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February 28, 2005

Public High Schools Obsolete?

Bill Gates has declared US High Schools obsolete.

[Gates] called for a get-tough approach toward schools that fail.

"When the students don't learn, the school must change," Gates said. "Every state needs a strong intervention strategy to improve struggling schools."

"This needs to include special teams of experts who are given the power and resources to turn things around," he said.

It seems to me that the education of our children is impeded by failed institutions.

First, the family institution has failed. Parents have abdicated the responisibility of being the primary educators of their children. Second, the public education system has been hijacked by teachers unions.

I am told that in the "good old days," parents would have the presence of mind to register complaints with a local principal about an underperforming teacher and that principal was empowered by the School Board to take the necessary corrective action. Now, it seems that fewer parents are involved enough to complain, but when they do, underperforming teachers are protected by unions and given a pass.

One of my first blog posts was on this subject. In that post, I referenced an article that reported that 53 percent of workers ages 16 and older are functionally illiterate, and asked: Who Do They Sue? Students, who can't read, are passed through the school system and graduated, only to realize that they don't have the basic skills to thrive. My solutions?

Teaching needs to become a profession, not an occupation. Teachers should be required to earn an equivalent of a master's degree to before they lead a class. They should also spend two or perhaps three years completing a residency (low-pay).

As a reward for their hard work, teachers should also be paid VERY well. I'm talking $75K (California dollars) to start, with $100K+ after a five years. This should be a priority in State funding and should be implemented without the crying to the feds.

For this to work, teachers must be accountable to local school boards, which should be empowered to fire or discipline non-performing teachers. What we have now is a charade. The teacher's unions are so powerful they easily stock local boards with "puppets" through grassroots campaign support.

Part of accountability is testing. I can hear it now (especially from my sister who is finishing up her undergrad work at University of Washington and is passionate about education issues), standardized tests don't measure intelligence and can be inherently biased.

While I agree with these criticisms, standardized testing at the high school level can be an effective measure of competence. We're not talking complex alegbra or writing composition here. The study referenced above is measuring basic reading ability.

Any system that allows social promotion or does not hold students back who can't pass a VERY simple test, is a failed system that needs systemic change. Transforming teaching into a profession is one way to effect this change.

Unfortunately, this solution would only impact one institution. It would sure be nice if families met the teachers half way and cared more for their kids' education.

Posted by Rick at February 28, 2005 09:00 AM

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