Let's see if we can narrow the focus a bit. Are there three which you absolutely think are egregiously false? If so, why do you think they're false?
Let's establish some of the basics which seem obvious to me:
1) The American educational system sucks.
2) It particularly sucks for poor and minority kids
3) It has sucked in approximately the same way for at least forty years.
4) The institutional barriers to not sucking are apparently insurmountable with the current interest groups in place.
5) It is extremely segregated by class, race, and income
6) It is extremely hard to recruit and keep good teachers
7) As a result, the schools with the most attractively upper middle class parents and children get almost all of the good teachers
8) The main reason that it is hard to get good teachers (outside of rural areas where it is hard to get good anyone to move there) is that their pay, unlike that of other union workers, is at the bottom of the distribution for their education level.
9) Given that the pay is at the bottom of the distribution for educated professionals, one of the primary attractions of the job is its short workyear and near-ironclad job security. Short of molesting the students or screaming racial epithets at them, it's awfully hard to get fired from a teaching position.
10) Jobs whose primary attraction is short hours and the difficulty of getting fired rarely attract the cream of the crop. The best teachers are either those few gifted passionate souls who want to teach, or women who are trying to match their schedule to that of their children. The latter group is shrinking; the former group has always been small.
11) Any meaningful reform of the school system that actually improves them will need to pay teachers much more.
12) Paying the current group of teachers much more will improve their standard of living immeasurably, but will do absolutely nothing for the students.
13) Therefore, coupled with higher teacher pay must come the ability to get rid of substandard teachers
14) This is not remotely feasible within the existing system
15) The programmes which have been shown to work best with disadvantaged kids are the ones that are heavily scripted, involve lots of repetition and rote learning, and otherwise make life no fun for the teacher.
16) These programmes are rarely implemented, implying that teaching disadvantaged kids to read and do math are somewhere well down the priority list of your average school district.
17) Monopolies are rarely responsive to their customers.
18) School board elections are not a particularly good way to gather feedback on school performance, but other than lawsuits, it is the single mechanism currently available to school districts. School board elections are a particularly bad way to gather feedback in very large, dysfunctional polities like cities.
19) A school where parents may pull their children at any moment is a school that worries about pleasing parents and children.
20) The government cannot hand out money without making sure schools meet basic requirements, like having a building, teachers, and some students. Any voucher programme will also have to periodically test kids to ensure that they are making progress.
21) This is not the same thing as imposing the same set of elaborate regulations on everything from teacher hours to eraser purchasing that currently hamstring public schools, and then complaining that voucher schools don't do any better.
22) Current teacher certification standards are lunatic protectionism promulgated by education schools collecting fat rents for slapping a laminate veneer of professionalism on educators. Any one I have ever met who has done a real degree, and then sat through education classes, has attested to their utter lack of useful content. We have math teachers who are very good at making posters about race, and very bad at math. The way to teach someone to teach is to give them some elementary child psychology, and then have them practice on actual children, who will illustrate the folly of listening to professors of child psychology. "Teacher standards" are the absolute last thing we should be imposing on voucher programmes. Principals are pretty good at figuring out if a teacher can teach.
23) Any voucher programme will have to offer bonuses for educating difficult kids: poor kids, kids with emotional problems, kids with learning disabilities, and so forth. Otherwise, those kids will end up stuck in a ghetto. On the other hand, if you get the pricing right, you don't need to worry about lotteries and so forth.
24) To hell with rich people: if you're in, say, the top 5-10% of the income distribution, you ought to get the same help educating your kids as my parents got, which is to say none.
25) Some people will be worse off under this system. There is no change ever that leaves every single person better off. This is not a reason to avoid change.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Basic Facts About US Education
Do you agree or disagree with the 25 basic facts about education identified in this post?