Friday, May 21, 2010

Getting it right

     A facebook group called Moms & Dads Against Senate Bill 6 asked for solutions to the problems schools experience today. My response:
     Number 1: Get rid of the myth that student bubble-test scores measure teacher quality.  There are far too many variables. Instead, base merit pay on real merit that comes with training and experience. This is done all the time in the private sector, and in some school districts, as well. It could easily be done throughout education.
     Number 2: Debunk the myth that bubble testing reflects “student gains” as politicians and newspapers are fond of saying. Student gains come from actual learning, not bubble testing. The project that started this myth, dubbed the "Texas Miracle" , was achieved with statistical monkey business. 
     Number 3: The Florida education budget was never meant to be welfare for the test-making industry. Cut all standardized tests except those with national value. We would still have more than enough. Use the savings to strengthen academics. I’ve heard it said that you can weigh a pig every day, but if you don’t feed him he won’t gain weight. Feed more, test less.
     Number 4: Stop trying to “fix teachers” by forcing them to focus exclusively on the process of teaching rather than academic content. Students need a core of basic knowledge and they need the wisdom to know what to do with that knowledge. Bring back stronger academics and more job training. Stop turning schools into test-prep centers.
     Number 5 goes out to voters: When you have one-party rule, you get corruption and the kind of self-serving manipulation we've seen lately in Tallahassee. Get some balance into the Legislature. Half red, half blue. Make both sides sweat every minute of their political existence. No more rigging the districts to aid incumbents.
     Number 6: Nobody gets out of high school without competency in Internet research and information literacy - a course not yet offered but five years overdue.
     Number 7: Incorporate the methods of Readicide author Kelly Gallagher to generate a life-long interest in reading. Stop torturing language and begin loving it.
     Number 8: Bring humanities class back to high school, and don't cut music or art. The arts build creative problem solvers and visionaries. See the history of civilization.
     Number 9: Stop trying to dump older teachers merely because they are older, because they earn more, or because they may not salivate over the latest gimmicks. Instead, figure out which ones have something to say and listen to them. How can we teach children to respect the wisdom of their elders if we ignore it in school?  
     Number 10: Stop wasting time and money on meetings and CYA paperwork. Give administrators and non-loadbearing people one class per day and use their experience and brains to accomplish our top goal - helping children learn. These people are too brainy to waste shuffling paper around. They need to be with students. Nothing that happens at a school matters more.
     Number 11: Build a management culture for schools and districts that unites supervisors and employees for our common purpose - education. Motivate by example, not fear. No more “gotcha” surprises when big decisions are announced. Raise the bar for professional management practices and communication. Never, never, never, never talk down to subordinates, or leave them feeling unappreciated. Everytime that happens, a clock watcher is created.
     OK, I know you’re asking - what qualifies this guy to make all these pronouncements?
     Nothing. I am a retired exec from another field who now devotes his life to teaching English in high school. There are thousands and thousands of teachers who see these problems more accurately. They can tell you what needs to happen far better than I can. But here’s the thing - very few people in power ever bother to listen to them. They’re “just teachers.”
     The management culture in education is top down and bureaucratic. The policy-making is done by people with little understanding of how learning works. The supervising is done by people who have limited contact with customers….er, I mean students.
     Teachers and administrators need to communicate closely, share ideas, make decisions together, and push for excellence together.
     I know educators are tired of people saying they should operate like a business. I do understand that education and business are different. However, what I’m talking about here is simply this: Getting the facts right, understanding the mission, communicating with skill and precision, and using teamwork effectively.
     That’s not too much to ask of any organization – especially one that ultimately shapes the future of our republic.


  1. Mike Archer has crafted a clear and succinct analysis of the steps needed to remedy much of what is challenging Florida's schools. I would council adding a twelfth item (thereby, making it a true "12-step" program for recovery) — Raising the Sunshine State's per pupil funding to the national average.

    Published in the Orlando Sentinel on May 20, 2010, the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics show Florida spent an average of $9,084 per student, compared to a national average of $10,297. Thirty four states and the District of Columbia spent more per-student than Florida.
    The Sunshine State spent less than nearby states, including Alabama ($9,197), Georgia ($9,718) and Louisiana ($10,006).

    Quality public education should be viewed as a long-term investment that pays long-term economic and social dividends. It is important and we should strive to find ways to achieve the national average in per student investment.

    That's plain talk and common sense.

    Thank you, Mr. Archer, for a well written and insightful analysis.

    Frank Wood
    Candidate for Florida House, District 25

  2. Thanks, Frank. I concur. Florida's chronic underfunding of schools robs children of their right to hit their full potential as productive citizens.