AND our teachers. You are insulting my professionalism when you tell me you'll pay me more if I do even better.
  4. "Charter schools" - questionable at best. Some are pretty good and others are horrible. It's a crap shoot. We're talking about children's lives here. Why do some people get a chance to experiment with these kids? This whole idea reminds me of another favorite phrase of mine, "Hold my beer and watch this!" "Reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day" - I'd like to see the plan before I comment. We know that children tend to lose ground over the summer months and we also know that the current school calendar was originally based on a lack of air-conditioning and crops needing to be brought in. However, you will have a difficult time convincing teachers that those 10 weeks (more or less) off during the summer needs to be shortened.
  5. I've spent 4 years listening to people say that we should plan for 100% of our kids going to college. The truth is, there will always be a number of people who can't or won't be able to enter or complete college. For various reasons. In my humble belief, students should be prepared for whatever comes their way. Some should go into technical trades and others should go to college. It's nice to see someone at the upper levels of government see this also. As a "Career and Technology" (CATE) teacher I'm proud to be helping to prepare my students to be successful in either college or technical jobs.
Finally, the president spoke to students and told them that dropping out should not be an option. A wonderful sentiment. All in all, it seemed to be a great speech even if it was short on specifics. But, as they say, "The devil is in the details!"

One last note, when did education go from a "local" issue to a "national" one. I thought education management was a "States Rights" item and our state lawmakers (in ALL of their infinite wisdom) delegated the decision making to local school boards. What exactly happened to THAT concept?

Chuck smiles as he climbs off the box and exits stage right.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Amen, amen, AMEN brotha!

I once taught a calendar where we had nine week grading periods and then two weeks off - so two weeks in October, two for xmas, two for spring break. A slightly shorter summer, but the breaks in between made it almost not noticeable. I loved it!!

But apparently, it interferes with football, so there it is.