The focus should be on quality teaching (part 4) - The Explorer: Columns

The focus should be on quality teaching (part 4)

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Richard D. Brinkley

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 4:00 am

The Times of London rated seven of the top 10 universities in the world as American; eighteen of the top twenty-five world universities are American; and fifty-three of the top one hundred world universities are American. Higher education in America is considered the best in the world. 

In comparison, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) K-12 scores have been flat since 1973. The U.S. Department of Education found that the percent of students completing high school in four years is 75 percent, about the same level as in the 1970s. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that of those high school seniors who in 2009 took the biennial NAEP, fully 74 percent scored below proficient in math, 62 percent in reading and 79 percent in science. 

HBR further cited, “While the U.S. stagnates, other countries are pulling ahead. For instance, in 2009 the latest round of comparative international exams administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation Development (OCED), American 15-year-olds ranked 25th in math, 17th in reading and 22nd in science among its 34 member nations. 

Chinese students took the tests for the first time in 2009 and blew everyone away, ranking first in all three-subject areas. More than 50 percent of China’s students scored in the top two levels (out of six) in math, while less than 10 percent of U.S. students did.” How can it be that America’s K-12 student achievement is so mediocre? 

But change is beginning to permeate the left. Democrats for Educational Reform have begun questioning teacher unions and their influence in the education complex. John Podesta, chairman for the socialist Center for American Progress and former Chief of Staff to President Clinton said, “I think the complete division between unions and reform is not helpful. We have to let that go.” In other words, the teachers unions are a recognized problem.

The Koret Task Force on K-12, an elite team of education experts formed by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University to work on education reform, found that public education, specifically teachers’ unions, has resisted innovation in technology, training, accountability, compensation, etc. 

Does your K-12 school integrate computer learning in its curriculum? If you have a computer, go to www.khanacademy.org. It is free. It is an example of what can be done to integrate computer learning. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation lent its support to the Academy. Why hasn’t the public education complex created its own Khan Academy? The answer is simply the difference between a first rate K-12 system and a second rate K-12 system: The former embraces technology; the latter rejects it.

Public education has long been a non-competitive industry. In fact, the greatest educational achievement in the history of the United States occurred outside the public education complex: the introduction, development and expansion of the Internet.

The Task Force has identified two characteristics of public education that prevent K-12 from excelling. First, K-12 practices are erroneously controlled by government agencies; American university practices are not controlled by government agencies. Second, dubious teachers’ unions whose focus is always on money, not the children, permeate K-12.

Governor Bobby Jindal recently charged that, “There is one entity working every day, spending millions of dollars every year, to make sure you never get the opportunity to get your child out of a failing school and into a different school, and that is the teachers union.” 

It is only recently that the public education complex has faced competition in the form of charter schools and home schooling. In response, states have allowed open enrollment (parents can choose any public school, not just the one in their neighborhood). 

Charter schools offer an environment for experimentation that is rarely attempted in the public education complex due to the political opposition by teachers’ unions and administrators. For teachers’ unions, when they say, “it’s for the children,” it’s really about the money.

Our schools need performance metrics. Our schools need a Teach for Arizona program modeled after Teach for America. Our schools need to eliminate the barriers of teacher and principal certification. Our schools need to rid themselves of fat and happy teachers unions that have failed the test.

Readers of this column need to contact John Huppenthal, Superintendent of Education (1535 W. Jefferson Street, Bin #2, Phoenix, AZ 85007 or adeinbox@azed.gov), to demand educational improvement.

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