American education is failing compared to other nations, cited in too many studies and articles to even mention, but heck here is one, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=1.
We as Americans may know certain facts, like little mindless automaton ready to pull the lever on the pulley or pick apples from a conveyor belt, or state an opinion we feel strongly about, without really any conviction or knowledge.
There is an educational hierarchy of thought and ability, not like IQ, called Bloom’s Taxonomy. This comes into play in what was once our amazing ability to innovate, create, problem solve, at the drop of the hat. Think about it, America was formed very quickly and is a top player in the international spectrum, and our governmental system was “made up” by people, in a very short time, people with not just wit but creative and innovative thinking and excellent critical thinking skills. With the dumbing down of education (due to many many reasons), we seem to focus on fact-finding and multiple choice answers even if we claim to be teaching rigor.
Think about your children’s school work or even back to your own, while comparing it to Bloom’s Taxonomy. The lowest level is Knowledge, which we excel in. Worksheets, textbooks, exams, often ask knowledge questions with such verbs as, list, name, define, draw, recite. We might bump up to the next level, Comprehension, with explain, estimate, describe, outline, summarize, make a poster of…. do such action verbs ring a bell, seem all to familiar? How about the top two tiers of the taxonomy, Synthesize and Evaluate. The action verbs may seem foreign in schools, such as, formulate, revise, design, invent, critique, appraise, judge, justify. These verbs, these actions, are performed much more in foreign countries than in the USA. As our laboring/manufacturing jobs get shipped overseas, so does our need to list, recite, summarize. We are losing to other countries because we are teaching rote skills and what to think, not how to think.
Certainly there are a million reasons why we are not taught to think, and any presumption of the reader’s is probably correct. But one factor, albeit a small one (because really, the system itself is there to teach people what to think, not how) is the teachers. I want to state a disclaimer, that I am not against teachers. I’ve been one for years, worked with them, had friends and family that were teachers. I’ve known excellent teachers, mind-blowing intelligent teachers, and teachers who do a terrible half-arse job and who are lacking in intelligence. There is no one kind of teacher. However, if we are to generalize (a faux pas!) then teachers are….not our best and brightest. According to Thomas Sowell, in an outdated but still true statistic, the average verbal SAT score for a student choosing a major in education in 1979-1980 was 389; the average verbal score for all SAT scores in that year was 502. That means the education students’ scores were over 100 points below the average SAT score. The good news? In 2005, the average verbal score of prospective educators was 521, compared to the average of 508. But, to every bit of good news, there is some bad news. Teachers in the top quartile of scores are more than twice as likely to teach in private schools than public.
Teacher’s Unions make teaching an alomst “guaranteed life career” when one makes it to tenure. Along with tenure comes union job protection, and each year of additional teaching experience means an increase in pay, under the notion that teacher effectiveness increases with experience. Instead of evaluating teachers on performance metrics, they are just automatically “promoted” with a “raise” each year under the guise that they are better and better at teaching each year.
Union job protection as a teacher means that if you survived your first cut-throat, at-will years as a teacher, often kowtowing to the union, a scripted curriculum, and administrators, keeping quiet about injustices and just smiling and nodding, you will indeed keep your job for life. According to author Terry Moe, only 1 of 1,000 teachers is fired due to (lack of) performance, compared to 1 of every 97 lawyers; with Los Angeles Unified at a rate of 0.2 percent. To fire a tenured teacher, it can cost the district not just time (up to three years) but money; over $163,000 per teacher in New York City, and over $219,000 in Illinois.
Also, while beginning teacher may not be as effective as experienced teachers (one can find as many studies to prove as to disprove this theory), it seems that most studies show that a teacher’s effectiveness is not measurably different, or better, at say year 5 verses year 25. Therefore, a tenured teacher with much seniority, at the top of the pay scale, is earning possibly up to twice the amount as a 5th year teacher, with salaries going up each year for “experience”, when they are no more effective.
If our experienced teachers- whether they be at 5 or 25 years on the job- are “better” or more “effective” than a beginning teacher, shouldn’t those “experts” be placed in classrooms of greatest need? One would assume, like in business, the “best” at the job would be given the toughest clients or position, because they were proven effective; the new teachers would be given the simplest of tasks and clients. Wrong. Because of tenure, seniority, popularity, the best teachers are often teaching in the best districts and schools with the “best”, least at-risk kids. So it seems a self-fulfilling prophecy, sure, those master teachers are more effective, I mean, look at the excellent test scores and graduation rates of their students! Never mind that the school is next to a golf course and the majority of parents are executives and diplomats. But look! The new teacher in the worst part of Harlem or South Central Los Angeles, her students fail the exams and only 40% graduate! See, new teachers are less effective, so let’s fire them first, and perpetuate the notion of experience= quality.
Is the answer to rid of all unions? Fire every teacher? I’m not quite sure that is the answer. I do, however, propose every citizen of the United States, especially those with children or teaching children, should know these facts plus the top-down, dumbing down, controlling backdrop of the history of American Education. With this information, I think teachers themselves could band together with solidarity (they do it for the union, how about for the kids?) and speak up for what is wrong in the classroom. Toss out worksheets telling students to “list”, shred the scripted curriculum, say no to standardized tests which just marginalize students and teachers, and start anew. I really do believe, to fix the system, we must hit reboot and build anew.