As my son approaches kindergarten I’ve been doing my best to make sense of the various school options in our area. And, because I’m anal to the 10th degree, this involves touring whatever we can, accosting neighboring parents and friends spontaneously and sporadically for info, and trying to get past the (middlin’) test score valuation of our local public elementary school to find out what it’s really like.
Too, I’ve been scouring the web to find out what’s our public school system like these days, why is everyone always complaining about it and all the news (and trendy documentaries) negative, and what can I do to help fix it.
Here’s today’s find – a fantastic presentation by Bill Gates to the state governors about “flipping the curve” (currently the curve is more spending with flat outcomes, and of course we all want to “flip it” to better outcomes with flat or reduced spending):
Well worth watching, but here’s the cliff notes because – really – what parent has extra time? Some points Bill makes:
- The best teachers can teach 2 years of material in one year – which is dramatically better outcome than the worst teachers. Asking students 2 QUESTIONS about their teacher predicts teacher effectiveness:
- Does the teacher use the time in the classroom well?
- When you’re confused about something, does your teacher help you understand it better?
(Personally, I like this idea. Waiting for Superman emphasized that all the teachers and students know who are the poor performing teachers. It was certainly true in my high school 20 years ago. Yet we pretend the only reasonable way to measure teachers is to test the h*** out of our students, which we know does nothing in and of itself to improve education.)
- Currently, teacher pay rests heavily on seniority (27%) and advanced degrees (7%), and not at all on WORKLOAD (hours worked, or number of students taught) or RESULTS. Unfortunately, neither seniority nor advanced degrees correlate with student success.
- Number one priority to improve education outcomes: MEASURE and SUPPORT effective teaching. Bill draws an analogy between other industries – e.g., sports, technology – and says it’s easy to see that the best in the field today are better or more effective than their counterparts 50 years ago. But in teaching we can’t say that. Because there have been no durable, applied measures of teaching success, and no effective means to help teachers improve and educators to share demonstrably better approaches. It’s hard but critical to measure (and support / reward) success.
- Interestingly, he also recommends LIFTING CAPS ON CLASS SIZE. Moving classrooms from 20 -> 26 students in class, say, a 30% increase, and giving some of the savings directly to the teacher for the increased workload, and making sure the teachers you’re retaining are the more effective teachers, means flat or reduced costs with immediate benefits to students. Class size higher than 30 in younger grades has been shown to have a detrimental effect, but under that number should be possible. (I’d like to see the data on class size. I’d always heard smaller was better, but maybe if you can ensure higher performing teachers the negative effect is mitigated. Kindergartens in our area increased last year from 20->25 but it seems that teachers were let go based solely on seniority.)
- Don’t furlough. Bill says the U.S. already has one of the shortest school years and one of the shortest school days in the world, so furloughing seems to move us in the “wrong direction”.
- For higher education, consider separating lectures from study time. The lectures can be done remotely or via video (get a lecture from the best of the best on every topic), the latter can be led by a different type of educator face to face, or in groups.
- Bill Gates also highly recommended a couple of books: Where Your School Dollar Goes (which I can’t seem to find online) and Stretching the School Dollar, which he says is full of excellent and (often politically-unpopular but successful) case studies.
So, what do you think? Anything here new and interesting? Anything you disagree with? How are you approaching / did you approach sending your child to school?