The transition in Public Education


Yesterday, we had a big meeting due to NEASC accreditation.  The task was to look at the strengths and needs of the school, which had been boiled down to a list of 7 strengths and 7 needs.  It was really interesting to see this list, and with this list try to figure out if they were indeed the 7 greatest strengths and needs.  This list had me thinking a lot about what education currently is, and what I think is the place to start fixing public education as a whole.

My current thoughts are that public education is in a gigantic transition period, due mostly to baby boomers versus the new generation of teachers. I am going to make some broad observations from my time in schools, though these are generalizations and not meant to be inflammatory. The issue with the baby boomers is that mostly they are at the top of the payscale, they’ve received tenure, and they’ve gotten comfortable.  I think the most dangerous part of human nature is getting comfortable with anything; it leads to you not reflecting on what’s currently happening.  And being reflective is one of the most important parts for continuing to improve education.

There are also new teachers, like me, who are bound to the system.  We want to keep our jobs, but find it absurd that the school doesn’t help us support learning.  For example, I can’t use Youtube at school, because it is blocked for all accounts.  This leads to an internal struggle; do I stay in education or go find someplace where I can be who I want to be?  And for some, the shackles of the educational institution become too much to bear, and they leave.

The biggest fundamental difference between the baby boomers and the new generation of teachers is the way that those groups define education.  The baby boomers (again, generally) see education as a means of memorizing facts.  The new generation of teachers, on a whole, sees education as the means of interpreting information.  And while I may be biased, education should indeed be a tool of utilizing information.

One issue right now is testing; everyone is focused on evidence.  I guess that makes sense, especially as I teach science.  But the tests are out of date; the tests are formed upon the baby boomer philosophy of memorizing information.  And I’m not aware of any large initiatives to change this policy.

The other major problem with education is the lack of funding.  Why are people having trouble finding jobs?  There are many jobs that exist in the world today, but people aren’t qualified for those jobs.  Why aren’t they qualified?  They didn’t do well enough on tests.  Why are tests the fundamental gateway to jobs?  Because it’s a system that people think works.  We need to convince people that investing in education is a wise investment in the future, to spur a better place for everyone. 

Now, I’m waiting on a major change to happen over the next couple of years.  I’m waiting for Baby Boomers to retire and their pay be funneled into finding new teachers while providing better access to 21st century materials.  I’m waiting on the shift of schools to focus on teaching the skills to solve questions.  And I’m holding my breath that these changes do happen, because America deserves to be educated… it’s a fundamental right.