23 August 2012

U.S. Education Is Great! Go USA!

Is there an article out there about United States education that doesn't complain about it? That doesn't point out that according to some condescending international test, we're not as good as other countries? That doesn't decry teachers or parents or students or districts in some way? And then each makes some sort of attempt to offer the solution to 'fix' American Education. Each seems to pull data from the same pool and interpret it differently.

I've had it.

The Data
I don't know a lot of data, but let's start with this simple bulleted list:

  • 314 million — population of United States
  • 55.5 million — number of K-12 students
  • 14.2 million — number of computers (roughly 1:4 ratio of computers:students)
  • 7.2 million — number of teachers
  • 98,706 — number of schools
Not to mention the continental United States is nearly 3,000 miles from coast to coast, comprising of several unique and distinct cultures and resources. Anyone that thinks they can summarize the problem and then fix it must be out of their mind.

The Problem
Sometimes I get a little out of my mind and think I've figured out the problem and solved it in one fell swoop. Like right now. Because I'm claiming that 'the problem' is the idea that it's only one problem, and that it spans the country.

Another problem I see with these sweeping generalizations is that we all hear about how standardized tests do not accurately reflect student progress or understanding, yet we still use these results to judge our system.

The Fix
Obviously I'm very much against any Washington folks thinking they know best. After all, no one could possibly be aware of all the educational problems of a country of more than 300 million people. Committees might even be worse.

Educational problems need to be solved locally. We need teachers who care about their students' education, and who are part of the community. If the teachers aren't doing this, then we need principals who know what's going on in their schools, who know their teachers, and who are invested in the community, and therefore do everything they can to make sure good teaching is happening. If principals aren't cutting it, we need district officials that actually know the principals, and do everything they can to get good ones in their schools.

Maybe most importantly, and the hardest to cause to happen, we need parents who know what's happening in their children's schools, who know the teachers and administrators, and constantly push for the best.

We don't need more legislated checklists and hoops to jump through.

The Examples
I teach at a perfect example of what I'm talking about. A large portion of parents are very involved in the school. The teachers are involved with the community. The administration knows and cares about their teachers and parents.

The district I belong to is an example of what doesn't work. They have occasional district meetings and trainings that I'm convinced are set up only because of some checkbox they have to mark. We use an absolutely ancient gradebook system that probably infuriates me more than anything. The district has control over the state money certain programs receive, and I have to send a form over to the district and wait a week for them to sign it and send it back before I can spend it. They don't have a clue what my class is doing, or how I'm using the equipment, so why do they have the responsibility to sign the form? At the end of last year they suddenly decided they wanted to have a list of every piece of equipment I had in the classroom. No explanation why, no feedback when I turned it in. Just another hoop to jump through, another task to complete. The district personell over me have pretty much no clue who I am or what I'm doing with my class.

And now the state. As far as I know, there's one person over the whole state's technology education program. I've meet him twice: once before I graduated, and once last year when he was doing school visits. He had zero interest in me or what I was doing. He just talked for an hour about what I'm doing wrong according to some paper I filled out one time. And then he left and I went back to doing what I know how to do.

Time to Wrap it Up
I started this post talking about how great American education is despite what you may hear. That's because at my school, it is great. We have English teachers adopting new standards earlier than necessary because they believe in them. We have computer teachers at the cutting edge of technology because they're aware that their subject is constantly changing and they want their students prepared even though they don't have to. We have a variety of other positive things happening because we have parents and administrators who care and appreciate good teachers. You can't legislate this. All you can do is help in your area. If you're a parent, you get to know your child's teachers. If you're a teacher, you do what you know you need to do and stop complaining. If you're an administrator, you pay attention to your teachers and the students and you respond to needs and show appreciation for them. If you work for the district, you quit acting like a government employee and you do more than the absolute minimum and you demonstrate some customer service.

And I'm done.

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