D-Ed Reckoning is a fantastic blog on education in America. He has just shared some of his thoughts on how to make public schools better, and more efficient places for learning. Here is his first full post:
The administration’s tentative rhetoric-heavy, action-light education policies aren’t going to work.
Wishful thinking isn’t going to make up the deficiencies.
The problem isn’t necessarily that the Administration’s policies are bad, though in this case most of them are. (The Bush Administration’s policies weren’t much better.)
And let’s not forget that each state has the primary role in education anyway. That’s federalism and it’s usually a good thing. Mississippi’s education needs are much different than Massachusetts’. Why should their education policies be the same? Moreover, no one has found the recipe for providing a good education for all students yet, so the need for experimentation remains. And, the more laboratories the better until one state finds a system that works and can be replicated.
To improve education, the Administration needs to take an important first step:
The current system simply doesn’t work well for many children (and teachers). The incentives are all screwed up. There is not enough “choice” in the system, hence all the “wars.” There is a “reading war” because some parents don’t agree with the reading instruction services favored by some educators, yet have no choice when it comes to selecting those services. Educators should be able to choose what instructional services they offer and parents and students should be able to choose which educator’s services they want to consume. There would be a market for both “progressive” education services and “traditional” education services.
Henry Ford used to offer his Model T automobile in any color the customer wanted provided they wanted black. Ford’s competitors soon offered a choice of colors. Everybody was happy, except perhaps Henry. In education you’re only happy if you like black. If you don’t, you’re at “war” with the system because you don’t have a choice.
But I digress.
The first step to improve education has to be to admit defeat. We picked a bad system a century or so ago and it didn’t deliver on its promises. We tried to educate the masses and we failed. We don’t educate the masses; we educate the same small group of students that have always been easily educable. For the rest, we offer an expensive facsimile of education that fails to educate. We’re good at claiming we’ve educated; not so good on delivering the education. We’re good at shifting goal posts to make it appear that we’re doing a good job, but few people are fooled.
Worse yet, the present system has attracted many powerful entrenched special interests whose best interest is to maintain the status quo. Those special interests are not students or teachers.
Instead of playing the blame game, it is more productive to say that the education incentives are not aligned. They need to be aligned for the system to work. Until they are aligned, no “reform” is going to work. There is lots of data proving this point.
To get the incentives aligned you need to take the right second step after you admit defeat. Admitting defeat provides the political will to take the second step. And, there’s only one right second step. And that is to …
The system needs to be rebooted.
We need a do over.
All the existing ties need to be severed. Then they can be rebuilt. The right way.
After the reboot what would have when the system comes back online?
- A bunch of students with varying education needs.
- A bunch of teachers with varying teaching abilities.
- A bunch of administrators and support personnel with varying administrative capabilities.
- A bunch of school buildings where education services and transportation services can be provided.
- A lot of instructional material and many publishers willing to supply almost any instructional need.
- Over $10k per student for operational expenses from existing tax revenue.
- An information superhighway capable of providing all the information services needed for a transparent network linking parents, students, taxpayers, and educators.
That’s more than enough to get us started on Education System 2.0 – 21st century edition.
Actually, you need to do one more thing. Throw out all the existing rules and regulations and institute a ten year moratorium on all education-specific rules, like we did with the Internet when it was opened up to consumers. When the reboot goes into effect, you want only a bare minimum of rules in place to bootstrap the new system.
Then its just a matter of realigning the incentives which is easy.
That’ll be the next post.
His second post follows:
I noted in the previous post that the public education system needs a reboot to get a fresh start.
To use another metaphor, the public school system needs to be declared bankrupt so it can be restructured, eliminating all the conditions that drove it into bankruptcy in the first place.
The primary reason for the reboot, as opposed to less drastic measures, is to extinguish all the bad contracts, obligations, and relationships they’ve entangled themselves in and have had thrust upon them by political means.
As I pointed out in the previous post, after the great reboot of aught nine you’d have students, teachers, buildings, equipment/instructional material, and existing funding. All that is needed is to restructure the relationship between these existing elements so the incentives are better aligned while avoiding the mistakes of the present system.
So how should the system be rebuilt?
Power to the People
The first, and most important, fix is to return the power to the people. Education funding should go directly to the students to spend on education services as they see fit. One way to do this would be to set up education savings accounts for each student, like medical savings accounts, that can only be used for education services.
People pay taxes for education. A certain percentage of those taxes go to fund the education for the benefit of the public. But a person should a get a credit for a percentage of the taxes they pay each year that goes into their education savings account for at least the benefit of their own children’s education. The idea is to provide parents (and students) control over their children’s education commensurate with resources they’ve contributed into the system free from interference from the government or otherwise. To the extent that students are being subsidized from public funds, then it is likely that taxpayers, through their elected representatives, will want some control how those funds are spent. That seems to me to be a fair compromise.
