Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Here you go...

The Lifeguard has been watching the news with great fascination. This is truly an amazing time to be alive, and it is easy to miss the high-speed changes going on in the world. Thankfully, The Lifeguard is on duty. Fortunately, The Lifeguard saves. (Sort of like Jesus, without the beard, the disciples, the miracles, and the angry mob calling for his head. Well, maybe without the first three.)

Wisconsin, the Midwest state with the highest per-pupil spending ($10,791.00 per pupil), is facing a budget crisis that has galvanized the country. Governor Walker (R-WI) has indicated that teachers need to contribute to their medical insurance and retirement. Their union has objected. Governor Walker has suggested that the teachers lose their right to collectively bargain. The union has gone positively batshit. Teachers have staged a strike, of sorts, and have gathered at the capitol to protest. Democrat legislators, whose job it is to legislate, have staged their own strike by leaving the state.

And, while it may seem like a good idea to close down the government (because it keeps them from spending money), it short circuits the democratic process. Indeed, the teachers may have shot themselves in their collective foot by drawing attention to their salaries, their benefits, and their job performance. Fully two-thirds of Wisconsin's eighth graders are not proficient readers.

Indeed, this is not only a Wisconsin issue. Across the nation, teachers are failing to teach children to read, while the federal government continues to funnel money to failing schools. (In FY 2008, the federal government gave $670 million to the State of Wisconsin for school funding.)

If education were truly important, and students were learning, this would be considered a solid investment in America's future. Instead, it seems to be another example of the profligate waste that plagues American government.

Rather than spending money of anti-bullying programmes and multicultural education, money should be spent on helping teachers do their jobs better. If this means firing non-performing teachers, then fire them. If this means getting rid of top-heavy administrations, then trim those jobs. Spending on education is at an all-time high, and the problem is not getting better. Indeed, it seems that the problem is not with the amount of money being spent, but how it is being used by the states.

The Lifeguard has made numerous pronouncements in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Teachers should be encouraged to teach fundamental skills, in whatever way works for their students. They shouldn't be evaluated by ill-trained or over-worked minions; but, rather, should be evaluated by outside teams of professionals. A twenty-year teacher, with stellar performance should not be graded by an individual without the same level of training and experience. A teacher should not be granted tenure just because they have stayed out of trouble for three years. Tenure should mean something more than it does now.

Professionals, with an aptitude for education should be welcomed into the ranks of teachers, regardless of whether they have taken college education courses, or passed a certification exam. A chemical engineer who wishes to teach high school chemistry, for instance, should be permitted to teach without having to go back to college. The Lifeguard recalls an uncle who taught high school maths after an illustrious career in the Air Force, without having to return to college for education classes.

Finally, the education establishment needs to look at new ways of providing their unique service, whether it is through same-sex academies, charter schools, or on-line education. There is no reason that, for $180,000 per class, schools can't deliver a quality product for all of their clients.

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