Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So which one is it?

DeanDad brings this point up in a post today. It's not related to the main point of the post but it is certainly worth noting:

Hell, while we’re at it, let’s make a point of generating enough math teachers so that every state in the country can require four years of math in high school. Get the public K-12 system up to basic competence, and see what happens.

I think, at some level, we need to decide what the priorities in education are. Is there a shortage of competent math teachers? If so then a process in which we make it harder to become a teacher would seem to be counter-productive. After all, we are also grappling with real issues of potential reductions in the number of teachers due to budgetary constraints.

I think that failing to decide on these issues are at the heart of my concerns about education reform. Reformers point to schools like KIPP that have attrtion rates that make them infeasible as a national model. So that doesn't seem to be a way forward. But in the actual education system, we are discussing reducing resources and trying to compensate with higher quality.

Now, add in that the metrics used to evaluate schools have serious concerns (as pointed out by a wide variety of researchers) and it gets hard to see what the road forward looks like. Clearly, if we are reducing resources to education then we can't achieve this with a higher investment. We might gain some efficiency by breaking contracts with current teachers (over tenure and pensions) but such actions tend to increase costs in the long run.

So I think that the real thing that I want to see out of educational reform is specific proposals. Honestly, I suspect that a series of initiatives at the school district level (focusing on the issues in each area) might be the way to go. But I worry that the current approach seems far too focused on test scores and not on the actual process of education.


  1. Dean Dad has once again wandered into unintended consequence territory. Given the current trends in education reform, I suspect that upping the requirement for years of math would result in larger class sizes, less qualified teachers and disastrous privatization schemes.

  2. Agreed. I am starting to want to see more specific education reform proposals beyond "merit pay" based on test scores. The search for a good metric for education quality has led people to grasp onto something that is too misclassified and too easily gamed.