Friday, January 28, 2005

Taming the Education Beast, Part 2

In my last article I explained how some of the problems in our public school system are caused or exacerbated by educator unions. I concluded by explaining that the unions are not the entire problem. The interesting thing is that we already know how to fix many of the problems, but we consistently focus on some of the wrong things.

In 1986 the Department of Education published a book entitled “What Works - Research About Teaching and Learning.” You can order this book for $3 by writing to What Works, Pueblo, Colorado, 81009, calling (202)-783-3238. I went to the website at, but found it so “governmentized” that I lost any hope of being able to find the book through that medium. However, you can buy it for $6.90 from Wal-Mart. Many good resources can be found simply by going to Google and typing in “What Works” “Research About Teaching and Learning.” Many resources show us what is truly important in education.

Some factors widely accepted as being most important by our education complex are actually not highly important. Research shows that other factors that are relatively low priority are actually the most important. We focus rabidly on class size, but some researchers state that, while significant, it is not one of the five leading factors in educational quality. We dogmatically pound the pulpit on funding, but spending alone has little correlation with educational quality. Spending more on what we are currently doing is only going to produce more expensive failures.

So what does work?

  • More challenging subject matter.

  • Higher standards.

  • More time in “core” subjects (reading, writing, arithmetic, science), and less time in soft subjects employed in the name of producing well rounded students.

  • Doing, not just viewing.

  • Proper discipline.

  • A teaching methodology called direct instruction produces almost amazing results, but it costs no more than traditional methods.

  • School choice. Our public school system fears competition because it fears making the changes that will be required in order to compete. However, some New Mexico school districts have found that these changes have produced an all around better education, and weren’t that painful to implement.
Some of these problems are difficult to fix politically, but are not any more expensive than what we are doing today. Take curriculum, for example.

Diane Ravitch has meticulously documented how the politically correct witch hunters have worked with educators and textbook publishers to cleanse our children’s curriculum to the point of severely “dumbing down” their learning. One joke asks why students like to put on headphones and listen to hip hop instead of reading their textbooks. Answer: the rappers use bigger words. “Smart” textbooks aren’t going to cost any more than “dumb” ones. How do we get good books? Texas recently showed that one state standing up and setting standards can impact textbooks throughout the nation.

If we are going to resolve the problems we have with public education we are going to have to take on the education industrial complex and force positive change that really works. We cannot continue to merely spend more money on what we already know doesn't work.

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