No more excuses

So, what did these reports say? It’s no big secret: Your education system is only as good as the quality of the teachers in it. Makes sense, right?

Another conclusion from these reports is: If you don’t have high expectations, you get nowhere.  Sounds logical, no?

So you need good teachers, and you need high expectations, and what else do you need?

You need a little tension. What is tension? It comes from the feedback loops and performance metrics you have in place. If kids, teachers, or schools have problems, then you need feedback loops to help them. If teachers do a good job, you reward them. It’s like any other business on the face of the earth. You need a little tension to spur performance.

Unfortunately, America has become No. 1 in the world at one thing–making excuses for failure. Everybody has an excuse; everybody has to study the problem.

Before I came down here tonight, I wondered how many references there were in Google to educational reform. There were 22 million entries. Twenty-two million excuses out there for why American kids’ intellectual performance is flat over 40 years and declining relative to the rest of the world.

So here are my suggestions. No more excuses; the answer is simple: Put good teachers, high expectations, and a little tension into the system.
Good teachers

How do you get good teachers?

If you go to Finland or Singapore or Taiwan, any place that has a good K-12 education system, where do they recruit their teachers? They recruit them from the top 10 percent or 20 percent of the college graduates.

Where do we recruit our teachers? We recruit them from schools of education. Objectively, schools of education represent the lower quartile of our college graduates in intellectual capability.

I care less about the pedagogy of teaching than I do about the content they are going to bring into the classroom. This is what makes education successful: teachers who are content experts, first and foremost; that’s what makes them successful in the classroom. They are not education experts, first and foremost.
Teach for America is another way. Teach for America is a simple program, put in place to recruit top college seniors who are not education majors to commit a couple of years to teaching in poor economic areas in the United States.

Teach For America takes academic achievers–the top 10 percent to 20 percent in history, math, chemistry, physics, biology, English; kids with top grades from great universities–and in six weeks of boot camp turns them into very good teachers.

Here’s a suggestion: Maybe we should blow up all undergraduate schools of education in the United States and start over.

High expectations

Why does every state have its own measure of success when we are competing in an international marketplace? Why not have a national testing program we will use to measure progress?

Of course, if you talk about national testing in the United States, it’s a difficult conversation.  Republicans refuse to recognize the word “national”; Democrats refuse to recognize the word “testing.”

You cannot have a discussion of national testing in the United States. OK, so disguise it, call it “international benchmarking.” And doesn’t it make sense that if we want to compete with the rest of the world, we measure our educational performance on an internationally benchmarked test comparing our students to kids in every other country?

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps does not say, “I am from the United States; I can swim slower and win.” In the business world, we do not say, “We are from Intel; we can make a crummier product and win.” But from an educational standpoint, we say, “We can set lower achievement standards and be OK.” It’s plain crazy.