Monday, April 11, 2011

Education Reform

Lately here in Indiana, and really all over the United States, education has been on the forefront of many people's minds.  And I for one must say... FINALLY.  Education has been on the back burner in America for far too long, and we are now reaping the consequences of that lack of attention.

As you probably know, I am currently in my fourth year of teaching.  I grew up in a family of teachers.  My mom has taught for a billion years (not really) and my dad was a teacher, an administrator, and now he works for the Association of Christian Schools International.  I taught for two years in a Title One public elementary school in Texas.  I now teach in a private Christian school in Indiana.  I am not a product of public schools with the exception of my higher education.  I attended private Christian schools from preschool all the way through high school.  My brilliant husband is a product of public schools.  He attended public schools from preschool all the way through college.  All of this to say, I have many perspectives that I am looking at these issues from, and hopefully this leads to a more informed, open minded view point.

I understand why education reform is such a hot topic.  The stakes are huge.  The future is literally in the balances, and I'm not using hyperbole.  Our kids are the future leaders.  The future presidents, army generals, surgeons, doctors, nurses, etc. are all in school right now.  They are learning the basics and foundations that will lead them to their career paths.  We must be sure that they are learning and learning well.

Here in Indiana much of the controversy is centered around school choice.  I am for school choice.  I am not as adamant about it as some, and I don't think it is a long-term solution, but for right now, given the state of so many of our public schools, I think parents and students deserve to choose where they go to school.

What I believe that we have to start thinking about is WHY are private and charter schools finding so much more success than many of our public schools.  Here are the reasons I have come up with having taught in both:

1.  Standardized testing: In Texas, the TAKS test was what we did.  Not just what we took to see where the kids were at; it was what we did.  From day one (literally) I was teaching my kids how to take and pass the TAKS test.  I'll be the first to say- that is NOT a good education.  The kids aren't learning to think, they are learning to pass a state mandated test that, in my opinion, is completely unfair.  My students here in Indiana also take a standardized test called the Stanford Achievement Test.  While I don't love the SAT test, it is a low pressure, more fair assessment of where our students are at.  And here's the kicker- the test is low pressure.  I don't teach towards this test.  I teach my students to think, and therefore they do better on this test.

2.  Parental involvement:  In Texas, my parents cared a lot about their kids.  They really did.  Unfortunately, many of my parents didn't know how to care.  They sent their kids to school and expected us to do everything in relation to their kids education.  No homework help, no reading at home, no repetition of important skills (think math facts).  This makes a HUGE difference.  And again, I'm not trying to make all of those parents look bad.  So many of my students in Texas came from single parent homes, and that single parent had to work their behind off in order to provide.  He/She was doing as much as possible to provide for their child, and that meant that some things didn't get as much attention.  My parents in Indiana are a lot more involved, and therefore my students are getting so much more out of their education.

3.  State/Government involvement:  Here in Indiana, we teachers get a huge say in our curriculum and what we are teaching.  This is a fine balance.  We still need direction and oversight from our administration, because we must ensure that we are teaching what kids need to know.  But here in Indiana, as I get to know my class, I can change and manipulate my curriculum to suit their interests and learning styles.  In Texas, I had to teach to the test.  That doesn't change with each class.

4.  Class size:  In Texas, I had at least 25 students in each class.  In Indiana, I have 11.  Enough said.

Now I know that the government officials and law makers will say that a great teacher can overcome these differences.  As a great teacher, that is just not true.  Teachers can't overcome everything, and we can't blame teachers for the deficiencies in education.

Here's the truth:  Our system is broken.  Until we can figure out how to fix the system, nothing is going to change.  We have to change the system.  We have to figure out how kids are learning these days, and then teach in those ways.  That's the only way we will win the future.

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