Throwing Money At Public Education Is Not The Answer, System Change Is Needed

Thomas Friedman in his column printed in the Dayton Daily News today advances, what sounds to me, a really dumb idea. Friedman says that federal income taxes should be eliminated for all public school teachers, “so more talented people would choose these careers.”

I fully support the notion that our public education system needs transformation via the application of radical ideas. And Friedman’s idea is radical. But, simply pouring great gobs on money into our public education system — via teacher tax breaks or any other method — is not the answer. Increasing teachers’ status to even higher levels as pampered and privileged government workers will not result in the transformation that is needed.

I agree with Friedman’s thinking, when he says, “J.F.K. took us to the moon. Let B.H.O. take America back to school.” But Friedman should give more thought as to what a transformation of public education would really mean, and how such a transformation might be accomplished.

Friedman’s comment about JFK reminds me that, last May, I wrote, Barack Obama’s ‘Go To The Moon’ Challenge For Our Time Should Be: Transform Public Education.  The post was in response to statements Obama made that U.S. citizens should be guaranteed “an education that will allow them to fulfill their God-given potential.”

Defining education in terms of the development of individual potential would require vast changes in our educational system. It would be a truly stunning goal, of the same magnitude as Kennedy’s go-to-the-moon goal, because, a system of public education centered on understanding and fulfilling individual potential would require a revolution in our system of public education.

The starting point for any meaningful discussion of educational reform is a recognition of the basic reality of public education: public education is based on a system that is very flawed, and it is the system itself that must change. What is needed is radical change in the system itself, not tinkering in the system. Such radical change would require making new system structures and would require a well thought plan to transition from the present system to a new system.

I expressed some of these thoughts recently on David Esrati’s web-site, and, a respondent on that blog, Gene, asked, “What are the real alternatives Mike? Pointing out the problem is easy. What is the better system that would work for Dayton in particular?”

But I disagree that “pointing out the problem is easy.” Most people don’t see the problem of dramatically improving public education as a system problem. Most people focus on the elements — a curriculum problem, a teacher qualification problem, a discipline problem, a disengaged parent problem — and come up with tinkering ideas. They don’t see that the elements are really just part of one big system problem.

In, Strickland Should Use Charter Schools To Help Fulfill His Promise: “Reform and Renew the System of Education Itself”, I compared our system of public education to the system that produced the notoriously deficient pre-1989 East German car, The Trabant. I wrote, “The Trabant factory was organized inefficiently and was kept going by government subsidies. Tinkering with the Trabant production — through imposing ever more government inspections or through new rewards and punishments for its workers or through new management rules — failed to change the Trabant into a quality product. Only a vast change in organizational structure could have had the quality impact that was needed and the political will to make such massive change never materialized.”

Recognizing that the problem is the system is a first start. No amount of tinkering in system processes would have fixed the Trabant — and doubling the pay of all the workers wouldn’t have fixed it either. The aim of the Trabant system was to keep communist bosses in power and for many years the aim of the system was accomplished. The actual aim of the system never was the production of a quality automobile.

We need to recognize that the actual aim of our public education system, as many see it, is simply to provide jobs to a multitude of government workers. This aim is accomplished brilliantly.

The ostensible aim of the system, as opposed to its actual aim, itself has degenerated.  Schools used to have wonderful statements of philosophy of purpose.  I worked on several school committees where we argued purpose with passion.  But now, the acknowledged purpose of public education, as asserted by local boards of education, is to produce test scores.  Today’s school purpose is not one that would have even been considered adequate by yesterday’s philosophy of purpose committees.  But, even though the aim of producing test scores is much too low and much too trivial, this aim seems to have a lot of public support.

A lot of people seem impressed when, according to government standards, their schools are deemed “excellent.” Such designations are all about test scores. But high or adequate test scores are not sufficient to indicate an adequate education.  I expanded this thought in To Transform Our System Of Education, We Must Redefine The Aim Of The System.

Gene asks a great question — “What is the better system that would work for Dayton in particular?” A better system, I believe, would first of all be focused on accomplishing a worthwhile aim — “an education that will empower every child to fulfill his or her God-given potential.” Then, a better system would find a way to structure opportunities that would effectively motivate new levels of hard work and creativity in both teachers and students and new levels of focus on accomplishing the aim of the system.

