Pushing our Bottoms

Falling and Failing by pushing our bottom third into teaching.

According to McKinsey and Co., Finland, Singapore and South Korea have 100% of their incoming teachers coming from the top 1/3 of their college classes. The US . . . has a dismal 23%. Over 47% of our teachers graduate in the bottom third of their class. Worse still, of science and math teachers, few of US public school teachers have a degree in the area they teach.

What’s the difference between our international counterparts and the US? Pay, yes, but actual dollar to dollar comparison and standard of living adjustments reveal that the gap isn’t really that big.

The difference may be in the professional perception. Turns out those who graduate in the top third would like to work in professional environments where they can be rewarded for their efforts, primarily professionally. The gold star effect. You earn a gold star, others around you are also striving to earn gold stars and viola, bright, capable people flock to other bright, capable people.

If you work in a public school system in the US you have additional degrees required by the local and national unions to satisfy pay grade levels. That sounds admirable until you see the quality of degrees that qualify as “enough” to reach the next pay grade. You have seniority based on time, not results, you have contrast in the level of those who would teach and those who do teach. Despite “effort” by the state of Texas to attract more math and science teachers, several school districts have cut back on elementary school science classes. These classes are paramount to encouraging enthusiasm for science.

Why the cut? They “can’t find the talent.” Do you believe that? I attempted to volunteer to teach a math class in one such school and was turned down because I do not have the necessary qualifications . . . and I am not a member of the teacher’s union – nor am I interested in joining. For better or worse, that pushed me to teaching math for a private company who pays me 8 times what a school system could. But then again, I was offering my services as a volunteer.

If we are so desperate for quality math and science instruction, why in the world are we turning down highly qualified talent?

Imagine running a business this way. Would you hire consultants for your business who on average graduate in the bottom quarter of their college classes as our public school teachers do?

Why do we bother to offer public education? Are we really better off as a society offering a pretend education that leaves the student soft from sitting in chairs for 13 years? What is the objective? If we wouldn’t run a business without a stated objective, why are we running our schools that way? For all the ridicule No Child Left Behind has received, at least it states some objectives.

As tax payers, we are shareholders in our school systems. Why aren’t we demanding annual reports? Many of us will “invest” more in our local schools this year (through taxes, gift wrap and bake sales) than in our 401k. Yet which investment will garner more of our attention?

The potential for excellent public education still exists and there are many fantastic teachers in the system. But the system itself is sick. We need to allow businesses to take over and turn around our school systems. Without a financial incentive to do so, we will keep plowing resources into a losing asset at the cost of our children.

Unfortunately, while the education system presents a much bigger challenge than a failing General Motors, the consequences are less immediate, and most of us will just hope it gets better. If you could buy out the amalgamated American school system, what would you do to turn it around?

Image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

1 thought on “Pushing our Bottoms”

  1. Maybe it’s because those that get better grades tend to try to achieve more and bureaucracy is not made for that.

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