Saturday, April 2, 2011

Can you hear me better if I stand on this box of soap?

I don't get excited about politics.

I have opinions. I'm just not that thrilled about them. Politics, to me, is a messy world. It's filled with lies, manipulation, special interests, uncertainty... I just can't seem to navigate to the truth sometimes. And when I don't see a really awesome solution, it's hard for me to get excited.

I am surrounded by people who are practically pundits. They can talk for hours about politics, candidates and bills. They get passionate. Red-faced. Loud.

That is how I get. About education. It is my soapbox issue. Don't bring it up at parties. I can't stop talking about it. I will probably talk home school. About how I think a parent's greatest responsibility is the education of her children. About how a caring, well-informed, middle-income parent can provide an academically challenging education for her children that will prepare them for college and a successful career.

I will talk about charter schools. I will talk about my state's drop out rates. I will talk about teen pregnancy, and the importance of the family valuing education.

And I will bring up this man. He is my education hero. The man is making miracles.

I first met him here. I have since read and heard about him in magazines, NPR, and most recently on the documentary Waiting for Superman.

If you have not yet seen this film, you should. Public education is a huge problem. It is getting worse. But. Unlike most of the big problems in our country--health care costs, welfare, debt, illegal immigration--there is a solution that we know works. Schools like Harlem Success Academy and Kipp Schools across the nation are churning university-ready kids out of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in America. It. Works.

And. Yet. We are still using our same old system.

This film made me wonder if home schooling my children wasn't enough. If maybe I have a responsibility to my community. Maybe starting a charter is the way to go. Maybe if charter schools outnumber public schools, the government will finally get the message.

In order to change public school results, the documentary explored a wide variety of options. Some of these include:
Incentive-based pay for teachers
Elimination of or reduced power for teacher unions
Discontinuing the practice of tenure.
Lengthening the school day

What do you think of these suggested measures? What are your thoughts on education? What do my teacher friends have to add to these issues on their perspective? And while we're on the subject, any strong thoughts about homeschooling? Education reform ideas?


  1. I am all for an extended school day. Shortened summer too. (My childhood self is looking at my grown up self with an open-mouth gasp of horror right now. :)

  2. Oh, just one other opinion (I don't know enough to have more than one or two opinions on this issue): I think the idea of merit pay is all fine and dandy, but simply paying teachers what they're *worth* would make such a big difference. I'm a PhD educated writing teacher with a few fistfulls of publications and if the pay was good enough, I would totally teach high school. But, as it is, I can make more money teaching 10 hours a week at the university. So... why would I want to do five times the work for less pay? I've got my own kids to worry about.

    If teachers got paid what they're worth, you could attract MUCH better talent to the industry. As competition for teaching spots increased, the quality of teachers would increase, and, hence, the quality of the teaching. It's pretty simple economics.

    The fact that such a system of pay isn't in place is (not only abhorrent but) probably just a bi-product of a really old version of sexism that devalues the industries that tend to be majority-staffed by women.

    But that's an enTIRely different soapbox, so I'll bow out now.

  3. Amen, amen and amen, Elise. Get rid of unions, increase funding and make pay performance based. If the money is there but no one's job is safe they'll really have to step up their game. Money is a powerful motivator to excel. Read some of Condi Rice's articles. Brilliant woman.
    It's a shame that the few quality teachers in public schools are enormously outnumbered by a lazy, entitled and socialist majority of "educators." Do you remember the WA teachers who complained about how little they were paid? ALL THE TIME! Pathetic.
    There were a handful of teachers who taught me something of integrity and character but I'll forever hold that the best outcome of my K-12 experience was the social exposure. NOT the education. Mom did much better. It was very frustrating returning to 3rd grade after 6 months of home school and seeing my peers still trying to master times tables. I was ready to multiply and divide fractions. That's a testament to the failed system and home school's success, not my capacity. Public schools lack the materials and resources to encourage kids to catch up and excel so everyone is made equally dumb. My real intellectual pursuit didn't begin until college.
    I'd vote you in for public office. Either that or start a charter school. I'll pay you big bucks to help teach my kids.

  4. We won't be able to pay teachers what they are worth as long as unions remain, making sure that every teacher makes as much as the fabulous teachers. I am like you, Elise; education is my pet political project. I intend to change the world and to start a school. Will you move to the NW to do this with me? I have a lot of ideas about vouchers, but I am also looking for the best public options. Oh, come visit me and we'll stay up all night making big plans.

  5. Oh, and I am for a SHORTER school day. I wish all school days were HALF, like some kindergartens. Bethelle learns more at home than at school. Until education changes drastically, her time is better spent with me. Why would I spend additional hours or DOLLARS on such a failing institution?

  6. I just added Waiting for Superman to my Netflix queue. This is still a new topic for me, and I have you to thank for opening my eyes to lots of it! THose good old days of late night chats in Lubbock...ah. Having just finished Outliers, I am all for more school like Kipp. The system itself needs to change. More time or money won't make much of a difference. It hasn't helped in the past and it won't help now.

  7. Interesting post, this subject is on my mind recently, since I have a child who is headed into school next year. A lot of people I know homeschool and it's something I really am considering - there are SO many benefits. Yet, I still wonder if my kids would benefit from a charter school or language immersion program or many options and thoughts. My friend, Ginny, who is a huge advocate of homeschool (she has 4 kids whom she homeschools), just wrote up a post about it. Here it is:

    Anyway, sounds like you know WAY more than I do on the topic, and I will definitely try to get up to speed with this Waiting for Superman business! Thanks for the tip.