A capitalistic system with freedom for the individual is the system we say we believe in.  This is the system that has been proven to effectively motivate individuals to higher levels of hard work and creativity. Yet our school systems are quite the opposite of the capitalistic system.   A better system, I believe, would move away from the hierarchical, bureaucratic, system already in place and would create structures to encourage entrepreneurial initiative — initiative empowered to accomplish the aim of the system.

Isn’t Dayton spending in excess of $12,000 per year per student? That’s a lot of money. A reasonable proposal, I think, would be to let the system keep $2,000 per student, for overhead and administration, and, then, use the other $10,000 per student to establish a competitive Request For Proposal (RPF) system. I’m thinking that if teachers had the opportunity to respond to an RFP and were challenged to design an educational program that would highly motivate ten students, funded with $100,000, there would be a lot of viable ideas come forward that are not now being considered.  A lot of new teacher talent would come forward, at higher levels.  If teachers were given new levels of opportunity and accountability, I believe, many would rise to the challenge.  This idea, of course, needs a lot of work — but it speaks to the quality and type of system change that, I believe, is needed.

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12 Responses to Throwing Money At Public Education Is Not The Answer, System Change Is Needed

  1. Susan R says:

    Any changes in education that involved more individualization and less homogenization would be an enormous shift in focus. I have been ranting for years that you don’t fix the system by increasing the complexity, size, and bureaucracy of the system.

    Changes I’d suggest-
    1) Return control of schools to state and local levels. Throw a big Farewell Party for the Dept of Ed and the NEA- I’ll bring the chips and dip.

    2) Create alternative methods of teacher certification so that folks with a lifetime of experience and a variety of skills can be brought into the classroom (how about tapping into the talents and energies of our wonderful senior citizens, eh?)

    3) Parents who wish to use the system must agree to some basic commitments, such as getting their kids to school on time, dressed, fed, with their homework done, as well as a minimum number of hours volunteering in some capacity at the school.

    4) Educational choice- let tax dollars follow the child, instead of forcing parents to follow an arbitrary map of school districts. Oy vey.

    I just started reading the articles here, but if the rest of what you have written is of the same tone and content as the above post, I am sure I am going to enjoy myself here.

  2. Rick says:

    Mike, you say, “Most people focus on the elements — a curriculum problem, a teacher qualification problem, a discipline problem, a disengaged parent problem — and come up with tinkering ideas.” Those are huge problems; realistically there is no solution to the disengaged parent problem. (I have a proposed solution but it would be called cruel (but well deserved) punishment. You may consider raising test scores as trivial, but I don’t. I know that the educational establishment and the media conspired to hide how awful our schools had become. Because of their lies and deceptions the American people no longer trusted them and put in place testing. One West Virginia physician did a study and found that all 50 states claimed their students were above average. (The call it the Lake Wobegon effect).

    I agree that many schools districts, especially in urban areas, primarily exist to provide employment to as many people as possible and at as high a salary as possible. If anyone objects they are subject to personal attacks.

    Susan, I agree with your suggestions. However, many want the federal money but not federal accountability.

    I can tell you that choice in education in Dayton has had some dramatic effects for the better.

  3. Susan R says:

    I agree that there are no trivial problems in our education system, but I think that folks tend to pick out one or two as the most important, as if all we have to do is change one thing and all will be well. We definitely need a multifaceted approach to resolve the many problems our schools are experiencing.

    As for accountability, I think that control should be left at the state and local level, not the federal level. It’s ridiculous to think that parents in the Midwest are going to have the same needs or concerns as parents in New England or the West Coast, and they certainly have different cultures and socio-economic forces at work. How does federal oversight address the needs of individual states, much less those of individual citizens?

    Mike’s mention of per student spending is interesting, in light of the fact that I’ve been home educating since 1993, and I have yet to spend more than $400 in any given year, and most years I spend less than $100 (I have four kids and graduated my firstborn son two years ago). Expensive textbooks are not necessary, and are often an impediment to creativity and curiosity. I have my doubts that a population as institutionalized as ours will be able to toss out textbooks, but it sure would reduce per student spending and open the door to real books and a richer educational experience at a fraction of the cost.

