There has been a lot of talk about education reform lately, not only here in Indiana, but nationwide. With two educators in the family I have a little perspective on the issue.
I believe we can solve much of the problem with two simple actions. I also have some ancillary ideas on education as well. Before I get to the meat of the issue, we all need to acknowledge the role of education in society. It is not the job of the school to make sure your kid has something to eat. If you are poor, you are getting food stamps and assistance. The school should not be providing breakfast and dinner. Lunch is provided to keep the school day flowing. Just as factories and businesses have lunchrooms, so the school provides lunch. Parents have a significant role to play in education. If your kid is failing to get the education you think he deserves, start the process by looking in the mirror. In some cases the public school is at fault, in many instances lazy parents are to blame.
The first way to improve schools is to provide vouchers for students. If a parent wants to send their kid to a charter or private school then they should be given the a voucher for the same amount the taxpayers are spending on public schools. As far as using the vouchers to move from one public school to another, I am open to arguments. I understand the teachers/schools argument that moving the best and brightest from a given school, leaving only the can't learn/won't learn makes for a failing system. On the other hand, it is not fair to force a student to attend a crappy school all for reasons of geography. It is a chicken/egg problem.
Second, grading teachers based on the student's test scores is a crazy idea. Some classes are just smarter than others. My daughter's graduating class sported 7 students with perfect GPAs. Five were National Merit Scholar finalists or semifinalists -- from a class of ;less than 250. Fifteen of the class scored above 1400 on the SATs. Obviously the following class' standardized test scores dropped significantly. This did not mean the school, nor the teachers failed.
Judging solely on test scores has several negative results beyond those I discussed above. Anyone who believes cheating on the standardized tests does not occur is delusional. Schools, teachers and school systems do anything possible to make sure the scores meet the required levels. Students should get a well rounded education, not just learn what is necessary to pass the test.
There are some lousy teachers out there. My kids and your's have had them. Both my boys were put behind in math from Middle School because the teacher they had did not bother/could not teach the material. Both struggled through high school math, always getting by, but having to work very hard just to keep up. Those teachers need to be weeded out. Tenure should be abolished. No one should be guaranteed a job, just because they worked at it for three or five years.
Teachers want to be treated and paid as professionals and they should accept the same professional standards as the rest of us. Teacher Unions (and ALL public sector unions) should be abolished. Each teacher should be evaluated by the principal each year. I will even allow that the lead teacher or peer review could be part of the evaluation. Teachers that cannot teach should be fired, just as any other under performing employee. I bet we would all be surprised at the number of teachers who become suddenly energized when the job is not safe for life.
That is it. Vouchers and abolishing tenure will do the trick. When teachers are working to keep their job, just like the rest of us, they will put more effort into the job. I bet using the same lesson plans from a decade ago (even when the texts change) will become a thing of the past. Students will learn, test scores will improve.
We do not need more tests, more state or federally mandated rules. Just better teachers. Improve the teacher, improve student learning, and the failing schools will magically improve.