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Op-Ed: Our Broken Education System and Possible Solutions to Fixing It

By Erin P. Capuano     Feb 12, 2013 in Politics
The state of our education system has been on my mind lately, I have some opinions on how I think we can make immediate changes to improve it. It requires sacrifice and give on both sides of this debate but I am positive as a nation we can do anything.
Teachers literally seem under attack these days by government officials, in fact every time you turn around there’s a politician trying to take away their benefits, pension, or salaries. The education system is so broken in the United States that people are blaming the messenger rather than the message. There is some truth to tweaking the teaching profession and we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize that the system too is in need of updating. Our responsibility, our obligation is to the children of our country to afford them the most accessible, streamlined and stellar education possible.
What are the things we can do now to ensure that our children are getting the best education possible? My first suggestion would be funds. Allotting greater funds to our education system in this country would allow for public schools, even the schools that struggle the most to gain a leg up. In 2011, the federal government spent $3.73 trillion on the federal budget the proposed discretionary spending for 2013 shows 57% went to the military while 6% went to education. Granted, we were still paying for the two wars started during the George W. Bush era, but to say our priorities are a bit skewed would be tame. I propose now that we have drawn down troops and almost all but ended the war in Iraq, and it is now being said that President Barack Obama will announce tonight that he is bringing 34,000 troops home from Afghanistan and that we spend the military budget on our education system. No wars means no more bloated military, we can finally cut back to an acceptable amount like many other countries spend and start investing in the real future, our children.
More funds in the school’s budget would allow for better tools like newer textbooks, computers, and more resources for the students to use in the library. Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can buy a lot of resources for teachers and faculty to use in education. iPads in the classroom, eBooks, these are all excellent tools that teachers can use to enhance the educational experience for students and with a little more money we can get these items into a classroom and expand a child’s mind. Teaching isn’t just about standing in front of a class and talking for hours on end it’s about exposure it’s about opening up a child’s mind to a whole world that’s out there that they may not have access to from their home. It’s cross continent communication through Skype with children in China, it’s about understanding other cultures and other countries, learning about other cultures is probably more important to a student than Algebra will ever be. Equal funds to all schools would also allow the struggling schools in low income areas to offer their students the same education that the middle to upper class students get in other districts, cities and states.
In my previous article I mentioned my belief that education creates jobs, that if we educate people, if we give them the skills they need to function in the real world, they can flourish in careers and add to our economy. Keeping people down, keeping them in a state of poverty does not help our economy; education can only make us stronger. Creating an environment where students dream of becoming teachers again the excitement of educating children and doing something wonderful for your community is a feeling we need to get back. Incentives to hiring talented teachers is another way we can get only the best in the teaching profession, a solid health benefits package, a modest pension, and summers off sounds like a great incentive to me. However teachers are not without criticism, there are many teachers in their position who are not there for the right reasons who are not living up to their jobs as the leaders for children. How do we eliminate those teachers while keeping the best ones in their positions and ensuring they stay there?
Merit Pay is a term used most frequently in the corporate world:
Merit pay, also known as pay-for-performance, is defined as a raise in pay based on a set of criteria set by the employer. This usually involves the employer conducting a review meeting with the employee to discuss the employee's work performance during a certain time period. Merit pay is a matter between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative).
While Merit Pay is not the only solution it can be a tool in how we evaluate a teacher’s job performance and how we reward the good teachers and eliminate the bad ones. Merit pay is a great way for people to strive for better in their positions, it’s a goal to work towards.
Job performance evaluations are another way to see the level that a teacher is working on in their position,but it also lends for a greater chance of grey areas in the review process. Perception is all in the eye of the beholder, so how can we be sure that the person who is reviewing the teacher can remain objective and follow guidelines? Take for example every major corporation that uses employee performance evaluations to review employees before raises are given, each employee is reviewed based on what their job description says they are to accomplish. Did the employee accomplish their goals that they set for themselves for that year, did they follow the department’s policies, did they accomplish the all around company goal? This can be another tool for teacher evaluations. Teachers cannot be evaluated on the progress of their class as a whole. As we know from scientific studies each student learns at a different level and no two students are alike, therefore if two students are not progressing at the rate that the rest of the class is progressing we cannot hold that against a teacher if they are doing everything in their power to assist those students in their learning.
Eliminating Tenure is another idea that has been danced around in many school districts and on the state level. I agree that no one should have a job for life, no employee should be safe from criticism or safe from unemployment. We live in a society where we should always strive for better not that we should do just enough to get by and sometimes people can become complacent. Tenure is great when you have teachers who have earned it who go well above and beyond the call of duty but the problem throughout the years is that with the good comes the bad and the bad teachers have jobs for life, it's time to break this cycle.
Standardized tests should not and cannot be the way teachers are evaluated in their positions, students as we already know learn at different rates, but they also function in different ways as well. Some students are better test takers than others, while some learn better visually others learn from audible means. We cannot discount the fact that students have shown to do poorly on tests and yet do well when it comes to in-class assignments and homework. There is not a one size fits all solution to our education problem in this country, but we have enough great minds living here that we can put our heads together and come up with a better future for our children.
Last but certainly not least, school administration, such as Principals and Vice Principals including Superintendents, must be qualified and have extensive training before they can sit in such high positions. Too many times we see a person in a powerful position who is unqualified and does not have the years of experience to warrant such a job and can substantially hold a school back from flourishing. Administration needs to be able to work in conjunction with and rely on their teachers in a school environment they must be a staunch advocate for their staff.
While we can’t solve this issue overnight and no one is suggesting we can, there are steps we can take to ensure that all children have equal access to education and all teachers are treated fairly in their profession.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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