  4. Stan Hirtle says:

    Kind of a strange time to be singing the praises of the capitalist system, where we are suffering from how it, instead of motivating individuals to higher levels of hard work and creativity, engaged its hard work in creativity in gaming a system to con both borrowers and investors into making and buying lousy mortgage loans, thereby causing the system to nearly collapse. Unless you think that the government made them do it by somehow making lenders make bad loans and making Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy them (a view that does not correspond to reality) capitalism looks pretty dysfunctional at the moment. And while it may seem to work ok dealing with comparatively simple products like fast food, (I was going to add cars but they aren’t doing so well either, with GM perhaps going the way of the Trabant that Mike Bock talks about) it is not clear that it is going to work with a complex product like education.

    Bock has concerned with the quality of democratic life throughout society, but the big problem that dominates public education is the urban schools, where the institution faces, and is arguably made responsible for, concentrations of impoverished students of the lower classes, and the cultures that exist in such situations of concentrated poverty. Disengaged parents, or even parents put off by their own experiences in the system, are certainly one issue. Certainly home schooling will not work with them. Actually it takes parents, kids, teachers, the support staff of the school, the community around the school and the larger community to work together to achieve education. We ask schools to overcome the absence of other things, and do not give them the resources needed to make up the difference. Under No Child Left Behind, we then beat them up for not doing so. While throwing money at problems can often fail, throwing poverty at problems is even more likely to. No conservative throws poverty at problems that they care about. And I don’t think many people in Centerville object to having an arbitrary map of school districts.

    The one thing that works best among the poor seems to be to be highly selective about which kids you let into your school. This may be actually good for those kids, but not for the rest.

    Bock’s entrepreneurial model has numerous problems. In theory you might have something like we do with hamburgers, where people can experience McDonalds and Burger King, often side by side, and pick their favorite. Bad hamburgers might go out of business and better ones might thrive. There actually are some charter school franchises, but they haven’t really done better at educating (as opposed maybe to marketing) than anyone else. Most are “mom and pop” outfits with limited resources of their own. Some charter schools where highly respected principals hired away teachers they favored, and have not succeeded. Omega Baptist is arguably among the most dynamic and human resource laden African American churches in Dayton, and their school did not succeed. Charter schools are not going to do better than public schools because they are affected by the same problems, and the difference in structure does not contain solutions.

    We do have the kind of system Bock describes with higher education. In theory any student can go to any college that will accept them. State colleges give or used to give better deals to students from their states, but there are no arbitrary school districts. There is of course hierarchy and inequality between these schools, which range from Harvard and Yale to Ohio State to Wright State and Central State, and to private “proprietary” schools of various sorts, some of which are trying to make the most of technology. But we don’t make anyone go to these colleges, and many people do not. We do make everyone go to high shool and our jails are full of people who did not successfully complete.

    Another problem is that if Bock’s 5 teachers do have great ideas, who is going to build them a building, do all the administration, deal with the kids who get sick, feed them lunch and perhaps deal with all the problems that come along in their lives. Fixed overhead is a big deal for urban systems. (Home schooling has little additional overhead, but really only works for parents who arguably could be teachers themselves.)

    Given that kids in poverty start out behind, for lack of resources and perhaps downright disfunction at home, how do you catch them up?

    Many believe that public schools, particularly urban public schools, are mostly about employing people at undeservedly high salaries. There are no doubt some examples that prove that rule, particularly since teachers formed unions and even went on strike to force respectable salaries. However many teachers I know live and die with the lives of their students. I would like to see some conservative think tank people go teach in some urban public schools and see how they do.

    Particularly fascinating is the result of settlement of the Gatreux lawsuit, which had to do with segregated public housing in Chicago. as a small part of the settlement they took small numbers of typical kids from the projects and sent their families to the suburbs, and they ended up doing as well as the other suburban kids. The problem, when they have tried this other places, is that if the community the families are moving to finds out this is happening, they do not tolerate it. However these “experiments” show we are dealing with social issues and not talent or other raw material.

    We ask a lot of schools, and seem to be asking more given that “unskilled” factory work is mostly heading for countries with cheap labor. In the old days, it was common for people to drop out and work in factories, farms or other manual labor that no longer exists. And that is about the education system just producing a work force, which is less that Bock thinks we need to really have the kind of democratic society we want. Ultimately much of this is about poverty, class and the culture of poverty and should be analyzed on that basis.

  5. Mike Bock says:

    Wow. There is a lot here to respond to.

