Opening American Minds

This post was inspired by the report "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform" by Marc S. Tucker for the National Center on Education and the Economy (May 24, 2011). This report was from a study the NCEE did of countries that consistently did better than the United States in education and what those countries did to get on top. The countries primarily studied were Canada (Ontario Province), China, Finland, Japan, and Singapore. It is important to note that each country studied what other countries did to improve education, developed a national will which led to a political will to enact change, and did not use anything remotely put forward as reforms in the United States. The United States at one time did have the best education system in the world but made the mistake Ancient China made in determining there can be nothing learned from other countries and closed our minds and our doors to other practices of other countries. Like how Europeans, Americans, and the Japanese used improved technologies invented in China to virtually colonize the once proud Asian country, the same is happening to the United States in education. Hopefully, we can learn from China's mistakes in the past (as they have done themselves) and look outward to rebuild our once great educational system like Japan did during the Meiji Restoration that modernized Japan and turned it into a world power in a short time-span. 

Office of the Governor of our Great State

Over two years ago our state saw three of our biggest companies that provided jobs to over three thousand of our citizens close their doors and move to an Asian country. The political rhetoric that was going around included unions were hurting our state’s ability to compete because of the high cost of compensation. Another complaint was policies in Washington are hurting business with burdensome regulations and taxes that force them to other countries that are more accommodating. I ran on a platform that promised to work hard to bring more jobs to our state and the people of this great state have entrusted me to do just that. One of the first things I did as governor was to sit down with the heads of the companies who are leaving to find out why they turned their backs on us. Their answer startled me. They told me our education system was not producing the quality of workers that can help them stay competitive in a global market. They further told me that their requests to previous administrations for improving our state’s education system fell on deaf ears or was explained away because teacher unions would not allow reform or Washington had their hands tied. 

I wanted to say the same things to but I decided to form a task force to study not only the country where those businesses are going but other countries that consistently outperform the United States in education to see what they are doing and we are not. After we studied the education systems of Canada, China, Finland, Japan, and Singapore I gathered a nonpartisan group of legislators, business leaders, parents, college representatives, teachers, teacher’s union representatives, school and district administrators, and school board members from across the state to create a system of education that will prepare our children for the challenges of the 21st and 22nd centuries. Based on their report, I am making the following recommendations to change our education system into one that is world class:

  1. Improving teacher quality. Much has been said about the relationship of the quality of teachers and the quality of education. The first step is to change the way teachers are trained for this profession. Those who wish to be teachers will need at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject area in which they want to teach and teacher training programs will be done at the graduate level. Those who wish to be considered for a slot in a teacher training program must have above a 3.0 GPA in coursework in their major, pass a rigorous state teacher entrance examination, go before a review panel to include a school administrator to determine a candidate’s fitness and desire to teach, take rigorous coursework in the art of teaching, student teach under the guidance of a master teacher for one year. 
  2. Improving teacher compensation: Teachers in our state will become among the best compensated in the world in order to attract quality candidates for our new teacher training but also keep them in our classrooms for years. Teachers who teach in our lowest performing schools will be given bonuses provided student achievement is improved. It was pointed out our teachers were among the lowest paid in the country and did not even make half of what other professionals with similar education credentials made on average. 
  3. Treat our teachers like professionals: This means not only means having the rights of being treated like a professional but also the responsibilities. Teachers will be expected to work together to improve their students. Also, teachers will be expected to determine what staff development is needed to help them achieve their educational goals set for their students and implement those techniques in the classroom. While teachers will be given curriculum guidelines from the state, the teacher may use whatever means he or she believes will accomplish objectives. While this may mean longer work hours teachers will now be compensated at a level that expects them to do what it takes to accomplish educational goals.
  4. School governance: First our schools will be controlled by the state department of education. They will be the entity responsible for setting curriculum standards, funding schools on a needs basis, assigning teachers and administrators to schools that match their talents to the needs of the school. This means taking power away from our local school districts and even county councils but I believe this would streamline many school functions which would help save money in the long-term that can be put back into the classrooms. Also, the state can better allocate money to schools who are struggling instead of local boards who may not have the tax base to adequately fund their schools. Counties can form advisory groups that can send recommendations to the State Superintendent of Education but will have no governing role in schools. While parents are still encouraged to engage in their children’s schools they can contact regional education offices if they have any problems. 
  5. No Child Left Behind: The State Department of Education will refuse any money from the United States Federal Government that have any restrictions the State Superintendent believes will interfere with the education of our students. While I have directed that our department of education follow all civil rights and special education needs guidelines set by the U.S. Government, we will not participate in mandatory testing stipulated under No Child Left Behind regulations. I believe that mandated high stakes testing of our children every year was one of the reasons our educational system was deemed inadaquet and I am prepared to replace funds lost by not complying with No Child Left Behind. Teachers will be expected to use diagnostic testing such as Measures of Academic Progress or other means of testing to help determine what individual children need. However, there will only be two test this state will require students to take. The first test will be given at the end of the eight grade to determine where individual students will go to further their education. Students who score high on these tests and show aptitude will be sent to academic high schools where they will be given coursework to prepare them for college and higher study. Other students will be sent to comprehensive high schools where they will learn vocational skills that will prepare them for work after high school, the military, or entrance into a technical college for further study in their vocational field. Later, these students will be expected to do work-study programs in which students will do coursework then go to work in businesses to gain valuable work experience. It was determined that this method actually lowered the number of school dropouts and reduced discipline problems because students now have incentives to work hard in school to achieve their academic and career goals. Our schools will provide a well trained workforce demanded by the businesses of our states. The final measurement will be a report all high schools will do on their students for up to five years after graduation. Things measured will be college or vocational college graduation rates, are former students employed in the vocation trained, how well are former students doing in the military. These reports will be used to not only measure the overall effectiveness of schools but determine if schools are meeting the specific needs or local businesses, colleges, and the military.
  6. Given the need to raise teacher compensation and the probable lose of federal money, revenue sources will be needed to fund this ambitious program. I have worked with businesses who have agreed to a raise in their taxes on profits. In return, state businesses will have direct input on skills and curriculum that need to be taught that will help them be competitive in a global market place and helps them lower their training costs. Also, businesses in this state will be given first opportunity to recruit top students whether it is in our high schools or state-supported colleges. This would be a win for our state because it keeps our best people at home. 
  7. Our state will continue to benchmark with school systems around the world. We will also continue to learn what school systems that are better than ours are doing to see if we can adopt it for our state to make it the best school system in the nation. When our goals are met, we be a state businesses around the world will want to come to.

The proposals I have just presented will not be easy, cheap, or quick in improving our school system but I am sure will bring the improvements we need as opposed to the measures that have been offered before. In the countries we studied, none did high-stakes testing like we do, treat our teachers the way we do, offer vouchers or charter schools like those that have been proposed. I do not want to have the discussions I had with the three businesses we lost anymore. To do that we need to consider education in this state an investment in our future instead of a short-term cost to be cut. I am reminded of how Ancient China determined one day that there can be nothing new learned and closed its doors as well as its minds. Then one day China paid the price as other countries used technologies invented by the Chinese but improved to virtually enslave it. Let use not become like Ancient China and close our minds as the rest of the world takes away our future. Thank you.