Wednesday, March 02, 2011

How to Reform Public Education

Former President Lyndon Johnson, who was also a shaker and mover in the U.S. Senate, once said of former President Gerald Ford, his colleague in the Senate, that he was so dumb “he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Johnson acknowledged that Mr. Ford was “a nice fellow,” though he did have a bad habit of banging into things, but Mr. Ford, Mr. Johnson said, “spent too much time playing football without a helmet.” None of this political campaign roughage was intended as a compliment, but Mr. Johnson operated at a time when such personal attacks were considered de rigueur.

Mr. Johnson admired folk who could do more than one thing at a time, possibly an acknowledgement that problems faced by senators and presidents are multifaceted and must be solved in a variety of ways by bringing to bear against them a variety of means.

Consider public education. It is still possible, by a variety of means, to snatch it from the rubble.

Public education is one of those federal-state-municipal businesses that is too big to fail. It spends an inordinate amount of money, much of it on salaries and benefits, and survey after survey shows that PE Inc. does not get a great deal of bang for its buck, most especially in inner city schools. Many of its customers emerge from the education process unable to read, write and cipher, while students in other non-public schools drawing from the same sociological pools do much better.

The public education system is able to marshal battalions in state and federal legislatures whenever some infidel proposes a solution to the multifarious problems that beset it. If someone in Washington D.C. is successful in proposing the use of vouchers to create incentives in public schools by giving parents an opportunity to shop around for a more acceptable educational product for their children, the idea is quickly smothered and its proponents are demoted. If a Catholic Cardinal in New York, reacting to a charge that his schools succeed because they are able to hand pick their students, rises to the challenge by telling the Mayor of New York – “Look, you pick out your worst inner city school students and send them to me” – the challenge is scorned and unanswered.

The public education system – a close shop with a bolt on the door marked “teacher tenure” – began rotting at the head several decades ago when state boards of education began to take over PE Inc. At the same time, credentialism increased, as a result of which teacher education courses in state colleges and universities entered a golden age. Tenure and credentialism successfully kept the doors of the closed shop locked against all barbarians – say, a retired forensic accountant who wanted to teach High School math without the bother of being indoctrinated by Jesuits at Fairfield University who, in the silly 70’s, were push Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” on students wishing to be certified so that they might teach their charges how to read, write and figure.

Mr. Freire rather frowned on “teaching,” much preferring the term “facilitation,” a process of imparting thinking skill to students by immersing them in a universe of mostly Marxist content, teachers serving as chief students or “facilitators.” Colleges offering teaching courses, Big Academia, and so called “teachers” have been conspiring for decades in producing the failed educational product now before us.

Any reform in education that might reverse this slide into pedagogical anarchy would necessarily involve: 1) An end to tenure; 2) an end to certification; 3) an end to collective bargaining.

Principals should control the hiring of teachers; teachers should control the formation of curricula. And if they want to teach, let’em. Elected boards of education should control all funds dedicated to education, and if the members of the boards are dissatisfied with the educational product, the boards should be able to reduce salaries as a sanction for inefficient teaching (see 3) or fire the facilitators (see 1). In the absence of tenure, certification and collective bargaining, school system would be able to hire retired forensic accountants to teach fourth grade math, retired journalists to teach writing and bibliophiles to teach reading, all for near pennies on the dollar.

That should do it.

Some of the brightest and most effective moderate educational reforms involving school financing, better choices to attack the achievement gaps in Connecticut, strategies to increase educational accountability and the flexibility so necessary in successful teaching have been intelligently presented by ConnCan, a group devoted to educational improvement.

Serious reforms would open closed pedagogical doors to corrective innovation and at the same time demonstrate to voters electing them that the real friends of education in Connecticut’s General Assembly can chew gum and walk at the same time.
Post a Comment