    Susan R, I followed your link to your web-site. Interesting. I would like to know more about the Forestdale Home Education Services that you are initiating. My response to your four suggested changes:

    1) Ditch NEA and Dept of Ed. Isn’t there a legitimate role for national leadership and national funding? The NEA is a national union supported by teachers’ dues. Even if there was a compelling reason to do so, I don’t see a mechanism that could be used to coerce it to disappear. As a democratic organization, however, there should be a way to see it become dramatically reformed.
    2) Allow Alternative teacher certification. Last I checked ( eight years ago) there were laws on the books that allow schools to hire part-time help of qualified individuals — I think 15 hours per week — say an established scientist to teach one high school physics class. Such provisions are not used because of teacher union opposition. I need to check on what current laws say.
    3) Coerce good parenting. Every effort should be made to positively involve parents but children should not be punished because of their parents’ deficiencies.
    4) Educational choice. Yes. But, Probably only possible within a school district, rather than between districts.

    My point is that the only hope of dealing with the big problems everyone wants to solve is via a systems’ approach — not by an individual component approach. We need to define the purpose and aim of public education and then we need a way to assess to what degree schools and educational programs are accomplishing that aim. I do not feel, as you charge, that “raising test scores is trivial.” I do feel that the purpose of public education has been degraded and trivialized by the government’s criteria of evaluation — which overly relies on test score results. We, as a society, need to be clear as to how we define the public good that public education is seeking to advance. As I said, the first step in system thinking, as I understand it, is to clarify aim, then, the next steps are harder: create the organizational structures, based on solid theory and “profound knowledge” (Deming’s term), to accomplish the aim of the system.

    What is amazing about charter schools, at least the ones I’ve noticed, is that their organizational structures and operating theories are pretty much the same as those structures and theories that have doomed other public schools to failure. There should be little surprise, then, that these failed charter schools, in fact, failed. Often these “mom and pop,” as you call them, charter schools were started by experienced teachers and administrators who were steeped in the failed practices, theories, and organizational structures of the current system, and when they had a chance to start their own schools, convinced themselves that tinkering with the present system — rather than radical transformation of the present system — was the answer. Many, and it is probably safe to say, all, of these failed charter schools (even the ones not closed, but showing very poor results) should never have been allowed to open in the first place, because their plans showed that they were simply intent on copying the failed structures and failed theories of the present system.

    I would like to know more about the Omega Baptist School. I wasn’t aware that it had gone belly up. I think your diagnosis, in general, is wrong, however, when you point to its failure to say, “Charter schools are not going to do better than public schools because they are affected by the same problems, and the difference in structure does not contain solutions.”

    My diagnosis is that, of course you can expect charter schools to fail — if they simply copy the failed system structures and failed theories of other failing public schools. Charter schools that can choose their students and parents should last longer, should show more success — for the same reason that Oakwood or Centerville Schools show success — and it is surprising, therefore, that Omega didn’t last longer.

    My thought is that a local school board should produce a long term vision of system transformation — changing a district’s school system into a system of schools, under control of and accountable to the local board. (I see this as a gradual, extended and learning process that might take five or ten years to complete.) Schools in this system of schools might be started via variations of the RFP processes I suggest in my post. The idea is to find a way to break up an intensely hierarchical, bureaucratic system and to create an interdependent system of independent schools. Our problem is that we keep replicating a failed system, and unless there is some coherent plan for change, in twenty years the system will be pretty much what it is today (as today’s system is pretty much what it was twenty years ago).

    Every district already has teachers, classrooms, office space, building square footage that could be modified, equipment, buses, ground and property, maintenance and cafeteria workers. How can these best be used is the question. A given building might house a number of independent “schools” — just like the Empire State Building houses a lot of independent companies.

    And yes, I feel that even those schools deemed “excellent” by government are operating at a level far below their potential — and that students in these “excellent” schools are being cheated of experiencing a quality education. (Again, defining “quality” is crucial.) These “excellent” schools are in great need of transformation — and the same type of transformation that DPS needs — a basic change in 1) the “aim,” the definition of quality 2) the organizational structure of the system and 3) the operating theories of the system. I live in Kettering and I’m considering whether I might have enough gumption to run for the Kettering School Board to try to find some support for these ideas.

    As you say, Dayton, like most urban areas, is encumbered with “poverty, class and the culture of poverty.” Because of its many problems, Dayton, at first glance, would not seem to be an ideal place to attempt transformational change of the system. Kettering might seem a better choice. But what Dayton also has, that it should use to its advantage, is a great dissatisfaction with its public school system. And, Dayton has one of the biggest, if not the biggest, assortment of charter school than any other district in the country.

