Tuesday, May 16, 2006

My Ten Commandments for Education

Last week, I posted a little commentary about NEA President Reg Weaver's Ten Commandments for Education. This week, here are my Ten Commandments for Education.
Commandmant One. Thou shall never forget that the most important people in schools are the students, first, last and always. Nothing trumps their importance, not your job or your cousin/uncle/aunt/mistress' job, not your favorite policy, not the school principal, not the school board, not even the teachers. Nothing!!
Far too often, the adults involved in the education of our children look upon their role as somehow more important than the kids. Any policy or program that employs more adults should be looked up skeptically and properly disposed of. Educating kids, while a noble vocation, does not make your personal profession more important than those you serve.
Commandment Two. Thou shall not oppose any one-size-fits-all testing scheme with one breath and advocate for any public school only education model with the next breath. Should thou do so, thou shall be branded hypocritical and disingenuous at best and stupid at worst.
Public education advocates and anti-NCLBers never seem to recognize the hyporcrisy of their statements. If one-size-fits-all testing is bad, then all of one-size-fits-all education is bad, including a lack of school choice. Frankly, one-size-fits-all testing is the only way to ensure that we have an objective method of determining if schools are doing their job. For more, see Commandment Six.
Commandment Three. Thou shall not treat your job in education as a sinecure or as a property right, they are neither. If you are a bad teacher or bad administrator, then you should be terminated, as soon as possible, so as to minimize the damage to students. Procedures should be put in place to make this happen, yesterday.
Just because you have tenure, you should not be protected from your own incompetence. This Commandment goes hand in hand with Commandment One. Teachers, administrators, and politicians are not more important than students and are, quite frankly, expendable if you cannot do your job. Children are not expendable, but adults in education are expendable.
Commandment Four. Thou shall remember that choice and liberty have a longer history as an American institution than public schools. The fact that we have public education shall not deny parents and students the right to vote with their feet if their school is failing.
We can choose our church, our elected representatives and just about everything else in life, but we can't choose our schools or choose to change schools when they fail? How purely socialistic is that? School choice is not a panacea to all that ails the education system in America but it will go a long way to solving many of the problems. Market forces produce improvement in all market participants--this is an economic fact long proved. Monopolies produce no improvements and actually deteriorate over time.
Commandment Five. Thou shall not embrace and adopt every educational or pedagogical fad that crosses your desk. Changes to pedagogy and instructional methods should only be undertaken when supported by verifiable, reliable, and repeated research and testing.
Just because it is new does not make it better. There is a reason why students who learn math through drill and kill do better on tests--because it works!!! New fads in teaching children come along all the time. Unlees they have been solidly tested and work for a majority of students, I don't want to see them in wide use in classrooms. Education is not a progressive movement or an experimental test bed, it is by nature a conservative movement, seeking to retain the best practices. It should be slow to change in methods and quick to change in keeping up with the latest knowledge.
Commandment Six. Thou shall remember the immortal words of President Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but verify." Thou shall trust teachers to do their job, but understand that parents and the public have a right to verify.
We entrust our children to the care of teachers and school administrators every day and for the most part they do their job well. But when it comes to the verify part, we, the public, receive a great deal of resistance when parents seek verification of the job the teacher is doing. That verification may come from regular meetings, phone calls and emails to standardized tests. The slow nature of education requires regular updates and school officials and teachers must understand that parents want something more than platitudes when it comes to their kids.
Commandment Seven. Thou shall not ask for more money unless you can show the previous money has been properly spent. Money will no longer solve the ills of education, better management will.
For decades we, the public have been told that if we just spent a little more money on education, we could educate children better. Yet, no results, no improvement and now, I say, no more money. School systems can no longer look to the public as a giant piggy bank for their fads and infatuations. Prove to me that you are spending money wisely and I will consider, consider, your request for more. Until and when the schools can show robust financial management, rather than robust spending, the bank is closed.
Commandment Eight. Thou doth not need all that bureaucracy. Schools are a place of learning for children, not employment for adults.
Every time the teachers unions talk about paying teachers more, I want to scream. Every time school systems complain about poor funding, I want to scream. No school system needs as many administrative personnel as they have teachers. There is a great deal of talk about smaller student-teacher ratios, but what is the student-administrator/district staff ratio? I am willing to bet when you take all those district level employees/school support staff/bureaucrats and add them up, you will probably have a student-administrator ratio better than teh student-teacher ration and that is wrong. Catholic schools system in Washington, DC reportedly operates with a district staff of about 10 and that is for dozens of schools. If they can do it, so can public schools.
Commandment Nine. Thou shall not make excuses based on your students socio-economic status, race, alienage, or any other classification. It is your responsiblity to teach all students equally.
I am sick and tired of listening to every apologist out there who says we can't teach poor students or minority students because of XXXXXXXXXX. For every one of those stories, we hear of success stories, kids who "defied the odds." Every kid is capable of "defying the odds" and can be done if just stop calculating the odds and start working with each kid.
Commandment Ten. Thou shall not forget Commandment One--ever.
Thus endeth the sermon.

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