When people start talking about education reform, I’m always surprised to discover those who speak the most loudly and critically have never taught. My first suggestion for reform education is that before anyone can state an opinion or sponsor a law, he or she has to teach in a classroom–putting together lessons plans, grading papers, taking care of discipline–for two weeks. After that, maybe they’ll have a better, more realistic what they are talking about. My hope is that they no longer compare education to a business model and don’t talk about competition improving schools as if students were widgets.
My second suggestion is that the reformers should chat with teachers and listen to their suggestions. The teachers unions have been criticised–fairly or unfairly–but teachers have never been listened to about what would make schools better. I taught high school Spanish for thirty years. I have some good ideas. Ask me!
And now my BIG suggestion: limit the number of students in a classroom in grades one to three to fewer than fifteen students per classroom. As well as an experienced teacher, there should be at least one teachers’ aide. It’s during these years students gain the basics to build on. If students can’t read, how do we expect them to handle sciences classes or history classes? If students don’t know basic math skills, how well will they do in basic math much less algebra and geometry? By the time students enter high school, it’s too late to make much of a difference. Teachers in math classes can’t go back and teach multiplication tables which means students who arrive without that background won’t succeed and will drop out.
Oh, one more thing: all that mandated testing. If students don’t learn the basics in small, supportive classrooms which address each student’s individual needs, they aren’t going to do well on tests. A student who flunks the accountability tests in third grade will not pass the next test or the next or the next. That student will fail over and over because we have failed to provide a sound foundation.
I often hear, “Education is our first priority” from politicians who then cut money to schools which cuts teachers and increases class sizes. Little by little, I’m beginning to believe education is not a priority.
What do you think? How would you reform our education system?