Based on research, interviews and lessons from the best and worst schools in New Mexico, here are 13 elements of such a solution:
1. Provide better teacher training at the college level with lots of hands-on classroom work and mentoring as well as preparation in specialized subjects. An essay in The New Yorker by James Surowiecki concluded:“Teacher training in most of the United States has usually been an afterthought. Most new teachers enter the classroom with a limited set of pedagogical skills, since they get little experience beforehand, and most education courses don’t say much about how you run a class. Then teachers get little ongoing, sustained training to help them improve.
If American teachers—unlike athletes or manufacturing workers—haven’t got much better over the past three decades, it’s largely because their training hasn’t, either.”The essay continues: “Countries that perform exceptionally well in international comparisons—among them Finland, Japan, and Canada—all take teacher training extremely seriously. They train teachers rigorously before they get in the classroom, and they make sure that the training continues throughout their work lives.”
2. Retain good teachers while upgrading the skills of average and incompetent ones through teacher development and mentoring in the schools
3. Insist on parental and family involvement in children’s education, if necessary punishing parents who refuse to help their kids
4. Offer highly skilled teachers more respect and higher salaries, comparable to what they could receive in other professions.
5. Require other institutions to support parents and schools—including the police, prosecutors, the Department of Children, Youth and Families, the courts, and agencies that administer anti-poverty programs in health, nutrition, recreation, summer jobs, before-and after-school activities and youth mentoring.
6. Offer free and universal daycare, early childhood education, preschools and kindergartens to help mothers work and to assist kids in overcoming the cultural and economic effects of impoverished families and communities.
7. Hold back third-graders who can’t read, but give schools more money to handle swollen third-grade classrooms as well as to prepare kids better in the earlier grades so few would have to be held back.
8. Use the Common Core as the basis of uniform national standards but make it more flexible by tailoring it to the needs of individual school districts, and soliciting a lot more local input.
9. Test teachers by testing students, but test the same students at the beginning and end of the school year, and reduce the percentage of teacher evaluations based on student testing to something less than the current 50 percent, perhaps 25 percent.
10. Upgrade student testing skills, teach them to use computers easily and make them fluent in English—and do it all before extensive testing is introduced into a classroom,
11. Admit that while money alone won’t fix education, starving schools of resources as New Mexico has done since 2007 won’t hack it either.
12. Encourage the growth of charter schools but with qualifications. Don’t hurt small schools by taking away their financing; promote charter schools for the most difficult populations (American Indians, Hispanics, inner cities) rather than having most focus on the easiest students, those who are college-bound or live in upscale neighborhoods; provide separate charter school funding so mainline public schools won’t feel they are being taken advantage of through a zero-sum game.
13. Give the best teachers handsome incentives to work in the most difficult schools. The $5,000 bonus that is available for a couple of schools isn’t doing the job. Even The powerful
Legislative Finance Committee, in a report released at the end of October, said New Mexico needs to do more to put top teachers in the hardest jobs.Almost all education experts agree that this combination of conservative and liberal policies could revolutionize learning and teaching. But it could still fall far short of making most of our kids into well-educated adults. To do that might require a second kind of revolution.
New Mexico has a couple of America’s richest counties and several of its poorest. It has the fourth-highest percentage of doctorates and one of the lowest percentages of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It has residents on the Navajo Reservation living in conditions that were hardly imaginable in the 19th century, let alone the 21st, while towns like Santa Fe and Taos are fabled for their wealthy celebrity denizens. Taos Ski Valley voted to incorporate as the state’s newest municipality because it’s wealthy, Anglo and mostly elderly residents did not want to be taxed to support the impoverished, mostly Hispanic schools outside their prosperous enclave.“Our schools and teachers have the extremely difficult challenge of educating…”