Is our model for public education as broken as it seems? And if so, how do we fix it? Of course, funding is surely part of the answer, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it’s THE answer. When I first saw this headline about the creation of a new, national standard for education, my immediate reaction was “Oh no, please no!”

You see, as a consumer of public education, I’ve become jaded. Like most folks, I’ve watched the quality of our educational system slowly erode over time. Most recently, our schools have become fixated on standards-based testing, resulting in a narrowing of curriculum and an obsessive focus on meeting the benchmarks for “No Child Left Behind.” With the near-abandonment of “elective” classes in art, music, etc., and teachers forced to focus more time and resources on the slower learners, it seems to me that NCLB could have just as easily been called “No Child Pushed Ahead.”

I know I’m not the only one who has an intuitive sense that, as a whole, we’ve been dumbing down the standards to keep kids moving through the system. So, when I see that the powers-that-be are looking at creating a single, national standard for academics, I fear the worst. I fear that this could become the ultimate dumb-down, setting the bar so low that kids actually have to try to fail.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that any new standards would be based on the highest-performing schools, the most innovative teaching methods, the most enterprising public-private partnerships. I want to see hard-working teachers rewarded for their efforts, and lazy ones booted out of the system. I want to see more responsibility placed on the parents to actively engage in their child’s education.

I want to see schools keep their doors open after-hours, creating a safe environment for kids who want to stay and do homework, form study groups, or receive tutoring to do so. Why can’t we create that fun, socio-academic vibe (that “hey, I’m just happy to be here” feeling so common on college campuses) in our primary and secondary schools?

And what role do our teachers play in the resurgence? Personally, I’ve watched my kids reap the benefits of some truly dedicated and inspiring teachers, and it’s made me feel a great sense of hope and pride. But I’ve also had the horror of seeing them endure teachers who were so out-of-touch, mean-spirited, apathetic and lazy that it felt like, despite our efforts to intervene, the entire year a waste and we honestly felt as though some real damage had been done. Teachers like that have no business being in our classrooms.

In today’s brutal unemployment climate, there are undoubtedly thousands of smart, creative, and energetic professionals that could make the leap into teaching. Perhaps now is the time to offer early retirement to some bad apples, and give our kids hope for a better tomorrow. And I’m curious . . . do “first career” teachers generally respect the talents of “second career” teachers? Are they welcoming and helpful, or do the newbies spark a sort of career turf-war? Are newer teachers viewed as simply naive, with the old guard knowing that their enthusiasm will quickly wane once reality sets in? What’s really happening in the background, and how does that effect what goes on in the classroom?

Charter schools are on the rise. We’ve had personal experience with a couple of them, and have been generally impressed with the academics in both cases. I can’t help but think part of the reason for their success is that these schools are typically not the “convenient” option, which means that if the kids are going to attend, the family is going to make a substantial commitment and investment in time, travel, and volunteer work. This has the effect of weeding out the families that don’t take personal responsibility for their kids’ education. And could it be that the lack of tenure in the charter schools keeps teachers more engaged and on their toes? Should we trade tenure for merit pay?

I know that some of my readers are teachers, and I’d really like to hear from you. Is our model for public education as broken as it seems? And if so, how do we fix it? Forward this blog to every other teacher you know, and let’s air out some ideas. You’ve got some, right?

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