Friday, January 28, 2005

Fuel for the Fire

Here's an article from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

It's nothing new, but we're still well behind other industrialized nations in math and science, at least from a general population standpoint. And the problem is probably not that we don't have smart kids that are good in math and science, it's just that our problem students are more pronounced in the average. Perhaps it's due to sampling bias in other countries. I know our school's SAT average would have been 24 points higher last year if they had just been able to drop the 20 lowest scoring seniors (~250 took the test). Add a lot of low achievers to the average and things start to look less and less stellar.

This isn't an advertisement for more standardized testing. God knows we already have more than enough. Rather, I bring the question back around to the issue of what are we trying to achieve in our obviously flawed school system? A one-size-fits-all mentality in the name of "fairness." Seriously, does everyone really need to take Algebra II, especially when they can barely squeeze past Pre-Algebra? I haven't heard anyone saying "Well, math skills not so good? Maybe we can at least teach you to turn a wrench, run a sewing machine, type orders into a computer, deliver a package, frame a house, etc." Why not? It isn't fair! But somehow it is fair to torture both someone who obviously isn't or doesn't want to "get it" and the teacher that has to put up with them. (sorry, "teach" them)

At some point, fair became giving everyone the same opportunity. That definition of opportunity means the same classes, same teachers, same whatever. Maybe they should look up the word opportunity. Merriam-Webster defines opportunity as:
2 : a good chance for advancement or progress
Perhaps "equal opportunity" could start to mean equipping students for individual success. I hope I didn't just say a bad word when I said "individual." That'd go against the collective mentality. Or perhaps not. Even Marx himself had this to say:
"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!"
What's so wrong with educating individuals? Not as communists, but rather educating for future success as a productive citizen of society. I understand this is totally against contemporary mass-production style education, but if we're going to take matches to perfectly good piles of money perhaps we could at least try something else when it isn't working. We've been so involved in the business of teaching self-esteem instead of knowledge that the students are getting more and more confident about their ignorance.

I'm afraid, along with others, that under the status quo things are going to continue to progress downward until either: A) we hit rock bottom and then finally try something different, or B) we're too stupid as a society to do anything about it.

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Interesting search engine hits for this site:
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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Extreme Makeover: Part 2

I have been thinking about it and I am fully committed to this education reform idea. I've even worked out a few of the kinks, such as what to do with the folks who can't cut it in academia.

As stated before, the main problem with education is that it lacks competition. So, my plan introduces competition to stay in high school, perhaps as early as the ninth grade.

Some would argue that grades are competition. Thanks to those teachers who just can't bear to face the fact that there are a lot of lazy and stupid students out there and those teachers that have standards so low that a dead raccoon could jump them we have grade inflation to ruin that hypothesis. This goes back to the argument about freezing hires except in a situation to replace crummy teachers (hopefully, with better ones). Hey, if it's a competition for the students, it's a competition for everyone else, too.

So, with competition now introduced into the system, we have an issue of what to do with the student cuts. In a furied frenzy to publish, I have to admit that I overlooked that one a bit too hastily. I offered the option of home-schooling, but then I remembered the education level of a lot of parents that I've dealt with (products of the current system failures). I figured the home education would, in many cases, be either how to make crack or how to smoke it. So I had to go back to the drawing boards. I still want those kids to have a chance at making some money, to be real contributors to society, but maybe our current system isn't the answer with its "one size fits all" mentality. I thought about it a bit and I think I might have a solution.

Trade school. We can have a tiered system. Can't hack it in academics? Learn a trade!

"But vocational is a bad word!"
I know, but I don't know how or when it became one. Hell, my buddy didn't even graduate from high school, learned plumbing, and now has his own plumbing business pulling in 6 figures(before the decimal) a year. Compare that to the measly wage I get with a freakin' masters degree. Supposedly, I'm supposed to have some type of spiritual income from "making a difference" but that don't pay the mortgage, sweetheart.

"But what if they suck ass in trade school, too?"
Hell, we'll always need janitors & McDonald's employees. Besides, we ain't miracle-workers.

"But wouldn't a 'second' school system require more teachers and buildings?"
We can use existing facilities, it's just some folks might have to travel a little farther. As for the teacher issue, perhaps. We could always reposition some existing teachers. But hell, if you were looking to hire more in the first place...

This idea is still a work in progress. To be honest, I've only been thinking about it and this is my attempt to bounce a few ideas out there. I'm looking to refine this hypothesis and I welcome your input, perhaps via the comment section (hint hint).

In the meantime, I'll be thinking about it.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Extreme Makeover: School System Edition

For the umpteenth year in a row, we are supposedly facing a severe shortage of school teachers. I have yet to determine whether the intended outcome of these announcements is to scare intelligent people into teaching careers or to advertise to the intellectually challenged that there are abundant job opportunities.

I usually ignore these messages, but an article in The Onion made me laugh and set those gears into motion to identify a solution. After careful consideration, I think that I might actually be on to something.

Forget the idea about having a teacher shortage. It's not a problem. We have plenty of teachers. Instead of hiring more, just spread that money among the teachers we already have and use a little to have independent review boards give each teacher a real review, not the crap observations we currently have. Make the pay a little more competitive and only take new hires to replace the crummy current teachers.

The problem really isn't a teacher shortage. The real problem is student overages. We just have too many unproductive students occupying space and using valuable resources. Maybe it's just me, but I find it incomprehensible for a school to "graduate" an 18 year old that can't read, much less keep his pants up. (hint: that's why they invented belts and different sizes)

School is overcrowded and understaffed, forget about it. Fire a couple of students. Not just any students, the ones at the bottom of the class. Forget about ethnicity, forget about gender, forget about color, odor, mass, size, shape, sexual preference, beverage preference, shoe size. Forget about it all. Which team goes home from the sports tournament? That's right, the losers.

What you have under this system is full-blown, unadulterated competition, something that is completely missing under the current system. No competition among students, none among teachers, among administrators. The fundamental principle that helped our country became one of the world's greatest economic superpowers isn't even being utilized in our school system. What's the deal with that!? We have to get over this idea of an education being a right. It's a privilege, a privilege that the people of this country decided to invest a lot of time, money and resources into that came complete with a rapidly diminishing rate of return.

Some people might cry "indoctrination." I say cry all you want, this is real life, Bucko. Hell, the people that get kicked out just make up the television audience for the reality show they could make from this idea. Some might cry, "but Johnny has a disability!" I say keep on crying, because Johnny's potential boss is going to want to know that Johnny can't cope with it and keep him off the payrolls. Besides, there should be special schools for Johnny in the first place and there's always the home school option, and everyone talks about how great home schooling is.

It's time for some real reform around here. Stop wasting people's hard-earned tax dollars on some schmuck that doesn't want to take the time away from their pick-up basketball game or their X-Box to do a few math problems, read a few chapters in their textbook, write a few paragraphs, or for that matter, learn to write. Stop wasting the valuable time of the students that want to learn and the teachers that want to teach them.

I know this seems severe, maybe a bit extreme, but that's only because you haven't seen it in action yet. If we're going to remain competitive, especially at a time when the job applicant pool is growing wider due to overseas competition, perhaps something severe and extreme is exactly what we need.