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Diatribe: GUEST POST – Is There Any Hope For The Schools?

11/24/2013

MilkenIt seems that every September, as the schools prepare to open, we hear new discouraging reports about the state of America’s education. Each study seems to have another perspective on why our nation sees falling test scores, high drop-out rates and increasing numbers of frustrated teachers who are simply leaving the field for better personal and professional opportunities.

These papers are generated by various foundations, think tanks, politicians and professional organizations. They tell us that the numbers of American students who have the knowledge and skills to compete with their peers from other areas of the world in technology, the maths and the sciences drops every year. Fewer students are proficient readers and of those that do read, most are have never studied the great classics or other great works of literature. Most worrying, fewer students have the life skills that will allow them to enter the work force after high school while a large percentage of high school graduates lack basic general knowledge that will enable them to succeed in post-college learning frameworks.

The first challenge is to figure out what is causing the decline in America’s educational system. Depending on to whom you speak you can hear a variety of opinions. Some pundits claim that the education system is in trouble because there’s too much emphasis on testing while others are just as vocal in complaining that there’s not enough emphasis on testing.

GuestBloggerObservers are also at odds when explaining the teachers’ role. Some claim that American teachers are incompetent. Others provide evidence that shows that the system doesn’t allow talented teachers to flourish. Is it because the multi-cultural nature of American society prevents the system from functioning properly? Should the system be more proactive in harnessing the diversity of students, including their languages, cultures and ethnicities?

One worrying statistic, however, comes from a recent study that was put out by the education think tank Rand Corporation. The study examines the outlook for American education in the 21st century and presents the growing concern that the most talented and effective teachers — those with a high measured teaching ability — are the educators who are more likely to leave their teaching positions for more prestigious, better-paying and less-stressful jobs. The study summarizes the situation and points out that while school districts differ to the extent in which their high-performing teachers are leaving the profession, all districts struggle with this phenomena. When more-experienced teachers leave, students don’t advance at an optimal pace.

It’s not easy to figure out how to encourage veteran, effective teachers to remain in the classroom. Class sizes are at an all-time high and teachers are bearing more responsibilities as their salaries and benefits are decreasing. Although many dedicated individuals and groups are trying to find solutions to the problem they must battle politicians who attempt to appease the demand to keep education costs low.

It’s easy to get caught up in the blame game but there are workable solutions. New technologies and methodologies are being introduced to school districts throughout the country, oftentimes with good results. Teacher-training programs are learning to rely on teacher-mentors who can give teachers-in-training and novice teachers the benefit of veteran teachers’ knowledge and experience. Civic and governmental groups are working to raise teachers’ pay and bring community members into the schools as volunteers. Teacher-educators create more effective teacher-training programs and other groups seek ways to provide more advancement opportunities for classroom teachers and improve teacher-administrator relations.

Private initiatives play an important part in offing solutions to the problem. One such project, the Milken Education Award, bestows formal recognition on highly effective teachers. Lowell Milken seems to believe that this will motivate recognized teachers and their colleagues to remain in the teaching profession and become actively involved in mentoring new teachers.

Not everyone agrees that private foundations should get involved in addressing America’s public school problems but there’s no doubt that such initiatives have proven effective in ensuring that dedicated, effective teachers remain in the profession and motivate their colleagues to do likewise — one of the few proven techniques for improving a school’s performance.

What’s happening in your neighborhood school? Is the board of education doing enough to retain the school’s best teachers? Are there other strategies that should be implemented to improve the school’s performance?

Laurie Rappeport

About the author … Laurie Rappeport has been living in Safed for 28 years and worked in the Tzfat Tourist Information Center for 13 years. She continues to be active in the field of Tzfat tourism, running a website with local updates. She is the single mother of five children and is moving into the world of mother-in-lawhood and grandmotherhood. She works as a freelance writer and teaches online for the EdTech Solutions program.

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6 Comments
  1. Very interesting post. Education is so important yet we seem to consider teachers merely babysitters. Here’s a look at how Finland became an educational leader, http://dcmontreal.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/finland-a-world-leader-in-education/

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  2. thedogs'mother permalink

    I have opinions on this subject 🙂 Have worked in the schools, most recently as a tutor for kids in crisis (try and burn down the school type crisis).

    My feeling is we need to divide up the job of teacher. Trying to do it all, with an increasing population of fractured kids (parental deficiencies, drug/alcohol use in the home, poverty, mobility, modern distractions) is impossible.

    My solution is expensive. Have three *teachers* per position. One to develop high quality, clear and stimulating lessons (and the budget to implement them). One social worker to monitor the students’ behavior using the Love and Logic method of classroom management. And one to take care of all the administrative details including contacting parents and running interference with the administration (note the adversarial position regarding the administration…) .

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    • I love this idea. At the end if the day all the problems could be lessened with more money.

      One if the reasons I can’t watch professional sports on television is because I can’t help but think about how much the players are paid while teachers get by on so little and often have to furnish their own classroom.

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  3. Great post. I am not a fan of the blame game, as usually there is never one thing to point at. In my mind, the decline is due to a multitude of factors – good teachers leaving due to poor pay and stress, leaders trying to fix things without data and doing their due diligence, teachers not feeling empowered to try new ways of learning (like the teacher who had white boards around the room where kid did math problems on the board with the teacher strolling around to help), parents who are distracted, busy, and single providers, who do not (and cannot) devote time and attention to their kids schoolwork, poverty causing kids to fall behind before school begins because they have heard 32 million fewer words than kids in more economically stable families, poverty causings kids to be malnourished and worried about where they will be housed, and kids who have a proclivity for evocative entertainment who get bored, if not entertained continuously, etc.

    A top quartile teacher can be equated with two grades difference in learning from a bottom quartile teacher, so we need to attract, retain and reward good teachers. And, we cannot spend enough money helping kids at the youngest ages, as the payback over time will far exceed the costs. Finally, we need to better liase with parents on helping them help their kids. Thanks, BTG

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