Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Schools Need the Right to Say "No" - Part 2

This is part 2 in a series on education reform. Read part 1 here.

When I advocate a policy that allows schools to remove a student from its ranks if they are antagonistic to the process, I am always met with “where will they go?” from detractors. There are a litany of solutions, all of which are superior to the current system that treats our schools like prisons. The most obvious solution is to provide education that actually provides a skill set to a young student that allows them to make money in our economy. Our current instruction system, while excelling in many ways, does not provide an education of value to those who will not succeed in higher education. Even at a middle school, many students realize that the skill sets being taught are ones they will never excel in and thus, reject the process until they can be set free at the age of 18.

By creating a tiered education system like they have in Germany, the United States can reverse the perverse effects of forcing the liberal education model on all of its citizens. Hilmar Schneider, when discussing the low rate of unemployment within the German youth class compared to their counterparts throughout Europe, argues:
In Germany, more than half of each age-group graduate from dual training programs in which they simultaneously earn academic credentials along with gaining work experience, rather than attending classes alone like in many other countries. This style of training brings future job applicants in closer contact with the job market and generates more reliability when it comes to qualification standards. It also offers a long period in which employers can get to know young employees, offering managers a relatively reliable insight into trainees' skills and potential for development. That limits employers' risks when taking on young workers.”
Hilmar fails to make clear that this system results in a percentage of students receiving an education that prepares them for the rigors of the university system, and a significant portion that do not. This type of tiered, or “tracking” system as it is referred to in America, has its detractors. My mother, coming from a working class household that did not hold an important position in her community, was often directed to trade based education throughout her childhood. She feels this system did not give her the means of seeing beyond her immediate opportunities, and undermined her potential abilities to shine in more academic fields. I don’t have an easy answer to this problem, but I do think a system can be put in place that does not punish working class children by forcing them into trade-based education while funneling simpletons in the middle and upper class towards higher level liberal arts education due to money and influence.

In my classroom, I have a slew of students who are simply not given a real opportunity to succeed in a field that is applicable to their abilities and interests. Worst of all, we have created a climate in our education system that treats the jobs they wish to partake in as second-class and less worthy than those that require a college education. In a recent conversation with The New Centrist, he brought up an important point:
I read an interesting article in the “American Educator” that talked about the role of the educator in all of this. The author mentioned sitting in on a high-school class where the students were talking about the jobs they were interested in and the colleges/training they needed to complete. When a student mentioned they wanted to be a nurse, the educator responded “why not a doctor?” This, at a time when the need for nurses in the US is incredibly high. I understand the teacher’s question. It’s a way of asking “why limit yourself?” But that’s the problem. Why see the nurse as “less than” the doctor”? Nurses are highly-paid, receive excellent benefits, and the educational process takes a significantly shorter period of time than becoming a doctor. Perhaps getting school out of the way and getting into the workforce is a priority for this student?”
I assume that many of the people who read this blog and engage in debates regarding this topic are the type that have enjoyed higher education, and are likely the folks who participate in “education for education’s sake.” The evident reality is that not everyone does. There is no reason for an individual to feel guilt or failure for pursuing nursing and not an MD. The same goes for a student who wishes to be an electrician and not a historian. Worse yet, we have established an entire culture that requires that its citizens get a liberal arts education (often at an expense that hardly seems justified and is borrowed to achieve) to compete for jobs that do not require such instruction. We have only placed expensive, unnecessary barriers on our young people who just want an opportunity to make a living and live the life they desire.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Schools Need the Right to Say "No" - Part 1


 In the debate involving school choice, rarely is one of the key elements of choice actually discussed: the right of a student to reject school, and the ability for schools to let said student go.

The very core of our education system has been hotly debated for decades now, and it seems as if everyone has an opinion related to how our schools should be run. I suppose it has to do with the fact we have all spent time in classrooms during our lives, and have seen some that work while others failed. We have all been inspired by some educator along the way, and been discouraged by others. There is general consensus that something must be done to change our public education system, but the path forward lacks even the faintest trace of concurrence.  Being a teacher myself, I feel I can provide additional insight into the problems facing our school system, and reiterate some of the whispered concerns made by teachers in every school I have been a part of. 

President Obama made a statement during his State of the Union address that, while being met with applause from the politicians before him, would push our schools in the wrong direction. Obama declared the following:
We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”
As a wholehearted Obama supporter this election, I found myself floored hearing him utter these words. After talking to other teachers, I realized I was not the only one.

School discipline is a major problem, and is not the result of “poorly trained” teachers as some may suggest.  If anything, the newest crop of teachers has been far better trained in classroom management than those that came into the profession in the 50s and 60s. Large portions of my teacher training program, both academically and within the classroom, revolved around handling difficult students in our current cultural environment. 

Having grown up in California, I have seen pedagogical fads, funding structures, and various teaching approaches come and go. Educating our children costs more than it did in the past, and yet it appears our nation is receiving a lower quality education than it did 40 years back. 

Not a day goes by that a major newspaper does not publish an op-ed bemoaning or defending the state of our education system. Fellow travelers like Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse, both supporters of the President’s plan to require students to stay in school, argue:
High school completion is, of course, the most significant requirement for entering college. While our economic competitors are rapidly increasing graduation rates at both levels, we continue to fall behind. Educated workers are the basis of economic growth — they are especially critical as sources of innovation and productivity given the pace and nature of technological progress. 

If we could reduce the current number of dropouts by just half, we would yield almost 700,000 new graduates a year, and it would more than pay for itself. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher employment and earnings — an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income — and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he’d dropped out.”
Other than the facts themselves, just about everything else is wrong with Levin and Rouse’s argument. It is not the degree or diploma that makes financially successful individuals, rather the type of individual that works to gain such credentials are those that possess the work ethic to succeed in the modern workplace environment. Simply forcing more young people to “earn” a diploma will not improve their chances of succeeding in the marketplace; it will only demean the credential and undermine its value to those who have actually worked towards achieving.

Ask most teachers, and they will tell you that the problem with our school system is the reluctance (or inability) to remove students from the classroom environment that are antagonistic to the process and disrupt the operation, thus hurting other student’s attempts at learning the curriculum. Forcing schools and teachers to keep students who have no interest in the process is the main problem facing our schools today. For President Obama to make it a requirement that they stay in the school system, to the detriment of the taxpayer, our society, and more importantly the students in those schools, would be a tragedy of Titanic proportions.

Read Part 2.