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Education as a Priority and Teacher Quality

Way back in the pre-blog days for me (April, 2005), I wrote an essay for my Energion.com web site titled Make Education a Priority. You can type that rather uncreative title into a search engine and you’ll find that many dozens of politicians are using it as a slogan, but I don’t see that priority on the campaign trail being translated into real improvements at the classroom level. In that article I put first on the list of my suggestions: High quality, motivated, and informed teachers.

I want you to understand that I don’t believe in minor, incremental changes in education. I think that we need to recognize that education is an investment in infrastructure–people. Spending on good education is not money down the drain. It is going to produce in less costs in other areas, such as welfare and crime, and it’s going to pay in greater economic productivity. Unfortunately, the American people generally don’t want to pay for good education, so they don’t get it.

Now I know some folks are going to talk to me about waste, or lack of accountability. Those are good topics. Unfortunately, the people who talk about them generally (not always) don’t want to pay for a top notch educational system. They want to get the biggest apparent bang for the smallest investment possible. I believe strongly that we should make teachers one of the highest paid professions, that we should make schools be among the best built and best maintained facilities, and then and only then we should hold the educators responsible for providing us what we pay for.

Right now we’re treating our teachers much like our soldiers overseas. We argue about their funding, we send too few of them to accomplish their mission, we can’t make up our minds about the goals, yet we expect them to produce. In both cases, our military and our teachers, they do produce to a remarkably high standard despite the problems.

I still believe that this high quality educational system, led by highly trained, motivated and compensated teachers would be the most important single thing we could do for the future of this country. Thus I was gratified to encounter the article The Blackboard Bungles, subtitled “Three authors take us inside today’s classroom. These flies on the wall reveal how we might fix our schools” on MSNBC/Newsweek.

From the first author, a teacher writing about his rookie year:

It’s not good for kids. (“I would not want my kid in my class,” Brown writes.) It’s not good for teachers or the school. Brown does try, but struggles to control his class and resigns after a year. In his book, we see that good teachers are the linchpin to solid reform. Too often, poor schools become dumping grounds for green teachers. And children are the ones who pay the price.

From the second, a journalist:

Teachers spend most of the year drilling kids in order to help them perform well on exams.

I believe we need teacher accountability, but there’s a key to effective accountability–you need to test the results you want to have. If you want your kids to be good a multiple choice tests, training them for the tests is a good idea. But life rarely comes at you in the form of multiple choice tests.

I commend this entire article. This is a topic we really need to get working on. We need to insist that “make education a priority” becomes not just a campaign slogan, but a reality in government.

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  1. I don’t know, Henry. The idea of high pay for teachers scares me, to be quite honest. Maybe it wouldn’t matter. Maybe people wouldn’t join the profession just for the money. In fairness, I don’t personally KNOW anyone who became a teacher to get summers off, though I hear that there are those who do so.

    I think it’s more important to provide support and further on-the-job training (journeyman style) for new teachers. Rather than attracting new teachers who are brilliant, I think it’s more important to retain new teachers who are CALLED.

    I’ll want to think on this before I say more, but… I feel unsettled after reading this. Either a blog post is rumbling in the back of my mind or one fluffernutter sandwich wasn’t enough.

    Or possibly both!

  2. Well, I never got a trackback, but I’m going to make a post specifically to link to yours. You didn’t actually argue with me on the pay issue. I would certainly be willing to reconsider my view if presented with enough evidence and/or logic.

    But you did get terribly practical, and that’s a good thing, and I’d like to make sure your post gets seen by as many people as possible.

  3. You didn’t actually argue with me on the pay issue.

    Well, that’d be because the only support I have for my perspective is the nagging feeling in my gut! *laugh* I’d love to see some research on the issue, but I’m not sure where to look.

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