    Dissatisfaction, properly channeled, could be a huge impetus for the transformational change that Dayton needs. DPS already has the start of a “system of schools” in its district, via its many charter schools. DPS has a huge advantage in funding, buildings, etc., yet this huge advantage has not prevented charter schools from forming. The educational free market has come alive in Dayton and, it seems to me, Dayton should see this as an opportunity. Dayton could create — via entrepreneurial opportunities — a competitive system of independent schools and its superior funding could offer more highly competent teachers and superior programs, compared to the charter schools already in existence. Eventually, over time, I think it is a fair bet that with such a competitive advantage most charter schools would return to the DPS family of schools. A transformed systems of DPS schools would be a light to the whole Dayton area and could be the impetus for new vitality in education within the whole region. I think it is an idea worth considering.

  6. Susan R says:

    My responses to your response: :D

    1) I don’t think there is a legitimate role for the federal gov’t in education, and IMO the Constitution backs that up- the federal gov’t does not need to have its sticky fingers in every single pie. It’s just that simple.

    The last thing the NEA is is a democratic organization. If so, how does a teacher opt out? How would a teacher impact what socio-economic policies the NEA supports?

    BTW, the NEA contributed $50 million to Barack Obama’s campaign.

    2) I think the provisions in the law for alternative teacher certification are terribly inadequate, and as you point out, they are strongly opposed by teacher’s unions- another reason to make the NEA/AFT walk the plank. Teacher’s unions are notorious for blocking education reform, passing the trash, using dues to support political policies that don’t have anything to do with education, and creating an adversarial relationship between teachers and school administrators. Don’t even get me started on tenure.

    Allow teachers to form their own unions per district or state. The federal/national level is too broad and homogeneous. Teachers need responsive, local level support- not some educrat who makes $400,000/year while most teachers barely make $50,000/year.

    3) I don’t believe that ‘good’ parenting can truly be coerced, but if a chimp can fly a plane, a human being can certainly provide the basic necessities for a child, and that should include a few criteria for parents who want to access a taxpayer supported education system. If they refuse, why not fine them and withhold benefits from any other gov’t programs they receive? I bet that’d perk ’em up real quick.

    If a mother or father refuses to parent, (which includes providing an adequate education) then remove the child.

    Of course, the foster care system sucks like a Kirby, but that’s another topic.

    4) As for school choice inside districts, I certainly don’t think parents in Des Moines should send their kids to school in Poughkeepsie, but IMO efforts to promote educational choice have been rather weak and pathetic. Some homeschooling parents drive quite far to be part of educational coops, clubs, and support groups. We are outside of the system, thank God, so there is no one to tell us where we can and can’t go to access opportunities for our kids. Why not allow parents IN the system to have at least a little bit of freedom?

    But freedom can be intoxicating, and once you let that horse out of the corral, people might start thinking for themselves, and we can’t be havin’ that, now can we? ;)

  7. Stan Hirtle says:

    Isn’t the idea of charter schools that the government was supposed to allow almost anything to open and the market would reward the good and punish the bad. This probably works better with hamburgers than schools but even there people expect hamburgers to be kept free of e-coli, rather than having individual consumer choices of which hamburgers have e-coli and which don’t. Schools are more difficult and like hamburgers wit he-coli, people who bet on the wrong school are harmed thereby.

    If all these people who are motivated to set up small charter schools, presumably many are good educators frustrated by the present system, can’t succeed because they are not radical enough to do it, who is? Ideologues? Or do they really know less than other people, as in the Bush Administration?
    Interestingly what Bock envisions, small independent schools somehow joined together (I’m not sure an office building is a good analogy. It is not really a system, just some space being shared. Perhaps more like a Department store where all the women’s clothing brands have different spaces but in the same store. This is however kind of the opposite of retailing where small stores are driven out of business by bigger and bigger boxes.)

    I still don’t see how the issues of poverty, class and differences in resources of all kinds between privilege and poverty are not a major problem with the failing urban schools, which are the ones that inspired all this standardized testing so we could measure how bad they are and have something more justifiable then just race or class discrimination. If Charter Schools in the inner city do not solve the problem they will do as badly as the public system. What is wrong with this analysis?

    As far as punishing parents for the educational failings of kids, we have too many people in jail as it is. As Susan R points out, the alternative to homes is foster homes, which is usually even more of a problem system. Who is going to do the punishing? And if conservatives think government is too demanding and instrusive, how are they going to like this? One idea of interest is community schools that bring schooling to children and adults. Might work some but it will cost a lot.

