Sunday, October 30, 2005

No Excuses for Texas

I was just reading Steve Urquhart's blog. He proposed some changes that the Utah Education Monopoly could make to improve education in that state rather than the union's effort to get more money. The teachers think that by spending more money students will learn better.

He proposed some things that the Utah Education Monopoly should rally behind if they really care about students. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently interviewed on a similar issue. The unions talked about tenure, pay raises, benefits, and other topics. According to Arnold, they never once mentioned what was good for students. Steve's suggestions are these:

1. Increased pay for the best teachers.
2. Increased performance in math for grades 4-6.
3. Increased ability to terminate the worst teachers.
4. Increased pay for starting teachers.
5. School choice.

Obviously, the Education Monopoly of Utah won't support these things.

My problem with the Education Monopoly is as follows. Essentially, public schools take our money and put out poor quality. They take more and more money with the same or worse results. When we call them on it, they respond that they need more money. They need more money because kids can't think on an empty stomach, kids can't learn in hot classrooms, kids can't learn if a teacher does not have an overhead projector, kids can't learn if they don't have books, kids can't learn if their self-esteem is low, kids can't learn if they don't get enough sleep, kids can't learn if they don't get rewards, kids don't learn if this or that. There is no end to the things that prevent kids from learning. Here is a novel idea, kids can't learn if a teacher isn't cut out for the job. If the teacher can't perform, get rid of the teacher and hire somebody who will.

I am upset about the TAAKS. This isn't the Education Monopoly's fault, it's George Bush's. Here is my problem with that. The TAAKS has minimum standards that students should meet to pass to the next grade. I repeat, minimum. Teachers put a lot of time and effort teaching kids how to meet a minimum. Principals and school districts require teachers to set this time aside to prepare for the test. Rather than teach kids more than is necessary for the test, they aim for the minimum. GW talks about the soft bigotry of low expectations. The TAAKS merely guarantees it, except that it establishes an acceptable low level. If GW could run for president again, I'd vote for him again. The TAAKS, however, is his most glorious brain fart as governor. I wish the TAAKS would die.

I would support school choice. Actually, I do support school choice. As I think about the model, I am discovering some logistical and other problems. So, I need to think about school choice a little more. The whole problem that I am finding is related to the economic concept of scarcity. Schools can only accept so many students. Obviously, top schools would want top students in order to maintain their reputation as top schools. If you recruit only the best and the brightest, you will undoubtedly BE the best and the brightest as an organization. What about the slow and the challenged? Where do they go? Who will teach them if their best isn't good enough for the best or second or third best schools? What motivation do you have as a teacher if the deck is stacked against you with "challenged" students? Maybe I misunderstand how school choice is supposed to work. I'll look into the issue.
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