Taking education for granted

Whenever you hear someone talk about how public schools are underfunded, and what we really need is more money, ask them what they plan to do with that money. It might end up being something like this:

Two grants will help Pike Township Schools teachers learn innovative and more effective approaches to teaching math and science.

The district received a $338,000 grant for science and a $296,800 grant for math, both from the Indiana Department of Education.

The science grant will sponsor programs for 90 teachers over three years, said Kathy Sharpe, director of programs and staff development for Pike Township Schools.

Teachers in Grades K-9 will attend summer science camps, go to monthly workshops, travel to learning conferences and participate in online teaching courses.[…]

The math grant will allow 75 teachers in Grades 4-9 to attend a math camp and math teaching courses over the next three years.

An emphasis will be on teaching students to write about mathematics, which could increase comprehension.

The goal is to improve elementary students’ performance in math. Pike Schools got a failing mark on the recently released Adequate Yearly Progress report, part of the state’s effort to enforce benchmarks of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“The state believes we can do better and we need to get our children ready,” Sharpe said.

Great, but ready for what? I’ve got students right now, in my college math courses, that can’t add fractions, can’t multiply signed numbers, can’t solve simple linear equations, and do not realize that there’s a difference between the square root and the fourth root. A lack of innovation is not the problem here.

Possibly the #1 enemy of quality education today are government-sponsored education grants and the things they fund. These conferences, camps, etc. tend far too often to become self-congratulatory closed systems which merely provide resume fodder for the organizers and a day off from school for the participants.


Filed under Education, High school, Teaching

6 responses to “Taking education for granted

  1. virusdoc

    They ought to take all that cash and use it to hire faculty with actual math and science degrees, instead of ed degrees with certificates. Better yet, hire some MS’s or PhD’s and pay them what they would make on a college campus. Until the people teaching kids are required to have content area degrees, this is never going to get any better.

  2. Or at least put that money into teacher compensation somehow. All that grant money put together — totalling $634,800 — would provide a $20K per year pay raise for 30 different teachers! Or you could hire 15 new teachers for one year at a $40K salary.

    Instead, we’re sending teachers to summer camp. That’s just scandalous.

  3. JimMc

    Ideally, public schools would have enough money to attract and hire experts from just about any field. Obviously that’s not the case.

    But even if it were, do you think it would be adequate to say “ok you’re an expert, no more training for you – ever”? I’m not justifying what happened in the example you cite because I don’t know any of the specifics. You might be right, those particular camps could be entirely bogus, who knows.

    I’m just wondering if you really mean to say that in general, you’re against the funding of continuing education for professionals?

  4. It’s not continuing professional development I oppose. It’s using professional development, and the tax dollars that fund it, to look for “innovative” ways to improve student learning which are untested. Note that TFA says that getting students to write about mathematics *might* improve comprehension; well, spending more time teaching them how to add fractions might do that too, and it doesn’t cost any more money than what we’re spending now.

    I jsut chafe at the idea of spending money on summer camps to look for creative and sexy ways around the traditional teaching of mathematics, when so much effort and resources are needed by teachers just to do the job that’s in front of them today.

  5. JimMc

    Thanks for clarifying Robert. You painted with a pretty broad brush in your statement “the #1 enemy of quality education today are government-sponsored education grants and the things they fund”. That covers a lot of territory. So I felt like it was worth drilling down a bit further.

    There is no doubt we always need to ask for any expenditures: what’s our bang for the buck here? What’s the payoff? Some of this stuff may very well be worth exploring but if it hasn’t been proven yet, then it’s better left exploring on a smaller scale. Perhaps some pilot-programs or something (if that hasn’t been done already).

    ::Sigh:: I wish it were possible to experiment with radical overhauls of the entire system – on a trial basis. To do stuff we haven’t really tried before and see what works and what doesn’t.

  6. mrc

    To my eyes, the utility of sending teachers off to camp depends entirely on what’s done there. As a relatively new high school math teacher (and someone who is likewise flummoxed by the inability of students to add fractions), I need help finding ways to teach better. Sometimes that help comes from unexpected places. Usually I can see what the struggles of my students are. How to solve them is a different question.

    virusdoc and Robert: I agree that higher pay and higher quality teaching staff will help. That money should probably go to primary school, since that’s where these deficiencies start. But we’ve got an epidemic problem here that this small amount of money won’t even put a dent in. Since there are people who have already decided to be teachers, it’s probably worth spending some money to try to improve them. The question is how to do it.

    As an example, how do you take a 15-year old who has certainly been exposed to fraction addition at some point in his educational career and interest him in actually retaining the skill this time? And how do you do it in the context of, say, a Geometry class where there’s a whole laundry list of other content that the state wants you to cover? Writing might be one useful strategy. All I know is, we have to do something because the kid can’t add fractions! Obviously the “traditional” methods used in elementary school and middle school didn’t work the first time around. Maybe doing them again will work. Maybe writing will work. Maybe not. It sounds like what we really need is more research into remedial math education techniques. I suspect that effective strategies require changes well beyond simply how we present material and what work we assign.