  8. Mike Bock says:

    Susan R and Stan, thanks for extending the conversation. I hope I’m not beating the subject to death by making further reply:

    Susan R —
    1) NEA has a constitution, etc., and is ostensibly a democratic organization, but it is controlled by the most zealous and most radical elements of the teaching profession. Reform of NEA must come from within. How to inspire a new reality based culture of teacher activism is the question. It is unlikely that NEA will simply disappear. You will need to save your chips and dips for something else.

    2) Yes, we need new ways to certify teachers.

    3) Still, the principle, I believe, should hold that government / school policies should not punish children for the sins of their parents. It is exactly these children — the authentically deprived — society should take most interest in helping and, to whom, society should be willing to extend extraordinary measures in order to help.

    4) The problem is that the system is made up of individual school districts, legal entities, each their own fiefdoms.

    In Ohio, it is true that it appears that in terms of charter schools, “the government allowed almost anything to open.” But this is simply another example of monumental governmental incompetence. What kind of government throws tax dollars in the air and invites insiders and lobbyists to help themselves?

    You write, “If all these people who are motivated to set up small charter schools, presumably many are good educators frustrated by the present system, can’t succeed because they are not radical enough to do it, who is?”

    You would think that there would be university leadership that would bring the best brains and best thinking about education together to help design viable educational programs. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. Ohio’s charter school laws, in 1999, gave special privilege to state universities to start charter schools. In this area, the education departments of Wright State and Central State had a wonderful opportunity to use charter school laws to descend from their ivory towers and actually attempt to apply their knowledge of educational theory and school system design to create model schools. The educational establishment should be ashamed of itself for failing to use the charter school opportunity, for failing to show a speck of professionalism in the whole matter.

    And you write, “I still don’t see how the issues of poverty, class and differences in resources of all kinds between privilege and poverty are not a major problem with the failing urban schools…. If Charter Schools in the inner city do not solve the problem they will do as badly as the public system. What is wrong with this analysis?”

    I agree with your analysis.

    Yes, urban schools have a clientele that are encumbered with poverty and a generational culture of poverty. But what I notice is that educators, commentators, etc., take a position that the failure of students from such environments is the fault of the students themselves, the fault of the student’s environment. Schools want to take credit for their student successes, but want to blame student failure on others. It’s a version of blaming the victim. And then there is the version of blame that blames teachers and says that poor teaching is at fault.

    But, I think, what makes most sense is to blame the system — and that is why I keep bringing up my example of the communist East German car factories that made the Trabant. If all of the Trabant workers would have been replaced with more competent workers, the Trabant would have still remained the Trabant. The failure of urban education is a system’s failure and the solution is to make a radical change in the system, and create a system based on valid theories of organizational structure and valid theories of motivation, personal development, etc. We need to more effectively use the resources available to the system in a well thought out way, and this simply cannot happen via tinkering within the present system.

    The challenge of transforming education, via system change, also applies to schools like Oakwood and Centerville. These are also failed systems. It’s just that the failure in those current systems is more hidden than the failure in urban systems, and that these communities want to believe the government hype that these schools are “excellent.”

  9. Joe says:


    I just read your post and subsequent follow-ups. I thought it to be very interesting albeit theoretical. I believe public education was started long ago with the noble idea to provide equal education opportunities, at least through high, to the masses. I believe history demonstrates the more “civilized” and “technologically” advanced society became the more the public school system declined. I am sure we have all seen the movie the “Black Board Jungle”.

    I know particularly Stan, whom I will address in a minute, will blast me for endorsing this model. Maybe, just maybe, we should “reform” our schools to follow the methodology used by the parochial schools of the 50’s and 60’s. We can take out the “religion” part of it to keep it constitutional. These schools operated in the most economically deprived areas of our country, in the past as well as the present, yet produce some of this country’s greatest scholars. How many judges, scientist, doctors, entrepreneurs, astronauts, teachers, police officers, nurses, artists, musicians, etc… received their primary education in this environment? Even our current United States President is a product of this system and we all know he came from an economically deprived situation.

