Sunday, February 15, 2009

Stimulus Package as Opportunity to Reshape American Education

Nicholas Kristof has some important things to say today about American education in his New York Times op-ed piece about poor educational system as our national shame

Kristof notes that the stimulus package allocates more than $100 billion for education, whereas the entire discretionary budget for the Education Department last year was $59 billion. As he notes, this provides an opportunity for us to look very carefully at what works within our educational system from primary schools up through higher education, and to enhance what we do well while correcting what we do wrong.

Kristof focuses, in particular, on the contribution of good teachers:

First, good teachers matter more than anything; they are astonishingly important. It turns out that having a great teacher is far more important than being in a small class, or going to a good school with a mediocre teacher.

In my view, this is absolutely correct. And unless we can refashion our educational systems so that outstanding teachers are encouraged and rewarded, we will not make headway in the area of education.

As I've argued repeatedly on this blog, our educational system--in particular, American higher education--has restructured itself in the past several decades according to guidelines derived from the corporate business world (here). We now have a top-heavy educational system (at all levels) in which grossly overpaid "experts" with little feel for education and woefully inadequate commitment to outstanding education run the show. While teachers, who do the real work, and the hard work, of struggling to educate, are under-supported, used as pawns in cynical political games played by those at the top, and increasingly relegated to second-class citizenship in the academy.

It should not be this way. And until we fix this situation, we will continue to see conspicuous failure in our educational system. Good teaching needs to be rewarded. And there needs to be a weeding process at the top, at each level of our educational system, to deal with the over-paid and ill-qualified "managers" now running the show.