1.) So, what exactly is wrong with PubEd?
a.) Well, I think the primary problem is that we have folks who don’t know much about teaching and who haven’t spent that much time in the classroom making decisions about how to put bandaids (this push for charter schools, school vouchers, and standardized tests) on the problem of failing public schools. The best case scenario is if administrators actually spent some time teaching in the classroom so that they can see firsthand what it’s like, but I doubt if that will ever happen. Administrators, teachers, students, and parents need a healthy dose of reality and common sense to be infused into the decision-making process at the upper levels of administration.
b.) There is no support for teachers in the schools. It’s like Payne N. Diaz was telling us about how the school administrators where his wife works will do whatever it takes to appease parents, rather than deal with disciplining the problem students and supporting teachers so that they can have an atmosphere conducive to teaching. There should also be some time of mentoring program pairing more experienced teachers with new teachers. The experienced teachers can provide advice, support, and strategies for new teachers to employ in the classroom.
c.) There is no effective discipline in place to get disruptive students to behave. What is the point of having a student remain in class if s/he doesn’t want to learn and/or is preventing the students who do want to learn from doing so? I have told students who thought to question my authority or to disrupt class for other students, that if they have nothing constructive to contribute to the class discussion that they should either shut up or leave. Oh, and don’t let me have to ask those students to leave. Needless to say, I haven’t had any problems with making my position on disruptions in the classroom clear to students, parents, and administrators. I simply won’t have it.
d.) Parents are not active participants in their children’s educations. Speaking personally, I would not have gotten to where I am if it wasn’t for my parents. I knew that if I misbehaved in school, not only would I be punished at school, but I also would be getting a spanking and/or scolding at home. I knew also that when I got home, I was expected to do my homework before I could play.
2.) How can we fix it?
a.) School administrators, politicians, and generally those in positions to have a say in deciding where and how educational resources should be allocated need to get more of a clue, start talking more to teachers who are working in the trenches trying to teach to the best of their ability with little to no support from administrators or parents. The best way to support teachers is to listen to them and then try to meet their needs. They will tell you what problems they have and what they need, and a lot of times they have wonderful ideas on how to fix things. Instead of shunting money off into designing standardized tests and providing school vouchers, pay teachers a livable, competitive wage. Many folks who would make wonderful teachers opt not to do so because they can’t afford to.
b.) I truly don’t understand this focus on standardized tests. Not everyone tests well, and it seems to me that all these standardized tests test is how well students take a particular test. Standardized tests are not a valid use of time or resources. How can anyone decide that one test, as opposed to instructors who’ve dealt with students over a period of time, is a more reliable judge of how well-educated or competent a student is?
c.) I’m not sure what kind of discipline public schools should have in place, but the focus should be on teaching students to be responsible for their actions. When I was coming along–going to private schools–there was corporal punishment. I only had to get spanked once in pre-school to understand that there would be consequences for my actions, and it was a valuable lesson that I learned. Parents should take an active role in disciplining their children to teach them that there are consequences for their actions and that each child is ultimately responsible for his/her actions. Blaming the teacher when it was the student’s poor study habits that resulted in poor performance is not a viable course of action to take.
d.) Revise the education major curriculum so that teachers learn more in the content area so that they can provide more of a comprehensive view of the subject, not just teach students what they immediately need to know and that’s all. One of the things that frustrated me with math was that teachers focused on the process. They focused on teaching me steps and formulas, and I wanted to know why I had to learn all those stupid formulas. What would I be using that stuff for? Teachers wouldn’t or couldn’t answer the more to my mind substantive concerns I had about what was I going to do with the Pythagorean theorem.
e.) Revise the education curriculum so that built into teacher development is an ongoing effort/opportunity for teachers to educate themselves on cultural diversity. Teachers need to understand where their students are coming from culturally so that they can better relate to these students and find ways to communicate more effectively with those students.
f.) There also needs to be effective guidance counseling in place so that life beyond high school can be demystified a little. I don’t think some students understand what options they have available to them. Not everyone needs to go to a four-year college in order to get a decent job that s/he could do well. The option for some students may be a two-year college degree in a particular vocation. Or some students might need to graduate from high school with a diploma, work somewhere for a while, maybe enlist in the military, and then consider some kind of college education at a later date. Certainly students should be counseled on what kind of employment they can expect to get with and without a high school diploma. If the student opts to go to a four-year college, then what kinds of courses does s/he need to take? You’d be surprised at the things I hear from students about the lack of counseling they get in high school. [sigh] Also counseling must take place as early as possible, say in junior high school, to give students time to choose a path and to act on the advice given.
g.) Parents, students, administrators, and sometimes teachers too need to stop thinking of school as a place where students go to be babysat. They are there to learn, and learning requires active participation on everyone’s part.
3.) How do we pay for it?
Well, that’s always a good question. I’m terrible at math, but I imagine that if folks get their priorities straight, the money can be found. Whether it’s through raising taxes, cutting exorbitant salaries of higher level administrators, seeking out corporate investments, or working in conjunction with existing non-profit organizations specializing in counseling or tutoring, ways can be found to address the concerns I’ve listed.
This list is certainly not comprehensive, but it’s a start.