For over forty years now, the U.S. has been falling behind the rest of the world in K-12 Education. I am now going to say out loud why that is happening, and I will show you my most important evidence.
The primary reason we have such lousy K-12 education is that the great majority of people involved in K-12 education are (You choose) intellectually challenged or just plain dumb, and we will not be able to solve the problem until we get entirely different people involved in K-12 education.
1) I have already told you about my experiences in the School of Education at the University of Southern California. First, I was in a "seminar" with about 80, mostly female, K-12 teachers. The instructor wouldn't put my grades on the board after each test. And I am not all that bright. In the second seminar, Problems of College Teaching, another, smaller seminar with the same people, the instructor and the entire class were angry with me because I said the text book, Jonathon Livingston Seagull, was inappropriate.
2) Randi Wiengarten maybe a nice lady, but she is also, and has been for a long time, head of the national teacher's union. And she is dumber than a stone. Don't take my word. Listen to her talk and read her paid ad in the New York Time every Sunday.
3) I am not even sure that Diane Ravitch is a nice lady, but she sure is a loud voice for removing any accountability from the class room. Even Randi doesn't go that far. Read her book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System-How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education". And this crap comes from a woman who has never actually taught one day in a K-12 class. She is just awful, but she has ears in Washington. Shame on them for listening.
4) The Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation has spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars supporting K-12 "experts" who have definitely concluded that "small" schools are the key to improving education. Then they spent more hundreds of millions more creating small schools, and guess what, they weren't a damn bit better than big schools, and some of the small schools were the worst in the country. (see #6)
5) You can read the McKinsey report in an earlier post. But what is says is that in those countries in the world that have the highest performing students, they get all their future teachers from the top one third of the College Board test, and they pay them like scientists and top flight managers. We get the majority of our K-12 teachers from the bottom half and we pay them crap.
6) Now read this article from this week's Economist entitled "Lessons from a great school." It says everything I have said in spades. And pay particular attention to all the "problems" that Randi and Diane whine are keeping us from having GREAT SCHOOLS!!
Lessons from a great school
Autonomy for schools is producing some remarkable successes. Can others learn from them?
Feb 4th 2012 | from the print edition
As happened to a few dozen failing institutions under the previous Labour government, Mr Riley’s school was turned into an academy—a state school removed from local council control and given new freedoms over staffing and teaching methods. Six years on, Paddington Academy draws its pupils from the same estates. But the school is unrecognisable.
Last summer 69% of pupils met the benchmark for good GCSEs, easily beating the national average. More than half come from homes poor enough to earn free school meals and more than three-quarters do not speak English as a first language, making its intake exceptionally “challenging”, in Whitehall jargon.
Now when Mr Riley meets teenage students they seek advice about university. His dream is to return to Paddington Academy to teach full-time. It is easy to see why. The school is a success, recently earning an “Outstanding” grade from Ofsted school inspectors. It is, more subjectively, an impressive place. It feels calm and academically ambitious. It hums with optimism.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has put great faith in school autonomy: there are now 1,500 academies in England. A single column cannot pretend to prove that faith right or wrong. Bagehot spent time at Paddington last month with a more modest goal, to look at one successful school and try to discern what makes it different. Two big lessons jumped out.
First, Paddington is built around remarkable people. An unusually high proportion of staff come from Teach First, a programme that sends highly-qualified graduates into challenging schools for at least two years. Staff stay late for homework clubs that run until ten at night (many pupils come from crowded homes) and volunteer for weekend workshops. A teacher guiding 15-year-olds through a thoughtful debate on British manufacturing was a Treasury economist before switching career. His economics GCSE class is an experiment, part of a policy of promoting more academic subjects. Maths is the most popular subject for the oldest, sixth-form pupils, followed by sciences. Create an expectation that students can take hard subjects, and they will demand them, the teacher says. Thanks to pupil lobbying, the school now offers the astronomy GCSE.
The students’ families—from Africa, Bangladesh, Iraq, Kosovo and the Caribbean in the main—are remarkable, too. Many went through “trials and tribulations” to reach Britain, explains a 15-year-old girl who plans to be a doctor, so “we like a challenge”.
Second, Paddington uses distinctive methods. A motto is: “the street stops at the gates”. There is a strict uniform code, and pupils must remove hooded tops and caps as they arrive. Pupils are educated for the professional world, says a teacher: if they call a boss “Bruv”, value judgments will be made about them. Pupils agree. Using street slang would be an easy option in school, says a teenage boy. Alas, the world “out there” will not be easy.
Competition is embraced. Pupils are ranked on progress against individual targets every six weeks, with results posted publicly on a board. A difficult home life triggers support but not excuses. Some pupils arrive speaking no English: they are offered up to four years’ specialist help, but expectations are not lowered.
Staff enforce the small details of behaviour ceaselessly, with meaningful looks, a warning finger briefly held up, or a word of praise every few seconds. The goal is not Gradgrindian discipline, but the avoidance of bigger confrontations. Good deeds are consistently rewarded, lapses always have consequences. Pupils’ blazer lapels sag with enamel badges for choir, language-learning, mentoring younger pupils and so on. When the school gained its “Outstanding” grade, pupils were crestfallen to hear that this did not bring a badge. The school’s excellent and tireless principal, Oli Tomlinson, finally had “Outstanding” badges made in blue and gold enamel, bearing the Ofsted logo.
No excuses, no barriers
A common charge from academy critics—notably teachers’ unions—is that they practise selection on the sly by excluding difficult pupils. Early on, Paddington did expel some pupils from the old school, but now takes hard cases itself. At a morning meeting, staff discussed the progress of a new pupil rejected by all neighbouring schools: it went well, they agreed, considering it was his first day out of prison. Yet students feel safe. It’s better than primary school here, says a 12 year old: “People respect you.”
Paddington Academy is a brilliant school. That is great for its 1,200 pupils. But for others to benefit, Paddington’s strengths—its remarkable people and methods—must be echoed elsewhere. Methods can be copied. It helps that Paddington is part of a chain of academies sponsored by a charity, the United Learning Trust, driving the spread of good ideas. It also helps that school league tables are being beefed up with much more data, making Paddington’s success more visible. Remarkable people are harder to reproduce. Yet Paddington’s dynamic young teachers talk of their luck at working at a school which transforms lives. Mr Riley, fresh from university, longs to join them. The country needs more Mr Rileys. Schools as inspiring as Paddington are a good first step.
7) So here is the solution to our K-12 education problem, and it is a serious one. Double the salary of K-12 teachers, and let the market take care of the rest.
And good luck with that one!!