6 Things We Can do To Fix Education

Robert Reich has done it again with a great video explaining the 6 things we need to do right now to improve education 3 minute video to fix education. If we could do these six things, we’d go long was in making schools reflective of the 21st century rather than the 19th.

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In the video Robert Reich says the first thing we should stop the endless testing to allow for great teaching and more wondering. As a kindergarten teacher I can attest to the inordinate amount of assessments and time it takes away from teaching. Students in our district in kindergarten respond to 940 items over the course of their kindergarten year ranging from what letter is this to make a word that rhymes with cat. Not only do these assessments have to be done 4 times a year but are reported to the district then to the state on every child, why? I can understand if we have children who are stuck, not getting it getting a variety of assessments to determine where they are and how to help them, but every child, for what purpose? All this time and energy spent checking boxes and items takes away from valuable learning and deeper understanding.

The second things pointed out in the video is the need for limiting class size to 20 or fewer students. As a teacher I know that class size is critical and it is the only consistently researched element shown to improve student achievement along with parental involvement. Having more than 20 students in any elementary setting is just downright dangerous today. It was one thing when children were all seated in rows like cattle but today’s classrooms require engagement, moving around, collaboration , moving furniture etc. This cannot happen safely in a large group. Also, since teachers are supposed to differentiate to meet the needs of all learners, the larger the group the more impossible the task.

Robert Reich also recommends we increase federal funding. I know this will drive the conservatives crazy, but the biggest problem we had with Race to The Top was not the money spent but the bureaucracy involved with monitoring, evaluating  and determining who should or shouldn’t get funds. In Connecticut, where I live, the inner city schools can afford to spend half as much on public education as the wealthier surrounding towns; hence their students do half as well on all assessments. Let’s stop basing public education funding on property taxes and ability to pay and instead create a level playing field of minimum amounts per student in every district that match the current reality. Indeed it is much cheaper to do this now than pay it later when we have to pay social services, prison costs and court costs for those who don’t succeed in schools.

The fourth argument Moveon.org makes is that we should stop expecting every child to get a 4 year degree and start funding technical education as a vocation. The European union has understood this need for many years. Not every child is suited to go on to college sit and listen to a stand and deliver lecture format and translate that information into a career. My brother and my step son are prime examples of people who thrive using their hands and minds ( don’t forget technology has become so complex we can’t just say it’s using your hands anymore). My brother has been a successful auto mechanic for more than thirty years after leaving a four-year college determining on his own it didn’t meed his needs and going to a private technical college for auto repair. We should help students discover this about themselves far earlier than after spending a year or two in a traditional four-year college. My step son hated traditional high school with all its’ sitting listening lecturing for what purpose? He wants to work on computers, programming repairing, designing. So he left one high school and went to another that offers vocational education. The fact is all high schools should offer vocational training, he shouldn’t have to leave, get up an hour earlier (5:45 AM!) ride three buses to get to his school just to get a fair education that meets his needs. We spend a fortune assessing children, administering state tests, on special education and early intervention but don’t use this information in any meaningful way to help guide and foster our students love of vocational pursuits.

In this regard, the 5 point of the video was that all higher education should be free.This seems to me a no brainer! We invest billions of dollars in the education of young minds and then just feed them to the wolves by the time they are 18. The biggest issue facing all Americans is how do we pay for higher education without going into serious debt ourselves or creating student loans than shackle our young ones into their 30’s paying off an education that may have gotten them and entry-level job if they are lucky enough to find one. Our economy and society can no longer afford not to pay for higher education. When I went to college, UCONN was only $2,000 a year; it’s cost has grown exponentially and is far outpacing inflation now the same year would cost an incoming freshman close to $12,000 a year or a whopping $48,000 over 4 years. If you want to add housing: that would be 25,000 a year for in state tuition. Basically, $100,000 worth of debt by the time a student graduates with a 4 year degree. According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, UConn is a University where “students can receive a stellar education without graduating with a mountain of debt.”

The final big point Robert Reich makes is that we need to pay our teachers more as professional to keep the job competitive and the best and the brightest teaching. When I started teaching 20 years ago,there were many people who started with me who are no longer the profession; for whatever reason they moved on to other jobs other professions or went into administration where the pay can be twice or three times what a teacher makes. I can’t speak for these people but I can say that our district spends an inordinate amount of time finding, interviewing, training teachers only to lose them within less than 5 years to other jobs or professions. Sometimes I feel like a fool for staying but I do love my job. Isn’t that what all teachers say?

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