Friday, February 8, 2013
How to Fix Education
The chart above shows a comparison of the number of hours teachers work in the classroom compared to how much they make relative to the national GDP of their home country. In case you can't follow all the lines, the United States requires its teachers to spend the most time in the classroom, but is ranked 23rd in compensation. Korea pays its teachers the most, and the widest spread is Japan, with their teachers making the most money compared to the time they spend teaching.
What the United States seems to do more than any other nation is criticize our educators and demand more for less. We want longer hours, fewer benefits, reduced pensions, better test scores for each and every child, and all while we pay our teachers a crap salary. Education is a common punching bag for the federal government, but it also suffers from state and local cuts as well. In my area, town meetings are held annually to discuss the budget for the school. Every single time it's voted on, the first draft proposal is voted down. Why? Mostly, because community members who choose to send their children to private institutions vote no. They don't want to pay for someone else's education, but they are also removed from the consequences of these cuts. Teacher layoffs, failing to replace broken or outdated equipment and books; these are major issues if we want our children to have a 21st century, first-class education.
So, what do we do to fix this? First of all, let's make teaching attractive job opportunity. Right now, education doesn't even make it into the top 15 most lucrative professions. And look at the list of jobs that do. Most of them are jobs that people want and train for years in order to get (at least in some cases). Many of them require a large investment in post-secondary education, specialized programs, advanced degrees, and years of additional training and experience.
We demand that same level of academic and financial obligation from people who wish to teach. They must have a masters, they must have specialized training, pass regional tests designed to test their knowledge and understanding of education topics. They must regularly retake those tests to make sure their standards are still high. They are required in many cases to continue their education at an almost constant rate, something no other profession requires. Once a lawyer gets his law degree, he's not required to continue going to school. But a teacher is.
All of those things cost time and money, and are required of teachers. Yet we pay them less than most other countries, and we require more of them. We complain about how much they cost and how much we have to burden ourselves, when we're asking them to give up so much of their own time and money to stay in their positions.
The solution, as I said before I went off on that tangent, is to make education an attractive career path for our smartest citizens. Many of them are now being flooded into Wall St., law firms, or government. We need to get those people to consider education. We need to pay our teachers more so that we can attract smart, capable educators for the next generation. Wall Street does the exact same thing to attract smart investors. They have even said that they must keep their bonuses and high salaries to be able to remain competitive in the marketplace. Well, apply that logic to our education system. Isn't that a more worthwhile investment than Wall Street executives?
We can demand longer school days, longer school years, more oversight, more accountability, etc. all we want. But until we realize that our educators are overworked, overburdened, underfunded, underappreciated, and being used as a scapegoat for political deficit hawks and austerity-addicts, we don't have a chance of changing anything. We need to be better, and we can be.