How to Fix American Education

Why would anyone want to be a teacher these days?

On top of budget cuts, parents and kids that don’t care, and ever changing standards and standardized tests, we also have to listen to a constant parade of pundits, politicians, and assholes raking us across the coals, insinuating at every turn that we’re inadequate, undertrained, not performing up to snuff. I’ve got a better idea: how about everyone pulls their head out of their ass and starts paying attention to what’s actually wrong with our schools.

For the truth is that teaching is an exceedingly difficult practice—at its best, it is every bit as difficult as engineering, law, or medicine. But teachers don’t earn the money those other professionals make, and that’s the first problem. Let’s face it, we’re not going to draw the best, brightest, most ambitious people to a field where the salary will tops out at $65,000.

There’s also no career advancement in teaching that doesn’t take one out of the classroom: you can become an administrator or a TOSA (teacher on special assignment). Otherwise, it’s the same job, year after year after year… which is why so many good teachers quit: they’re smart and talented enough to find jobs that offer them more. All this isn’t to say the people who are teaching AREN’T doing a good job—just a reminder that we get what we pay for: education’s no exception.

The pontificating pundits and politicians also seem to skip over two more obvious fixes. Want to get more out of schools? How about making kids attend more than 170 days a year and decreasing class sizes to no more than 25? Hell, that’s a win-win for everyone. Teachers have more personal time to connect with students and get paid for working more days; students spend more time studying for a greater portion of the year with an instructor that’s not overwhelmed by a packed classroom; and parents get more childcare and smarter kids without having to lift a finger.

Oh wait, that would cost money. And really, that’s the issue. Can we improve schools around the edges by making sure teachers are properly trained and tweaking the details? Sure. But if we want to improve our system of education in any measurable way, we—as a society—have to be willing to spend more money. We need to hire more teachers to get class sizes down. We need to pay them to teach at least 200 days a year (if not more). And we need to invest in more administrators, assistants, counselors, technology, and infrastructure to ensure that teachers and students have the support they need to be successful.

But as a society, we aren’t willing to pay for better schools. Republicans won’t raise taxes, not on millionaires, billionaires, hedge fund managers, CEOs—not anyone. Never, no way, no how. And frankly, Democrats—as usual—run scared: they’re too afraid to take any stance on almost any issue that Republicans can use against them.

Another problem with our society’s take on education—one that nobody is willing to talk about—is that parents and students aren’t held accountable. AT ALL. We focus all of our attention on teachers, their training, and their proficiency, while parents and students get a pass, whether they pass or not. Kids are more entitled now than ever—they’ve got cell phones and social lives that are much higher on the priority list than their education. But do we deliver the difficult message that F’s and D’s aren’t going to cut it? No. We blame the teacher and socially promote the kid until they get into high school, and then invent classes a well-watered plant could pass so they can graduate.

It used to be that you could get parents to kick some ass, tell their kids to respect adults—especially teachers—and instill the motivation students need to be successful. Nowadays, however, a lot of parents are as likely to side with their kid as the teacher. No seriously. I’ve personally seen a parent try to get one of my colleagues fired because her kid got caught plagiarizing: FOR THE SECOND TIME.

But there’s a fix for this too. Parents whose kids don’t make an effort to learn, or that miss more than 10% of the school year, should receive a tax penalty. After all, they’re wasting taxpayer money. And Medicaid, Food Stamps, and other help from the government ought to be tied to a student’s performance in school: I don’t think it’s too much to ask that if we’re spending money to help people in poverty, they should be making a genuine effort to get out of it—especially their kids.

Now I know the immediate objection: penalizing the parents of kids who don’t perform well in school could lead to child abuse, right? Because it’s logical to assume that the worst parents’ kids probably perform the worst in school. But ultimately, isn’t that ridiculous? That we should not act to help kids by holding them and their parents accountable, because if we do they might get hurt?

Luckily, there’s an easy solution to this too: the parents of kids who aren’t performing should be forced to enroll in classes that teach them how they can be better parents, especially how they can help their child perform better at school. And their children should automatically receive intervention at school as well. This increased attention would not only help address the student’s academic performance, but would ensure child abuse wouldn’t go unchecked.

Again, this will cost money—but that’s what it’s going to take to make our schools the places everyone says we want them to be.

So the rundown:

1)   Pay teachers more and provide them a career path that doesn’t involve taking them out of the classroom. This will help us attract the best and brightest to pedagogy, as well as provide those already in it a reason to stay. With this, we need a teacher evaluation system that ensures good teachers are rewarded, and bad teachers either receive training to improve or are forced out.

2)   Expand the school year to at least 200 days a year, and mandate that class size be no more than 25. While we’re at it, we should also create a year long calendar—a ten week summer break isn’t good for kids.

3)   Levy a tax penalty and provide interventions for the parents of kids who aren’t performing in school or are missing too many days, and provide the same interventions for those receiving government aid like Medicaid, Food Stamps, etc.

We do those three things, and our schools will thrive. But all of this costs money; the question is whether our society has the stomach to pay for it…

So far, the answer is no.

About The Author: Jay Scott

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