Education: An interesting way to frame the debate Posted by: McQ
on Monday, April 10, 2006
I guess today is Massachussets day. Or at least Mitt Romney day. After chastising him for signing on to the "health care" debacle, I'm going to praise him about his approach to education reform. What struck me as I read his piece in the Washington Times was how he framed the debate:
First, close the Excellence Gap. American 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 OECD countries in math literacy and 19th in science. Fifteen years ago, the United States and Asia produced about the same number of Ph.D.'s in math and physical science: 4,700 a year. Today, we graduate 4,400; Asia graduates 24,900. Second, close the Achievement Gap. Failing urban schools are a dead end for too many minority children. This is the civil rights issue of our generation.
Of course those who will be demonstrating for the "rights" of illegal immigrants today in about 120 cities would disagree. But I'm with Romney here. School choice is something each and every child should have. It is also something which more and more minority parents are demanding. Common sense and real world experience causes most to realize that competition sparks excellence. And it is that excellence they want to provide for their children.
Romney puts the onus for the failure of our system as it is presently configured squarely where it belongs:
The opposition comes from some teachers unions. They fight better pay for better teachers, principal authority, testing and standards, school choice and English immersion. With their focus on themselves and their members, they have failed to see how we have failed our children. But that will change as testing produces data and data debunks the myth that more and more spending is the answer.
A continuing failure to close the excellence and achievement gaps would have catastrophic consequences, for individual human lives left short of their potential, and for our nation. Students around the world are racing ahead of ours. If we don't move, we'll become the France of the 21st century, starting as a superpower and exiting as something far less. Education must be one of our first priorities, as it was when Sputnik was launched the last time. We succeeded before. We will do it again.
In my opinion the power of the Teachers' Unions must be broken to the extent that they are unable to hobble or derail meaningful education reform, such as a voucher system. Romney is correct when he notes that the focus of the unions isn't education. It is, instead, the protection of its members. What we've wrongly done for years is equate the protection of teachers with the protection of our education system. We've got to recognize that the unions aren't concerned or committed to any reform, however well it will work for students, if the reform would harm their memebers.
Romney then puts forth 6 points he feels are necessary to introduce meaningful reform into the system:
1) Make teaching a true profession. The 19th-century industrial labor-union model doesn't make sense for educating children. Teachers aren't manufacturing widgets. Better teachers should have better pay, advancement opportunities and mentoring responsibilities. Better pay should also accompany the most challenging assignments — needed specialties like math and science, advanced placement skills and extra effort.
2) Let the leaders lead. Superintendents and principals must have authority to hire, deploy resources, assign mentors and training, and remove nonperformers. Seniority cannot trump the needs of our children.
3) Measure up. Over union objections, Massachusetts implemented standardized testing and a mandatory graduation exam. With measurement, we finally see our successes and failures and can take corrective action. Without measurement, we were blind.
4) Let freedom ring. When parents, teachers and kids are free to choose their school, everyone benefits. Charter schools free of union restraints and, yes, even home schools, teach lessons we can apply to improve standard public schools.
5) Pull in the parents. Teachers tell us that the best predictor of student success is parental involvement. For our lowest-performing schools, I've proposed mandatory parental preparation courses. Over two days, parents learn about America's education culture, homework, school discipline, available after-school programs, what TV is harmful or helpful and so on. And for parents who don't speak English, help them understand why their child's English immersion in school is a key to a bright future.
6) Raise the bar. Our kids need to be pushed harder. Less about self-esteem; more about learning. I have proposed advanced math and science schools for the very brightest (the one we have is a huge success, but we need more); advanced placement in every high school, more teachers with serious science and math credentials, and laptop computers for every middle- and high-school student. We've also added science as a graduation exam requirement, in addition to math and English.
Competition and choice. Two cornerstone concepts which have made this nation great. Why they continue to be excluded from education remains a mystery. But what isn't a mystery is the results of their elimination: poor teachers, failing schools and poor student performance. Those problems must be fixed if we're to remain competative with the rest of the world. As the numbers provided above show, we're falling further and further behind. Romney's common sense proposals would move us toward addressing education's problems by reintroducing competition and choice.
Romney has great, fresh ideas for our country. He is solution driven, not PR driven. I do disagree that students need laptops. What is wrong with going to the library or the school computer lab? Other than that though, I couldn’t agree more with Romney’s ideas. Let’s hear more of them!
To Item 6: "Less about self-esteem; more about learning," I would add: Less about social engineering, propagandizing, and indoctrination, especially in promoting the agendas of activists/extremists covering a broad variety of subjects that are opposed to American interests and to the values of ordinary Americans. No to multicultural instruction that undermines any sense of loyalty, appreciation, patriotism, or other endorsement of America’s positive contributions to its people and to the world. Yes to classes in American history, world history, and government. Save the anti-America bashing for another venue (the media already does it so well). No to promoting the agendas of environmental activists and global warming extremists. Yes to classes in geology, earth science, physics, and chemistry. Teach the underlying principles of science in elementary and high schools, and save the political agenda for another venue. No to sex education that opposes the traditional values sought by parents, such as the gay activist agenda. Yes to classes in health and hygiene, biology, anatomy and physiology, and actual academic instruction. Save the attempts at social engineering for another venue. The battle of Waterloo is said to have been won on the playing fields of Eton. The battle for America’s future will be lost in our schools. Americans who do not understand American values cannot defend them. Americans who are ill-trained in academic subjects cannot compete effectively in the workforce. Personally, I think this country is doomed. Our future is being lost in our schools and on our TVs.
These proposals are nice and if implemented will definitely improve education and life opportunities for the upper half of the kids. But what about the bottom half? Is getting kids to read at a 10th grade level at graduation instead of an 8th grade level really going to improve the quality of their lives? It is time to re-examine the basic structure of American education. Every child that starts high school is not a candidate for college. If we are going to offer choice, then we should offer real choice—quality trade schools as well as college prep. While education may be an end in itself, that end is not its most important function. We should be concerned with providing our kids with the means to earn a decent living that will support them and their families.
Romney’s position on abortion has long been the subject of intense scrutiny. In 1994, he said abortion should be ’’safe and legal in this country," and in 2002 he promised to support the status quo on abortion in Massachusetts. But beginning earlier this year, as Romney began testing his own viability as a presidential candidate, Romney appears to have made an effort to emphasize his personal opposition to abortion.
Except for the laptop, those are six pretty good points. However, if a good case can be made that having laptops will actually improve student achievement I’d be on board with that too.
If Romney runs for President, I wonder what his position on the Dept. of Ed will be? It’s too much to hope for obsolescence I suppose.
I can’t agree strongly enough that we need to have higher expectations of students and raise the bar. But we also need teachers capable of doing this. There are many who cannot deliver and we won’t get them unless we attract them with better pay and conditions.