Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama on Education

President Obama gave a speech yesterday outlining some of his plans for education. His proposals are covered here by the Washington Post. I was struck by the following passage:
Obama's speech, his first as president devoted to education, struck a tone of urgency at a time when public education is slated to receive about $100 billion in new federal money under the recently passed economic stimulus package. The money may give Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, more influence in reshaping a public education system traditionally guided by state governments and local school districts.

That pretty much summarizes a huge problem with our education system -- it's tied to a giant federal bureaucracy that's spends more and more money, and gets less and less results. Spending another hundred billion of taxpayer money to have the federal government tinker with our educational system is completely insane -- I don't know how else to describe it. But let's look at Obama's specific suggestions.

Merit pay for teachers. Rewarding employees for doing an excellent job -- what a radical concept! This should already be the case, and it isn't because of unions -- something the government encourages, since public school teachers are obviously government employees. Good luck getting merit pay that's based on actual performance instituted.

National standards. This is something that in my opinion is a reasonable role for the federal government in education. 

Extending the school day. Unnecessary. How about spending more time actually teaching important material, and less time screwing around with various fluff? How about reducing the number of school closure days?

Expanding charter schools. A good idea, as long as they are producing good results.

Expanding federal grants and aid. A bad idea. Still more spending. Cut grants and eliminate student loan guarantees entirely.

Overall Obama's education proposals rest on the false notion that the federal government needs to take a huge role in education. But unfortunately that idea is now so ingrained, that we can't get away from it. We will continue to spend massive amounts trying to improve education, and continue wondering why it isn't working. Some of Obama's tweaks might be helpful, but no one should expect great strides in education any time in the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

  1. As an unrelenting leftist (which isn't the same thing as the fracking idiots that you complain about, who cling to the left out of the genuine realization that their brand of insanities don't "fit" well with the equally insane right wing religion peddlers). Just to be clear what "I" mean by "leftist".

    Maybe we should stop using left and right and just say what *as* accurate. Sane people on both sides are tied to some assumptions that may or may not be 100% accurate of useful, which makes us look like one or the other, but, otherwise, when confronted with these people, we should be saying, "Oh, your looking for the dumb fuck associations, the are over there waving around elephants and mules."

    Anyway.. My points. Merit pay.. Great idea, but we should try first paying them more to start with, and **far** less the administration, whose main purpose seems to be to kiss the ass of every lunatic with a kid in the school, and dumb everything down to the point in the process, to the point where only the sort of people that should probably have a rubber room are still "offended" by any of it. And then, the administration, when confronted with such a person, 9 times out of ten, will cave to them anyway.

    Giving merit pay to teachers in such conditions is like giving an occasional gold coin to a half starved field worker, for planting potatoes exceptionally well, while simultaneously whining about how the only thing any of them seem to plant are potatoes. We don't let them teach, we listen to the ranting of ideologues that get offended if they "do" teach, and then we pay some jerk that sits behind a desk 10 times as much to tell them, "Don't teach so much. Its disturbing the nut cases!"

    So, first get them to where they are paid fair and let them teach what they "should" be teaching. Nay, demand that they do, rather than what ever they think they should be teaching (i.e. a real national standard, not the 'lets see if you can teach the kid how to pass a multiple choice test, while still being too ignorant and uncritically thinking to not comprehend any of it.') Then we will talk about "rewarding" ones that exceed that *basic*, but currently nonexistent, standard.

    Charter schools... Depends. What do you mean by that? See, you can get, but generally don't', charter schools that are dedicated to teaching critical thinking and facts, or you can get what Washington DC has, which, I forget the exact number, but something like 80%, of all the money for them via vouchers and the like, go to schools dedicated to ignoring facts, teaching belief in faith as a process to "find" answers, and undermining everything eduction is suppose to stand for. The former, I would love to see more of. What a badly fear is more of the later, and without any clear way to stop it, where as, in theory, public schools are not supposed to engage in that kind of BS.

    Fed grants and aid. Hmm. To who? Students? Great, I got cheating out of mine and still have an $18,000 bill from it, over a $1,000 over valuation of my parents property at the time. With the job I now have, I will still be paying the damn thing off when I am 60. To schools... Well, when you can stop schools from receiving billions to fund the next multi-billion dollar football star, instead of the student that figures out AIDS, or you can guarantee that all those charter schools will survive by being "good" at teaching, not "good at teaching the parents ideologies", then I will consider the usefulness of not adding more funding. The problem is the same with teacher pay though. Stop giving it to people whose main goal is to get reelected to a school board, or to sit on their ass and grin at the power they have over the supposedly "smart" teachers, who make less than they do, and make sure it goes to the teachers and "real" materials to teach with. Then the issue of "aid" goes away.

    No, the one thing missing from this, and the one he can't say, or no one would accept it, is "replace school boards with the current, 'elect the village idiot', system, and replace them with people who are 'required' to have some fracking clue what they are talking about." That is more critical than anything else, and more and more so, since one my side of the fence are morons that think "alternative medicine" makes some sort of sense, and would probably love to have some of that taught in schools, and one yours, are people "intentionally" trying to destroy, and stating so publicly in some cases, the public school system, because they imagine that the "replacement" will be institutions that throw out every inconvenient thing anyone has ever discovered, invented, or recorded in a history book, which doesn't jibe with their vision of how the universe "should" be, and their "god", wants us to make it.

    We need competent people in charge, but we are electing people from the movie Idiocracy to run them, then paying those people more than the teachers, refusing to create a national standard, using worthless tests that only identify if someone remembers something, not if they understand it, to assess the result, and the answer everyone comes up with is... more schools that don't have to abide by any rules that already exist, and can create pretty much make up any other "special" rules they want, as long as their are not illegal, to force on the students.

    Sorry, I don't see that "fixing" much of anything. Its ignoring the people that want the existing people to fail, why they want it to, what they want to replace it with, and what the real result that (and they know it) all too often ends up replacing the failures.

    So, I have to say, I agree about 80% with you. But.. I also think you have a very naive view of just who is helping to screw up the system, and what "they" intend to do with those "charter schools" you seem to think are so valuable.