Thursday, June 08, 2006

Overhaul of Education System

It's no secret to anyone that knows me that I am a huge proponent of public education. I believe it's very existence and success is critical in our country's future. I am going to outline a plan for bettering our current education system.

The first and most critical aspect of my plan is the involvement of the federal government, as much as I dislike the idea of large government (I like to think of myself as a mix of a liberal and libertarian). We need a federal standardized testing system in the following key subjects: Reading, Writing, Math, and Science. This testing system will apply from grades 1 through 12 and a passing grade will be required to move from grade to grade. This will ensure that each and every student has the tools necessary to be a productive member of society. There should be no exceptions. The standardized tests will be evaluated yearly much like the SAT's and improvements will be made.

Second is a centralized computer system for managing lesson plans. Each teacher would be required to choose or create a scope and sequence (an outline of the class with milestones) for their class at the beginning of the semester. Every two weeks, each teacher will submit their lesson plans for the following two weeks. Including in these lesson plans will be documentation on which standards the activity covers. The teachers can choose to use pre-existing lesson plans or create their own activity. This relieves the burden on each teacher trying to come up with original lesson plans. They can use tried and true methods for teaching or if they have enough experience they can create their own. This whole system will be based on sharing of information between teachers.

Third, is a central grades database. One large centralized computer system which is accessible by every teacher. All grades will be posted in the system. Students will be tracked throughout their education. When they move schools, when they move states, etc.

Fourth aspect of my plan is correlating the data from the lesson plan database with the data from the grades database to determine which lesson plans are most successful at teaching students. This system would help teachers improve the education they provide, by providing feedback on the methods they are using to teach. They could compare how other teachers are doing with the same lesson plans.

Last and most important aspect of my plan is a large increase in teacher salary. Starting pay would be $60,000 per year, with increases based on how long they've been a teacher and average test scores over several years. This would increase competitiveness in the industry, and while it will be rough for a couple of years the system will balance out and only the best teachers will remain in the system. As it is now, there is no incentive for those that work hard in college to become a teacher. The work is hard and the pay is low.

Teachers should be able to make $100,000 a year if they are the very best. Why do we as a society reward a salesman that sells widgets with a high salary but we are unwilling to pay a person that affects the lives of 300 students a year.

This plan has some caveats. Obviously with a federal standardized testing system, states rights will be diminished, but the education of the future of the US should be decided by the entire country ... i.e. the federal government. The United States of America should start acting more United. A student that grows up in one state will very likely not work in that state, so he will be at a disadvantage when he is competing against students in other states.

I have left out intentionally the Arts, and other classes. They are very important but art and extracurricular classes such as Agriculture, Religion, etc should be controlled by the school itself. One school might want to have an Agriculture class because they are in a rural community and agriculture is important. Other schools might see importance in technical classes such as computer programming or metal / wood shop. These types of classes would not be regulated because each community has different needs.

So, in conclusion, we need federal standardized tests for each grade, a central repository of grades and lesson plans, and a sharp increase in teacher pay. Implementing some or all of these ideas will ensure that our education system creates the best possible students. Exit tests for High School students is not enough. It is too late for most students by the time they are 17 years old. A solid educational foundation is created in the first 10 years of a person's life. What and how they learn in the first 5 years of school will be more important than what they learn in the last 2 years of their education. Learning to write, read, do math, and understanding the scientific method is more important to the average person than calculus, or the works of William Shakespeare.