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Friday, December 15, 2006

New Course For Education?

A report was released yesterday called "Tough Choices or Tough Times" that calls for a bottom up restructuring of the American education system. One of the authors offered this very on target quote:
"The United States has one of the highest costs of education but produces mediocre results," added Knapp, former president of the University of Georgia. "The recommendations are absolutely necessary if we want America to maintain its standard of living."
There are, of course, people opposed to the reports ideas of destroying the current school district, school board, and school administrator relationships, and many of the other recommendations by The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce . Both major teachers unions have already come out against most every idea in the report, except higher pay for teachers and universal preschool.

One outstanding option is allowing students to "test out" of high school after their sophmore year to either attend a trade school or community college in prep for a career or a four year college.

The proposal makes sense, it hits when the majority of dropouts occur, giving those students a path to a diploma; and it allows those who've decided they don't want to go to college, or aren't ready, to start learning a skill to make a living. Two more years of high school does nothing to prepare that student for the real workforce.

The teachers unions are, of course, against the idea. But that's probably because they'd lose students in those two grades, meaning they'd probably also have to shed union members.

The truth is the current system is like having two sizes of shoes availble to you. One says you go to college, the other size is for everyone else. If neither fits you, a life of discomfort awaits.

To boost starting pay for teachers, which is a good idea, the commission suggested moving them from defined benefits plans to 401(k) type retirment accounts, and using that savings to boost the salaries. The unions are, of course, opposed.

The retirement trough is where the educational pig has found the best feeding over the years. One large midwest state has a teachers pension fund that is underfunded in the 20-30 BILLION dollar range. Part of that underfunding is due to the fact that teachers can bank sick days for an entire career, then sell them back at the end (at the current pay scale, not when they were earned), and have it counted as salary causing a huge jump in their benefits. 401's are a lot harder to game in that manner.

The final straw for the unions though, is the idea of killing the school board and districts, and having schools run through charter programs, with corporations handling administration tasks and being held accountable for results. The administrative beaurocracy that has become the educational system in America serves no one well. But the unions appear to like it because it makes it so hard to get below it to hold anyone accountable.

Chester Finn Jr., who wrote the "Nation at Risk" report in 1983 that started a minor shake up in education had a great take on the report:

"There is something to offend everybody, and that approximates my own definition of consensus—a uniform level of pain felt by everybody"
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Blogger Billy Hallowell said...

Interesting post. We have some findings on the public's opinion on education that you may truly enjoy. Public opinion about the education system doesn’t necessary correlate with the report’s recommendations. Believe it or not, most parents think their child will have the skills to succeed -- even if many business leaders believe they're wrong. When it comes to math and science, American parents are actually less concerned than they were a decade ago. And when it comes to teachers, while the report recommends raising wages, our research shows that they are dissatisfied other issues. Feel free to go to http://www.publicagenda.org/headlines/headlines_blog.cfm for more.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

The problem with public opinion is it's usually fairly uninformed, or based only on the snippet of what segment was polled. Policies formed based on public opinion are generally bad one's; that's why studies like this are important.

As for teachers, salary does come in low on complaints, usually because the majority of those dissatified with the pay leave the profession, so don't get polled.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Extreme Wisdom said...

Most parents believe that scientifically proven teaching methods like overlearned automaticity (drill and practice) are counterproductive.

Most parents believe what their kids teacher's tell them, which is a huge mistake.

Most parents think pumping massive amounts of waste into schools (it goes to perks and waste) means their kids will have 'skills.'

Most parents are wrong.

This is not to say that I endorse all of Gates ideas, which frankly still kowtow to the idea that we aren't capable of deciding how we want our kids educated.

But hey, if all the Unions hate it, it can't be all bad (unless its a good cop/bad cop scheme.

We have to fund children, not teachers, systems, or contractors

7:43 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

Before we start spending more on education, let's make sure we're getting more bang for our buck and it really is "for the children" not the bureaucrats of teachers' union.

If we could get an unbiased audit from every public school in the country, we would probably die of shock from how some money is spent.

Sadly there are some underfunded schools, but a big chunk of the schools are mismanaged under the belief that they can always get more tax money.

9:26 PM  

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