Hmmm, five ways I would improve our education system if money were not an issue? I like that. It is a timely topic, often discussed. However, I only need one way. It's a big one. One with huge, sweeping results. But the good news--this one item will not require more money, per se. This one item is something we already have. This one item is nothing that we have not already known for decades. Bonus, improvements will be made quickly and with continued success regardless of levies or measures, politics or procedures. Is it too good to be true? No. It is a reality we already possess.
- The quality of teacher instruction.
Sadly, the one item holding back the high quality of our education system is the very thing that could also improve the education system. Teachers. Yes, my list is a list of one. I am sure to have ruffled some feathers, but before you go straight to the comment section and "let me have it", hear me out.
My list is a list of one because research and personal experience. What I ask is that you put all preconceptions aside and think of what "thing" has the most contact with students and that thing will be teacher instruction. Therefor, teacher instruction should be the center of all education reform.
Yes, budgets will always be an issue and my list of one is not to say that we can ignore the budget (that is hardly the case). Rather, it seems prudent to consider that budgetary needs will grow in relation to an increase in students and resource needs, e.g., more students moving into a district will require more teachers and tables and if a state wants their students to be computer literate, the state will be required to put up the money.
So that is my tip-of-the-hat to the issue of money. But I plan to do nothing more with money. Money will not solve the failing and floundering students. You can throw as much money at them as you want. Money, used as an object, a symbol of change, will create the same results in education that have gone on for decades. (If you do what you have always done, you will get the results you have always gotten.)
For those of you who want to do something with money to improve the system of education, go ahead, but put it toward improving teacher instruction for, again, the variable that will improve student learning the most is the quality of the teacher instruction.
Teacher instruction can be improved with a three level focus--school & district professionalism, state teacher certification programs, and an increase in salary across the nation.
You may have noticed the money aspect to that last one and even inferred the money required to rebuild the other two levels. It appears to be a money issue, but it is a simple as using the money that we already have and redesign how and where it is used.
Schools, and therefor the district, can improve the teaching quality with an attention to continuing professional development; building professional learning communities; and fostering a mentor program for new teachers. I have found that teachers are life-long learners and are constantly looking for ways to improve the craft of their teaching. Let's take this innate want to improve instruction and support it. It is good business sense because teachers are willing to put a great deal of energy into the art and skill of instruction for what little money it would require to build a self-sustaining community of educators.
Working backward, before teachers get to the schools and build their professional communities, certification programs need to be able to provide a consistently high teacher upon completion. These programs need rigorous standards that focus on instruction, the art of teaching.
The very last level is the national level. What can this level do? Nothing directly. At least nothing as personal as a school leader could do for his or her teachers. However, at the national level, teacher instruction can be improved by drawing in the best of the best, and providing a competitive wage for teachers. In this way, teaching won't be a "plan B" job, but a goal. A strong company will hire strong employees and have the insight to strengthen its current employees with training and support.
I don't need new computers or new desks. What I need is a system that sees instruction as the skill, the ability to impact student learning, not just another body to pass out photocopies.