We have great respect and appreciation for the job responsibility required by those within the field of education, educational policy, and administration. We understand the realities and problems they face firsthand.
However, it has been our experience that the institution of education is far too bureaucratic, slow-moving, and susceptible to political intrusion/posturing?
Political leaders offer quick simple solutions for change in educational policy that are vague in talking points and short in specifics. As H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
And since everyone has been in school, many feel they are experts based off of their own personal experiences and try to input anecdotal data and generalizations into very complex discussions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and voice but just like we consult doctors with medical issues, lawyers with legal issues, generals with military issues, we should do the same with teachers and educational issues.
For example, no one will argue against having all of our students performing at grade level in reading and mathematics. And, of course we do not want to leave any of our children behind. But, the strategies and methods to attain those outcomes is the challenging part. Realistic pathways and plans for how to meet those outcomes are required, and we should utilize the expertise of real life practitioners to guide us to the promise land.
It’s clear that our ability to develop citizens capable of being innovators and creators is vital to our success as a nation. Our educational system is vehicle in which we will develop this citizenry. It only makes sense to treat and approach our educational policy with the importance and seriousness it deserves. We need to be implementing proven and research based policy and practices designed to improve educational systems
Therefore, we wanted to share a couple suggestions and ideas for policy changes we feel could have a large positive impact on improving the teaching profession and the institution of education in general.
Teacher Preparation Programs
Too often, unprepared teachers are thrown into classrooms in which they do not have the skill-set to effectively instruct and the outcomes are dismal and negative for all parties. This experience is replicated and persists in far too many school systems, especially school systems educating low income students.
We have previously offered suggestions for mentorship programs and professional learning communities controlled by novice and veteran teachers alike. But, if we want to address some of the significant issues within the teaching profession like teacher preparedness, teacher attrition, and teacher effectiveness, we need to implement a pathway to teacher certification similar to the medical communities’ residency programs. Our vision of a program would look as such:
Decreased Teacher Instructional Time
Teaching is a very difficult profession that requires a lot of preparation, thought, and a unique skill-set. Activating student learning is not an easy task and it is very physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. I am usually exhausted after teaching six classes, and I find it difficult to muster up the energy to then have the responsibility to plan, analyze student work, and communicate with students and parents. I have grown in my abilities and skills but when I was a younger teacher, I did not understand how veteran teachers were surviving.
As with most great performers in any profession, such as lawyers, athletes, or doctors, they make what they do look easy. Yet, most observers do not see the amount of preparation and effort that goes into training. This is similar with teachers.
Therefore, we feel we need to decrease the amount of actual teacher instruction time each day. This would allow teachers more time to prepare for their classes. Teachers in South Korea only spend about 35% of their school day on instruction; here in the U.S. we spend about 80% of our school day on instruction. It seems logical to adopt some of the practices of high performing educational systems. If we decreased the amount of instructional time, teachers would have more time to focus on the following critical components of teaching allowing for greater effectiveness.
Teacher Incentives and Funding of Education
We as Americans pride ourselves on our work ethic, professionalism, and our capitalistic society. We work more hours and take less time off then most industrialized nations in the world. We believe in meritocracy, where the best applicant for the position should receive the position.
It would be naïve to pretend that we don’t associate societal success with financial success. Therefore, we need to increase the financial incentives and funding structures of the teaching profession if we want to attract and retain the highest quality candidates. Here are a couple of suggestions for policy reformations:
Change our Measuring System from Standard to Metric!
This might not change the teaching profession but it will significantly help students better understand measurement, conversions rates, and basic operations due to our base 10 number system. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not use the metric system of measurement. Why are we forcing our students to learn both?
We realize many of these suggestions may be considered controversial. We’re ok with that. We just want to present some possible solutions to problems that we see and move the discussion to actionable policy decisions which can be researched further and tested. It didn’t take us long to adopt Common Core Standards, so why not some of these suggestions?
This is a short list, but what do you think we should add to improve the teaching profession?
How do you think these suggestions would work out in reality?
I was having a conversation with a friend’s father about the state of educational policy in school today with common core standards, college and career ready initiatives and so forth. We started to discuss his experiences taking vocational courses throughout his high school career as well as other courses. I was amazed to the extent of classes and courses he had the options of taking, and this realization triggered a couple thoughts.
I began to reflect upon some of my experiences as a student and I began to focus on the time I spent studying foreign languages. I received 2 years of Spanish instruction in middle school, 3 years of Latin instruction in high school, and then another 2 semesters of Spanish in college. Even now, I would describe myself as only being able to comprehend very basic Spanish, and my ability to speak is less than basic.
I asked myself this question. Would I have been better off now if I would have received 3 years of a computer programming language like C++ in high school rather than my required foreign language courses?
So, I decided to do a little digging into the effects of both foreign language and computer programming on student learning.
After looking through a lot of literature and research on the foreign language education, it is very difficult to deny the many benefits of learning a foreign language for students.
Some of benefits of foreign language instruction and bilingualism are:
One aspect of language instruction that kept show up is that the positive effects of foreign language instruction are maximized by providing younger students with exposure and instruction of the languages in earlier grades.
Likewise, there are numerous benefits to exposing students to computer programming or coding.
Some of the benefits of computer programming instruction are:
After looking at all of these positive benefits of both foreign language and computer programming, I have come to a couple recommendations and suggestions.
We should begin foreign language instruction in our schools at a far younger age and grade level. There are so many benefits to becoming bi-lingual and we should push to maximize these benefits as much as possible. Numerous options of foreign language courses should be promoted and available for students starting in kindergarten and then continuing through middle school.
Similarly, we should promote basic computer programming using programs like Tinker, codecademy, code.org and many others to begin the benefits of this type of instruction as well. Why not start with developmentally appropriate programs as early as possible?
Finally, if students have been exposed to both of these topics for throughout their educational careers k-8, then, they should be allowed to choose their course of study. If they choose to substitute a computer programming language for a foreign language, then so be it. Students who have interest and passion for a topic will be much more inclined to study and will learn better.
I am a big believer in students having as much choice as possible in the path of their own learning.
Why should we force students to take classes they have limited to no interest in, even after being exposed to the subject and having previous experiences?
What do you think?