    Stan, it seems you take great pleasure in bashing our capitalistic system. It makes me wonder if you think we should be even more socialistic. I believe I have stated this to you in a past post, but, if not, here it is. Capitalism itself is not was caused our current economic crisis. GREED is. GREED has corrupted BOTH political parties. Elected Officials, i.e. all members of Congress take oaths of office to defend the constitution, abide by all laws, which includes representing their constituents to the best of the ability etc… Had the members of Congress done this we would not be in this mess.

    Stan, you further state, “I would like to see some conservative think tank people go teach in some urban public schools and see how they do. I will tell you what I would like to see right here in our own back yard. I would like to see all the self-professed “liberals” send their kids to public schools, especially those who live in the City of Dayton. Does not happen, will not happen, has not happened in the 35 years I have factual knowledge. I would then like to see the ratio between how many liberals send their kids to public schools vs. private schools. I already know the answer. Sad but true. Public education will never change. The “change agents want no part of it.

  10. truddick says:

    Mike, there you go again. We need radical reform of education–again. Never mind that we’ve imposed radical reforms on education since the 1960s, each of which made it worse. When will you radicals ever wake up to what architect Stuart Brand said: “Innovation means throwing away what works.”

    Bottom line: education happens when a competent teacher interacts at age-appropriate curricular levels with a receptive student. You can re-shuffle deck chairs with all sorts of corporate-style folderol, fracture the system with charter schools, and repeat the ridiculously false slanders of the NEA, but all you’re doing is dominating the rap when you’ve got nothing new to say.

    If you want to improve some process, is it not a good idea to see what works elsewhere? The USA is concerned because our students don’t keep up with Europeans or Japanese in standardized testing; OK, what do we change to be more like Europeans and Japanese? Here’s what:

    1) Quit educator-bashing. Japanese public school teachers spend FOUR hours daily in the classroom. American administrators think that teaching requires no preparation time (as evidenced by the treatment of DPS teachers in the 2007-2008 schol year). Teachers once were in the upper levels of pay for people with equivalent education and experience; now they’re in the bottom 25%. You get what you pay for.

    2) Centralize. European nations have ONE public system, and it’s national. The centralized educational authorities set curriculum and appoint regional administrators. This improves the quality of the system by reducing the number of hideously unqualified school board members (come on, do you REALLY think that there are enough residents in Arcanum or Bradford with the time and expertiser to run a school–much less Dayton?) and it reduces expense by cutting out administrative bloat.

    3) Adjust the curriculum. Perhaps because our board members don’t know, we have curricular standards and objectives that are ridiculous. Go to the Ohio Board of Ed’s webssite and look at the outcomes they’ve set for academic subjects for each grade level–the stuff they expect of a high school senior is appropriate to graduate-level study in some cases! Once, the public schools taught students to write with proper grammar and spelling, and colleges could focus on creativity and critical thinking-. Now the public schools try to teach creativity and critical thinking before the students are mature enough for them, while skipping grammar and spelling, so by the time they get to college they can do nothing right.

    4) Get valid tests and keep them in perspective. The OGT is a joke, as are other state’s high-stakes tests; they’re scored by amateurs, the grading scale is invented after the test is administered,. and it changes year to year so it cannot be tracked nor nationally normed. Yes, some important skills can be assessed by a legitimate test, and that should be part of our diagnostics for education; no, we should not make everything hinge on one set of tests, particularly not ones that are flat stupid.

    5) Reform university education departments. They currently operate like science or literature departments; their goal is to publish “research”. Unlike the science departments, over 90% of education research is relatively useless. We already know some things that work, and they’re the old-fashioned things: KIPP-style discipline, direct instruction for the 70% of students who are average, advanced placement and self-guided study for the geniuses, special ed. for the more needy. I don’t need 10,000 more Ed.D. dissertations that say “we tried this innovation and we liked it”, we need administrators who know how to observe a classroom and how to balance a budget. We don’t need teachers who can write term papers about unproven academic theories, we need teachers who come into the classroom with proven disciplinary and instructional tactics.

    Mike, if we decide to put more responsibility into the hands of teachers–and give them the trust and resources and rewards that should accompany that responsibility–then we could eliminate adminstrators, specialists, If the funding for education quits being channeled through byzantine grants and titles and other micromanaged programs, we’ll save from reduced administration and overhead.

