Rarely do I read something in the Wall Street Journal that I disagree so much with, but today's the day. So, while I should be doing some last minute studying, I feel compelled to make some comments about it.
This article is written by a former IBM CEO who is now very involved in School Reform (Alert! Danger Will Robinson!). First, I'll say that he has a couple of points...first, that school class size isn't as much of an issue as you might think. I like my kids' classes of 15, but research has shown that they aren't critical to excellent education. However, he has some terrible ideas about improving things:
Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.What? NO WAY. Local control is very important, and I say that knowing what a bunch of igmos we have in our local school board. Bigger bureaucracies just mean more layers for incompetence or fiefdoms to develop. The best system we've ever been a part of is the smallest, consisting of exactly two elementary schools, one middle, and one high. Yes, it's private, but it's lean and mean, educates kids for less than the local school board (NOT including special education services), and I believe in it. Next idea...
Establish a National Skills Day on which every third, sixth, ninth and 12th-grader would be tested against the national standards. Results would be published nationwide for every school in America.
Um, no. No, no, no. What good does this do? It attaches our leadership even more to high test scores (not to mention taking yet another instructional day away from the teachers). In our area, of very high scores, the school board and principals have such a death grip on high scores (did you know high scoring schools--GASP!--affect property values?) that they are unwilling to try new approaches which might serve their students better. In my opinion, if you are going to publish scores, it's either "Pass" or "Fail," no more. That leaves passing systems free to try magnets, single-sex, other ideas which may suit their population better than the one-size-fits-all approach recommended by this guy.
Establish national standards for teacher certification and require regular re-evaluations of teacher skills. Increase teacher compensation to permit the best teachers (as measured by advances in student learning) to earn well in excess of $100,000 per year, and allow school leaders to remove underperforming teachers.Pay teachers, fine. But what kind of corporate job lets you have at least three weeks off in 10 months, plus another two month? I've worked in corporate America, and as far as I know the answer is "none." Teaching is a calling for the best teachers, but not every teacher can be a best teacher (by definition). I can buy trying to improve the education departments in colleges--unfortunately they usually have the lowest standards for entry in the university. But I have too many friends and family who work or have worked in public education to believe that these "best" teachers wouldn't really be the best at kowtowing to the leadership.
The problem in both of these is that the emphasis is on the teachers looking UP, at their bosses, not DOWN, at the children they are supposed to be educating. Even my language there is wrong--the process should be driven by the children and their best interests.
It's interesting to me that nowhere does Gerstner mention parents. Does that tell you something? Just turn your little darlings over to the state, they'll be WELL cared for. Contrast that with this article, written by a college student. I don't agree with everything there, either, but even without kids and reams of "educational leadership," he gets it. Hope for the future, if it will wait for us!
I feel strongly that we have a lot wrong with our school organizations, in particular too much bureaucracy or administration and too much emphasis on the next new curriculum.