Teachers Will Be Professionals
Teachers need to be professionalized, whether they like it or not, with all the benefits and responsibilities that flow from that status. We need professionals to do the hard work of education because we need educators to be responsible for student outcomes. Teachers should be like treated like doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. Doctors don’t have to cure every patient and lawyers don’t have to win every dispute, but they are required to render their services competently. If they fail to do so they risk having their license revoked and having to compensate for their malpractice. The upside is that as professionals, teachers will be free to render their services (within the guidelines established by the profession) in the manner of their choosing and free from the silly micro-regulations in effect today because educators have failed to police themselves like other professions.
The main benefit for teachers for professionalizing is that teachers themselves get to decide how they will organize themselves to offer their services. Any professional teacher can put out a shingle and offer services as a sole practitioner. Or than can partner up with one or more lawyers and offer services as a partnership. They can enter into more complicated organizational structures as they grow, much like modern day law firms and doctor practices.
Of course, since educators haven’t yet developed their own code of professional responsibility (especially one that people trust), they’re going to need some objective criteria for determining when services have been rendered adequately. This can be accomplished by …
All Educational Services Will be Rendered on a Contractual Basis
Students and their teacher would have a contract setting forth the manner in which educational services will be rendered and criteria against which learning will be measured. Students will have obligations and so would teachers. Ideally, the system might work like this:
The teachers would determine her entrance requirements and placement criteria. The teacher should be able to determine if the student has the skills,knowledge, and other factors needed to succeed in the class. The teacher would also determine the obligations of the students accepted for instruction, such attendance criteria, homework criteria, and the like. Teachers are in the best position to determine whether a student is capable of succeeding with the instructional methods that will be employed and the teacher’s assessment of her own skills. This is only fair since the teacher will be on the hook for educating the students she accepts. Bear in mind that the more stringent the teacher’s requirements, the more difficult it will be for the teacher to attract students, so this process should find an efficient equilibrium point that satisfies both teachers and students.
teachers will also be required to spell out everything that will take place in the classroom and exactly what skills and knowledge will be taught and learned by the students — what will be taught, how it will be taught, what curriculum will be used, how will the curriculum be supplemented, and the like. The student and her parents should be able to determine in advance exactly what will be taking place in the classroom and what will be learned.
Most importantly, the education contract will specify the class’s exit criteria and whether it has been met by the student. The exit criteria should include the content specified by the State which will likely be a minimal skills test to assure the public that it has gotten the expected value from its investment. The exit criteria should also include any additional content, if any, that the teacher has promised to teach in the education contract.
Also, spelled out in the education contract should be the downstream teachers/programs that accept this teacher’s final exam as fulfilling their entrance requirements. For example, the final arithmetic teacher would specify in her education contract which algebra teachers accept a passing grade in her class as fulfilling their algebra class prerequisites. This will encourage teachers to work together to develop their own standards that will carry students from the beginning of their formal education to the end, whether it be college or work.
As professionals, teachers would be responsible for assuring that all the students they accept learn everything they’ve promised to teach and pass the final exam. Otherwise, the teacher will be given a brief period (say two weeks) to cure the student’s deficiencies through remediation. Failing to cure the student’s deficiencies will result in the teaching forfeiting some or all of the funding she received to educate the student which will go to remediating the student.
Education Colleges Will No Longer Have a Monopoly on Teacher Preparation
Any person with an undergraduate degree should be able to teach if she is capable of passing the state’s licensing exam and background check. This would include degrees from college’s of education.
College’s of education mostly teach pedagogy. But pedagogy should be determined by practicing teachers. Some teachers may find value in the pedagogy taught in Ed colleges in which case they should be free to hire Ed school graduates. Other teachers may feel that content knowledge is more valuable and that pedagogy is best taught by them according to their own philosophy in which case they should be free to hire graduates of their choosing.
Classrooms should be allocated to teachers who’ve attracted sufficient students in the district the school Building serves
Since the community owns the school buildings and the equipment therein, these resources should be offered to any teacher who has attracted sufficient students from the district to consume the eduction services they’re offering.
Any licensed teacher (or group of teachers) should be able to offer educational services to students in any school district. For example, before every semester there might be an educational services “fair” in which all teachers interested in offering educational services in a particular school district advertise their offerings and attempt to attract students. Each classroom should be rated as to the minimum and maximum students it can hold. Once a teacher has attracted the minimum number of students in the district that teacher would be entitled to lease a classroom in that district for that semester. That teacher determines the maximum number of students she believes she can educate. The number of students successfully educated per semester determines the compensation that teacher receives. This provides an incentive for teachers to maximize the efficiency of the services they provide.
If students don’t like the educational services offered in their home district, they are free to go to any other school district that has room. In this way, classroom space will be efficiently allocated. This also permits niche educational offerings to pull students from different districts.
I’m going to stop here for this post and let you chew this over. I haven’t included everything that a well run public school system should have, such as funding allocation, but I think you have enough to see how my proposed system better aligns the incentives needed to improve education.
No doubt I’ve failed to include much and have failed to account for various factors. That’s what the comments are for to point out my mistakes and help to improve on this basic framework. Or to argue that certain parts should simply be thrown out.
Do your worst.
I’ll attempt to draft a post that includes the rest of the framework while responding to your critiques.
I recommend everyone to regularly follow this blog.