Improving Education-Part 1

Barack Obama, in his attempt to fix the economy, often talks about the “three or four legs of the stool.”  In terms of educational reform in this country, all too often the solution is the knee-jerk solution to throw money at the “problem” of improving educational quality.  And while there may be some tangential argument in favor of this, there ARE minimal or no-cost solutions that need to be looked at by governments at all levels.  These are my three legs to the stool for educational reform.  The first does involve money.

This is a concept long opposed by teachers in general and by the NEA in particular.  First, this is not merit pay per se where the “good” teachers receive more money than the average teacher.  That will be addressed in part 3.  Instead, the need for teacher pay differential is long overdue.  The problem in education- on the teacher side- is the recruitment and retention of qulaified educators.  Studies and statistics prove that American students compare at least equally, if not better, than their foreign counterparts through the fourth grade.  It is in the fifth through twelfth grades that they lag behind.  And while armchair psychologists have innundated the argument with psychobabble, this is most likely due to the specialization that occurs in these later grades where math moves beyond arithmetic and science moves beyond a general studies program.  And these are the very areas where we lag behind our foreign counterparts the most.

Given the starting salaries of teachers, there is no way a public school district can compete with the private sector for qualified science and math graduates.  In fact, 40% of math teachers do not have math as a major or a minor.  Most American children cannot add a column of numbers without the aid of a calculator.  We are constantly told that the key to our future economic prosperity is through education and high-tech jobs.  The school systems, because they cannot compete with the private sector financially, are the recipients of the “leftovers” in terms of math and science graduates.  I do not doubt that there are very qualified science and math teachers out there teaching day in and day out.  The problem is that there are clearly not enough of them.

Look no further than other teaching subjects- things like English, physical education, and social studies.  Is there any real privtae sector competition for English, Physical education, or social studies graduates?  With all due respect to the English, gym, and history teachers out there, in terms of importance on the priority totem pole, they don’t rank up there with science and math.  Hence, differential pay to attract qualified math and science graduates is simple commonsense.

But wait!  The NEA now steps in and starts their culturally relativistic babble about subjects being equal to “the total education of the student.”  I want my children to be physically fit, to be able to read and write the English language and to learn about American history.  I may even like for them to pick up a foreign language along the way.  But first, I want them taught science and math by “experts” in science and math.

Some states have experimented with the concept through bonuses or housng stipends and the like.  Generally, whenever these proposals come up, no one has the political guts to stand up to the NEA, which inevitably intervenes, and their state counterparts.  Given their political, i.e., financial, clout, these proposals usually die in their infancy.  And, several of these state programs are proposed and designed to attract (1) teachers in general, or (2) teachers to high-poverty area schools.  I argue that instead of these generalized programs, that they be used to attract teachers for subjects (1) most in need and (2) most important to our Nation’s economic prosperity in the future- science and math.  We have to move beyond the liberal, NEA-backed notion that “all subjects are created equal” and all contribute equally to the total student.  I’ll give them that argument if they allow my argument that their “total” student is deficient in math and science!  If we want to see more doctors and engineers named Smith and less named Patel, then that task starts at the lower grade levels.  This is a short term investment in wisely spending school funds.  It merely prioritizes and adjusts the pay scales accordingly.  The hope is that perhaps the educational system can snag more qualified science and math teachers that can teach the skills for those jobs that will be most in demand in the future.

I invite any comments from anyone of any experiences they have had in their home states regarding educational systems, teacher quality, and teacher pay.