The Education Dilemma – Questions on Teachers, Schools, and the Educational System

This is a very interesting discussion, about the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the school system. other than being the main educational tool in a society, it is also supposedly an important contributor to the process of social mobility (allowing for the possibility of individuals moving between ‘classes’) … That – however – is just in theory …

One can count many problems with the educational system … Lower literacy, knowledge of languages and maths , low engagement have all been continuously measured and documented.

There were some interesting insights on an article recently appearing in the Economist magazine reviewing two books ( The Teacher Wars. By Dana Goldstein. Doubleday ; Building a Better Teacher. By Elizabeth Green)

Here are some excerpts:

When a California judge recently struck down teacher-tenure, education reformers around the country cheered.

For policymakers the solution is now plain: use data (such as exams) to ditch the duds, reward the stars and steer the strongest teachers to the neediest students.

[This however won’t have a real good impact on the quality of education] The real challenge, both authors argue, is not to get rid of the bad teachers, but to attract and keep good ones and improve the middling majority.

This is where most American education reform goes wrong. By fixating on the hard data of inputs (incentives) and outputs (student performance), reformers neglect the most essential part: what happens in the middle. Most teachers enter the classroom with minimal practical training and little professional support. Only half the candidates are ever supervised as student teachers in a real classroom. Everyone seems to assume that good teachers naturally know what to do. But this is a myth, writes Elizabeth Green in “Building a Better Teacher”. Teaching is a skill, a trade, not an innate gift.


So how should the teachers be taught? There is no simple answer. […] Ms Green and Ms Goldstein agree on a few basic points: the best training should include regular feedback, collaboration, mentoring and observation throughout one’s career.

In Japan, for example, teachers observe the lessons of mentors and dissect them afterwards. Colleagues collaborate on new lesson plans. Unlike the learning-by-rote maths classes typical of America, where teachers demonstrate (and often fumble through) sample problems and then have students solve similar ones on their own, Japanese classes are often devoted to solving a single problem all together, which creates a far livelier atmosphere of inquiry, full of mistakes and opportunities to learn from them.



Some important comments:

Tenure, Incentive Schemes, and the Teacher market:

Is it essentially useful in the case of school teachers ? What can be gained from that vis-a-vis their performance and contributions?

Teacher compensation: Why are teachers generally low-paid?How does this contribute to making teaching a less-attractive profession overall, thus reducing the natural competitiveness that can exist for getting in? Is this a failure in the intrinsic use of a ‘market’ for managing the demand and supply in terms of school teachers?


Teacher performance and Selection:

What mechanisms are in place to make sure that teachers perform well and develop their skill-sets ? If the main challenge is developing the majority-around-the mean of teachers (instead of just weeding out the bad ones) , can there be a uniform system for better preparation and selectivity of teachers?

Is there a better system to ensure that Superstar teachers get more compensation, thus driving more highly qualified people to the field — is this not dangerous in itself ? Also, are student grades a fair-enough measure in this regard ? probably not.


Elitism in Schools:

Is there an unhealthy concentration of educational resources (human and otherwise) , and what impact does this have?


Ideas for solutions:

– Measurement of Teacher Performance:

First there could be a uniform measure for student progress that is defined on a national level (according to the specific learning requirements in that region) — This measure should typically be defined for each academic year. It also must be calculated based on random, representative, diverse samples of students. Monitoring this measure allows to give a fair assessment of the teacher’s level in terms of the change (variance) that applies to the student’s grades in those tests.


Outside the box thinking — REVERSE THE PROBLEM :

Why focus on teachers in the first place ??

Could mobility of students be an easier solution ? Moving students based on their academic performance from one place (and class) to another more freely, and in a ‘sponsored’ manner (Sponsored by organizations / government (which anyway is paying so much to try and ‘fix’ the existing system — what if it just is non-fixable)? This selection process would be based on rigorous sampling of significant numbers of performers and could be done on topics that transcend what they are normally taught in schools to try and reach their mental capabilities not knowledge.

On some level this solution applies better to the concept of the inevitable difference between the innate competencies and skills of people, and would allow for a much better effectiveness of the educational system in terms of promoting social mobility. Additionally, a solution that avoids teachers and focuses more on students is much – much – less costly to implement (although it just doesn’t feel as fair) .

In this sense, the resources will be shifted from a random and country-wide pool of educational institutions and individuals (educators and administrators) to a very specified and better developed and closely controlled pool for more academically distinguished students. It is much more practical (and easier) to manage closely much smaller organizations, that have more defined needs. This in turn will help tackle one important problem of the existing school system which is bringing down some of the best students to the more average level …. eventually the system can evolve toward breaking up the existing highly compartmentalized system which forces uniformity on students, thus allowing more students to excel, and in turn more students to receive attention more suitable to them !


Interesting food-for-thought —– How are new IT platforms capable of enforcing this kind of solution, and of providing many – many – more students with top-notch educational lessons ….











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