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Education - Too much talk, too little learning

Education: Our public schools have been cussed and discussed extensively, some would say excessively. The questions might be: (1) What is the problem? (2) what can be done to solve the problem. (3) who is responsible for the problem: teachers, parents, students, unions, governments, professional educators? Are our schools failing us or are we failing  our schools?

What, exactly, is the problem with our education system?

Many of us believe that American youth are not becoming sufficiently educated to enable us to maintain our social system in competition with other countries or regions. Numerous investigations cite the relative weakness of our students compared to those in other developed Countries. We also seem to be short of the number of students qualified to pursue higher education in the more demanding fields of science, math, technology, and medicine. It appears that, as a nation, we are not adequately preparing our youth for their own future and for future of the country. Because the public schools are the primary means of educating the populace, they are receiving the major part of the blame for these inadequacies.

Are the schools really at fault?

Many schools are being assessed as "failing", "under performing", and "failing to meet standards." As in every other field of endeavor, there are surely some schools that are grossly failing to perform their jobs. However, it would take a combination incompetence of the school staff, indifference from school boards and ignorance of the public for such schools to continue to operate. we therefore suggest that the truly bad schools are much fewer in number that those we see labeled as failing.


A very basic problem

Prepared to be educated?

A fundamental observation about learning is that any new knowledge or understand must be some way connected to something that the learner already knows or understands. You cannot teach algebra to a student who does not understand numbers nor spelling to someone who does not know the alphabet. There are probably very learned descriptions and explanations of this phenomenon, but in layman's words any new learning must be somehow connected or related to what the learner existing base of understanding.

What this means for our educational system is that when a six-year-old shows up for first grade (or a five-year-old for kindergarten, etc.) the teacher and the school is prepared to advance learning beyond that which the usual six-year-old is expected to possess. Of course, there is a appreciable variety even among students of the same general age and background. Those with a smaller store of knowledge than average at the beginning of school will experience more difficulty, but might eventually progress as well or better than others. Teachers can recognize when students need special attention and will work to catch them up to the norm for the grade level.

However, in this country there are too many young children who enter school with a core of knowledge that is very far below the normal for their age. Although they will try mightily to bring them up to the normal range, teachers are spread too thin to be able to determine the students' individual needs or to overcome the shortage of knowledge. Educators are well aware of this problem. Efforts , such as HeadStart, have tried with some success to redress this lack of preparedness for school. However, this is a very large and critical problem and the "blame our schools" attitude does absolutely nothing to solve it. Although we strongly believe that throwing money at schools is very foolish, the costs of actually addressing this problem will be very expensive in the short run but an economic boon for the future.


More Things to Consider

Steve Jobs: Teachers' Unions 'What's Wrong With Our Schools'
February 22, 2007

In a fairly candid exchange this week in Texas, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that teachers unions are, "what's wrong with our schools." This from a guy whose company has put untold millions of computers into the Nation's schools.

Comparing schools to small businesses and principals to CEO's, he said, "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in, they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" Remember, we noted in this space a while ago that at least in DC, the really bad teachers flushed out of the worst schools turn up in the better schools, thank to -- you guessed it -- the DC teachers' union contract.

Said Jobs according to this PC World story, "What is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

Manufacturers are the big end users of the product of America's schools and have every reason to be concerned with what our schools are cranking out. There is some truth to what Jobs said. The NEA, of course, is so busy flushing its members' money down the rat hole that can't really complain. If they put half the effort into education that they did into politics and non-education-related issues, maybe Jobs' lament wouldn't ring so true.


Teacher Unions: What do they do for education?

One way to determine what benefit the teacher unions bring to education is to compare the effect of unions as a whole. For example, what do the auto workers unions do for the automotive business? Do they to the profitability of the companies? Do they save money for auto buyers? Do they improve the quality of their product? Have they preserved jobs in the United States?

The answers are all "no." Unions have been, and perhaps still are, helpful for providing fair play in the workplace for their members. They have increased the standards of living for their members and have contributed to the successes of our country. Union members have been faithful citizens loyal to our ideals. However, the fact remains that unions are not designed to assist the company, organization or government that employs the workers the unions represent. Unions exist solely to benefit their membership only, not the general good of employers.

With this consideration in mind, let's look at teacher unions. As in all other unions (the unions themselves) are antagonistic toward the organization responsible for running the school system. Their sole aim is to produce the highest income and best working conditions for their members. This is not to say that individual members aren't interested in furthering education in their classrooms and schools. However, individual initiatives are frowned on by unions where the emphasis is on the "common" good. Teachers in the union environment who might wish to offer educational improvements must first convince the union of the value of the suggested improvement to the "group" and then have the union try to negotiate or coerce the educational establishment into making the necessary changes.

Because unions are concerned only with their own membership, conflict among various unions within an educational establishment further inhibit the ability for teachers to expend their full talents and energies to education of their students. Teacher unions often have been able to increase the incomes of their members. Paying teacher better is probably often a good thing. Better pay may contribute to better qualified and more dedicated teachers. On the other hand, unions have brought strikes and ill will into communities to the considerable detriment to education, the primary purpose for having teachers.



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