    I went to the USDOE website a little while ago and looked up some numbers–I wanteed to see how much money in their budget went to bankers rather than schools. I’m not sure I got everything, but I added up the money spent in a year on servicing student loans, including paying interest for students currently enrolled, covering loans in default, and administrative costs. I found that we spend over $1200 per year per college student on those things–that equals $2 million per college and university. If the feds would simply eliminate student loans and give that money directly to colleges and universities, with the requirement that they cut tuition, more students would be able to attend college without graduating in debt–and college financial aid offices would shrink, freeing up salaries and office space for other things (professors? classrooms?).

    Please quit worshipping at the altar of unproven innovations, radical change, and god-given potentials. The solutions are simpler than you think; one day soon maybe someone will implement some of them.

  11. Mike Bock says:

    Dr. Ruddick, Thanks for your response. Good to hear from you.

    I think you have a point when you write, “you’ve got nothing new to say.” I think, you’re right, I keep repeating myself.

    I guess I keep repeating myself, as teachers do, to try to make my point just a little more clear. I don’t think you have really dealt directly with my central premise, established by W. Edwards Deming, that 85% of quality is determined by system organization and system structure. I keep trotting out my example, the Communist East German car, The Trabant, as an illustration.

    I see a lot of merit in your five point — 1) Quit educator-bashing 2) Centralize 3) Adjust the curriculum 4) Get valid tests and keep them in perspective 5) Reform university education departments — but I can’t see that accomplishing these five points would really suffice to bring about the level of transformative change that is needed. I basically think our system is the Trabant system. I believe the system itself must be transformed. And it appears this might be where we have basic disagreement.

    You make an interesting observation when you write, “If we decide to put more responsibility into the hands of teachers–and give them the trust and resources and rewards that should accompany that responsibility–then we could eliminate adminstrators, specialists.”

    Yes, I think the role of teacher must be vastly changed. But to accomplish what you are suggesting will require a very different system, a very different system structure. It simply is not going to happen in the system as presently structured.

    I don’t think, as you suggest, I am, “worshipping at the altar of unproven innovations, radical change, and god-given potentials.” I agree that education has had many of “innovations” that have proven a disappointment — open classrooms is one innovation that comes to mind — but I’m not really thinking of specific new innovations.

    I do feel we need radical change on the same order as the change that occurred in East Germany, post 1989. Our “system of education,” as it is, is organized to apply organizational theories that are thoroughly discredited. There are obvious reasons it is failing. We need a new system. I disagree that the reforms of the 1960s, you refer to, were “radical reforms.” I don’t see much that I would consider “radical” at all. I feel that anything less than fundamental system change is not “radical,” but amounts to simply tinkering in the system.

    You say, “Bottom line: education happens when a competent teacher interacts at age-appropriate curricular levels with a receptive student.” Yes. But what is the system that could be designed that might facilitate and assure such a reality? To think we will reliably create such connection via the present system, or with creative tinkerings within the present system, I feel, is impossible. I’m sure a lot of effort went into sloganeering and tinkering with the Trabant system as well.

    What seems obvious is that our educational system simply keeps replicating itself. I visited my old high school recently and found that not much has changed in 44 years.

    Obama in his inauguration speech spoke of transformation: “We will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” How will transformation take place? It seems to me we need at least a ten year plan, and that what must be at the center of any transformation plan is a vision of what a new system’s organizational structure would look like, and what the “aim” of the system should be that defines that structure. It seems to me that universities and think tanks should be addressing this fundamental question.

  12. T. Ruddick says:

    Mike, I’ve just listened to Strickland’s plan for public ed. in his state-of-the-state. As usual the devil is in the details. However, the big picture looks smarter.

    He’s eliminating the OGT in favor of the ACT–a much more valid test with national norms. Ding dong, the OGT witch is dead.

    He’s centralizing authority by requiring OBE to keep closer tabs on districts and threatening more state oversight/control for those that don’t make the grade.

    He’s going to reform teacher preparation (and I get word that chancellor Fingerhut and superintendent Delisle are fully on board) with a four-year residency program for all new graduates. That ought to fix a boatload of teacher-quality problems.

    Now, his plan for fixing funding by having the state up its share of instruction is not going to get the job done. We need to either abandon regressive property and sales taxes in favor of an earned-income tax, or we need to adjust the property taxes so that they increase to keep pace with inflation. Otherwise we’ll just be soaking ourselves for more and more replacement tax levies that are only necessary because currently the tax revenues don’t keep up with inflation.

    But at least we’re seeing a bit of well-considered, research-based changes rather than the “quick, do something–ANYTHING!” reforms we’ve seen in the past. Took long enough, eh?

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