Breaking the Educational Industrial Complex

Yesterday, I rambled for a while about the ways in which our burgeoning educational efforts have turned into a beastly industrial complex, full of money and power in the hands of people who probably don’t have kids’ best interests at heart.

In case I was unclear, I think the current testing craze is one of the worst things to hit education in recent decades. Not only will our children remain uneducated (who has any time left to teach content?), they’ll be bored, stripped of creativity, and unable to face the thorny problems of the 21st century with any flexibility.

But enough about that. I promised yesterday I’d try to offer a few solutions.

If I were made Empress of the Universe, i would….

  • Dismantle the testing culture and return responsibility for education goals and funding to the State level.  I think the federal government has a role to play in helping poor(er) states through tax dollars, but not on the multi-billion dollar level we’re seeing right now. 
  • Return responsibility AND authority for curriculum decisions, course content, and other matters of education to local school districts.
  • Return a level of autonomy (with appropriate accountability) to individual teachers in their classrooms, and offer incentives to pursue creative ways of teaching that draw in more types of learners.
  • Open up the market of education to private and collective schools with funding so parents have more educational choices. All such schools must remain non-profit status. I don’t think charter schools should be a money-making business for corporations.
  • Require a high level of teaching preparation through multiple pathways, ranging from the traditional BS degree to active recruitment of second-career professionals who have a deep knowledge of their industry fields.
  • Require a Master’s degree within the first 7 years, and demand a level of competency in a particular subfield of education or research. (I’d add that many MEd degrees are pathetic, and the accrediting agencies should demand better academics.)
  • Cut the number of administrative personnel by half and add those positions to the classroom level.
  • Restructure the school day to allow schools to explore integrated and problem-based learning strategies, flipped classrooms, and other innovations.
  • Propose four-day weeks with a longer school year or a year-round system for districts where parents are rarely home with their kids during the summer.
  • Offer vo-tech education again for students who desire skill-based careers instead of academic ones. The college graduation rate has remained steady at 35% (ish) for the past several decades. College isn’t for everyone. It’s time to stop devaluing the associates degrees and certificate careers, and focus on giving every student the opportunity to excel in what he or she actually does well.
  • Limit standardized assessments to something more reasonable (once or twice a year) and offer incentives for schools to provide parents with richer, qualitative descriptions of how their children are learning.
  • Require each school to state their learning goals for the student body as a whole in clear, layman’s language. Then ask parents to evaluate their child’s progress each year in big areas like “tackles problems in multiple ways,” “treats herself and others with kindness and forgiveness,” “sticks with a task until it’s done,” and other broad goals and habits of mind.  It’s a big job, and schools aren’t responsible for all of it.
  • Stop expecting schools to solve social problems like poverty, hunger, lack of employment opportunities, domestic abuse, etc.

An impossible dream?

Probably.

We gotta start somewhere….

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