Sunday, September 19, 2010

Time To Reform

Time Magazine
September 20, 2010
$49.00 for one year subscription

Time Magazine devoted its September 20 National Service Issue to a sixteen-page report on education. Managing editor Richard Stengel says they threw two reporters at the subject, Amanda Ripley and John Cloud. The results are two articles that offer a thumbnail sketch of the national discussion about education currently in progress.

Amanda Ripley’s article is about the Davis Guggenheim documentary that will be released on September 24 entitled Waiting For “Superman.” Guggenheim is the Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth. The movie sounds interesting, moving, and absolutely necessary to further the discussion of American education in the twenty-first century. The article also comes with sidebars containing statistics regarding the state of education in this country. Ripley focuses on how the project came about, the challenges faced during production, and what the possible effects the work might have on American public education.

John Cloud’s piece pinpoints a recurring issue directly. Teacher recruitment and retention are facets discussed quite frequently when the subject of school reform is broached. His lead caption is: There aren’t enough good educators to fill the toughest—and even the not-so-tough—classrooms. Pay and prestige are part of the problem. Here’s a fix.”

The “fix” means that several successful programs are profiled, including Teach For America (TFA) and the New York City entity called New Teacher Project (TNTP). The thrust of the article is that education schools are failing, and more innovative and creative ways of preparing teachers for the classroom are necessary. What these two programs do is encourage recent college graduates, many from Ivy League schools, and working professionals who have proven themselves in industry and the corporate world, to become teachers as a service to the country. Cloud tells us that TNTP was recently handed the recruitment chores for new teachers in the Memphis school district. Cloud says these organizations have come under fire from teachers’ unions and education colleges for placing candidates in classrooms with only “five to seven weeks of boot-camp training.” The programs offer strong support for these new teachers, and Cloud profiles several successful schools and teachers who have utilized the program.

At the end of the articles, the editors include a section on how people can get involved with public education. They break down the categories from “recent high school graduate,” to “senior citizen.” There is a sidebar listing ways to donate money and have a voice in the current discussion about where American education should go from here.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Education in America will be the main topic of national debate for the foreseeable future because we cannot move forward as a nation without a stronger and more successful education for our children. That being said, every American must take part in this discussion; it is a national responsibility and a prime determiner of our future. We cannot be a first world nation with a third world school system, and unfortunately, that is what we have in many areas of the country right now.

In my own backyard, LAUSD schools finally got underway last week. We have shortened the school year to save money, but we cannot slash our way to success. We should be increasing the number of school days to at least 200, and may be as high as 250. We are playing “catch-up” here, and to do that we must do more than the 180-day U.S. standard school year. According to a 1991 report on the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences website, Chinese students attend school 251 days per year, English kids for 192 days, the Japanese for 220 days, and Germans for 219 days.

When the future is at stake, drastic steps must be taken. I applaud Time for wading into the discussion, but we must go further. The Los Angeles Times took a bold, albeit controversial step recently when it published the database of “value-added” performance evaluations of LAUSD teachers. Test scores are not the only measure of success in the classroom, but the district did nothing with these results except file them away somewhere out of public sight. The Times pushed the issue out into the open, and the resulting intense discussion was and is necessary if we are to mount a credible reform of our education system.

We all must be involved. We must look at the success of private and charter schools. We must examine in minute detail every philosophy and idea to educate students for the future. Only when we truly examine our successes and failures can we adopt strategies and goals to create positive, tangible change in American education.

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