I am having a huge issue with the school my daughter goes to now, the teacher knows that she is bored out of her little noggin, completly agrees that she is not able to teach those kids who are ahead of others yet the schools do nothing about it. The things she is reading now (in the first grade) are things she read 3-4 years ago.
My daughter went to school in one of the best school districts in California, and she still had this problem, but it's much worse in the poor school districts.
The fact is that school budgets have been decimated. Even the best ones where locals willingly support increases in property taxes are getting 75% or less of what they once were. Poor districts are teaching more students on half the budgets they once had. Federal funds have been slashed, state funds have been slashed, and only the rich school systems have even some semblance of what they once were.
Moreover the concentration on testing means that anything that does not improve the schools test scores is a meaningless frill, so academics and extra curricular stuff has gone out the window. What used to be free when I was a kid--like band, sports, arts, pep squad--are all now activities that come with fees.
Whose fault is this? It's not the teachers: they don't make these decisions, and in fact they do try to go out of their way in many cases to try to help kids out when they can, but they've got to both leverage their limited time (focusing on things where they can help multiple kids at the same time) while avoiding being scolded for expending any energy on things that do not improve those sacred test scores (test scores by the way are specifically designed to foster mediocrity because the thing that affects the averages is the performance of the two middle quadrants of the bell curve, not the high or low end).
The school administrators are the ones who've hacked back the offerings and cut back the teachers and increased their workload to the point where there isn't a whole lot of free time, but they're simply trying to deal with the fact that those budgets have been slashed to the "life support" levels.
So what's left? It's those budgets that the politicians have been driving through the floor, knowing that it's only the parents with kids in school who care, and even they can be swept up at election time with promises of lowering taxes without detailing what the costs of that cutting is.
...I suppose it's true that most, but definitely not all, people graduate from high school knowing how to read, do basic math and have the skills to support themselves in some way. But I don't believe that schools teach critical thinking, at least not on purpose. ...
Interestingly enough, Critical Thinking is the biggest change in the new Common Core standards that are being instituted this year in many states. The biggest problem with it so far is that the standards are being instituted *without* any curriculum being developed yet, so all of the teacher's spare time this year is being sucked up by having to develop course content from scratch. School districts used to have specialists who developed this material using material from the state, but those positions at both the state and local levels were long ago cut down to nothing, so it's the teachers that have this second full time job added to their existing teaching job.
What's the solution? Well there's been lots of talk from conservatives about charter schools and vouchers. Ignoring the contentious issue of having the state fund religious schools through vouchers, these solutions have two main foundational principles:
- Teachers Unions keep bad teachers on the job, and private/charter schools eliminate unions and lower costs.
- Private/Charter schools let students who have the abilities and really want to learn the opportunity to do so without distraction.
This sounds fabulous in isolation, but the devil is in the implementation details:
- While there are certainly lots of bad teachers (again even in a top 10 California High School, my daughter had a slew of them), there really aren't any more percentage wise than you'd find in any non-union business: I've had to deal with hundreds of direct reports in my life in supposedly choosy, high paying, "meritocracy" of high tech, and I can't tell you how difficult it is to get rid of people even when there is no union involved. An obnoxious, lazy employee who at least knows what they're doing is always hard to replace, and you put up with it. Unions can do better at cleaning up their act, pushing tenured teachers to "stop making the union look bad," but I get the same pressure from my executive team and it's the same problem. Where this theory really goes wrong is in saying that eliminating the unions will lower costs: Teachers are not assembly line workers, the job they do is equivalent to middle management, having direct reports (students), a budget, amorphous goals (get good scores doing whatever you need to do), coordinating programs with other managers (teachers in the same grade in other departments), etc. and yet there's this assumption that they're so easily replaceable that if it weren't for the union there'd be plenty of teachers to choose from at a much lower wage. Of course anyone who has taken Econ 101 knows that if you want to improve quality of the labor you have access to, you need to pay *more*. The largest exodus out of the teaching profession has come from the fact that there are much better paying jobs with the same skill requirements (complex middle management, with excellent communications skills).
- The interesting thing about the second argument is the way that it's worded, glossing over the fact that the result of "cherry picking" students from the public schools is that the worst students are then left dumped in the public schools. It should of course then be a self-fulfilling prophecy that the charters get better test scores, but you know what's happening? Because the Charters are picking up the teachers that can't make it into the higher paying public schools, the test scores are at best the same and in many cases *worse* than the public schools. This is the core of the backlash against charters that is not only coming from the evil unions but from parents as well, especially when they are in a position of having to pay more for a poorer education.
This is not a pretty situation and it is certainly going to take some work to fix, but the bottom line is that paying less and getting more is not a realistic assumption and that's the first place we have to go to start making schools better.
The main thing that needs to be remembered though is that we all need to recognize that our society will fail if we don't make every effort to ensure everyone has at least a minimal education and the opportunity to do more not based solely on one's economic status.
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education,