Friday, August 11, 2006


I think we can all agree that there is something lacking in America's public schools. We have been behind in international tests for quite awhile now... and there aren't any signs of change. We really stink internationally in most standardized tests. I won't comment on how the tests may favor certain cultures, or why test scores aren't necessarily good units of measure. Those issues may be valid, but they are out of my scope of knowledge or interest. I am more concerned by the quickly decreasing gap in the economies of the US and a few very populated countries.

These countries are catching up to us more or less due to globalization. Technology has enabled all of us to provide services for all over the world. This has really changed the economies of India, Pakistan, and is having great effect on China's economy. I'm not just talking about call centers in Bangladesh to help with your computer difficulties. I'm talking about anything that could be made digital and outsourced. A lot of accounting is now moving to India, individuals and firms are outsourcing the bulk of their paperwork so they can spend time on special cases and give more attention to their customers. I think this is great, it's providing a better service for me, allowing my CPA to handle more clients more effectively (and probably make a little more), and it's providing employment for many of the new college grads in India. You are seeing this trend in many professions.

Here's what I'm getting at. The US economy is still a strong number one (just barely bested by the entire EEU) and as of 2005 we were 3rd per capita (41k, beaten by Norway's 42k, and Luxembourg's 69k!). We're doing just fine. Even if India realizes it's economic potential in the next 50 years (two generations isn't unrealistic), the US will still be a great place to live. I'll still have a job, be able to support a family etc. I'm just of the mentality that we are number one and we should try to stay that way. How will we do that? The answer seems simple to me, we use our current resources (technology, capital, and human) to beef up our education system. By creating a workforce that is more educated and driven we will ensure that we are competitive in the global market, and that is the only way secure our country's financial positions. If India keeps going, their GDP will pass us, just based on population alone, but if we retain a high per capita standing, we can still be great.

Back to the point at hand: education. I think we can all agree no child left behind is bull shit. How can a child with down syndrome be expected to meet the same standards as the normal student. Even better, why are the top 2% even taking the same curriculum as the bottom 2% regardless of expectations. Other countries split students up based on their aspirations and abilities. The education world calls this tracking. Of course there is some tracking in the US, after high school. That's too late.

I think a help to our educational system would be to implement the following change. Change high school environments everywhere to be more like large college courses. Have a minimal number of high school teachers that are responsible for lecturing on the major topics (math, sciences, history, literature, etc.). Using satellite feeds one of these lecturers could easily lecture to 500 kids at a time. Larger numbers wouldn't be infeasible, or even that impressive. You could just have one lecturer per class per county. These lecturers would be much higher paid than your average high school teacher, and would command more respect. In addition to the lecturer, you have one or two proctors for every 20-40 students. These proctors would receive salaries equivalent to today's high school teachers and would be responsible for being able to answer questions and give hands on help ( and would hopefully not be sport coaches). Depending on the class, these proctors could use recitation time to provide addition materials to classes in a more advanced track, or to provide help to classes in a more medial track.

This system would better provide for the differing needs of the student population, increase average teacher salary without harming any individual, and decrease the amount of money paid to teachers from taxes (as the number of students reached per lecture increases, the number of necessary teaching positions is decreased). The extra money could be used in any number of ways, I would vote to use it for an increase in educator salaries across the board.

I know that lecture is not the best way to learn. Just like many college courses, the lecture is provided for auditory learners, technology in the lecture is provided for visual learners (in addition to the readings), and the proctors are able to provide hands on learning in a more intimate environment to the kinesthetic learners.

The difference between this college, is that attendance is not optional. This major culture change between middle school and high school would also help to foster a mindset more dedicated to education in our student population. I am a great individual example proving that by college enrollment, it is to late to try and shift your mindset to/back to education. Tomorrow's educators are taught today that students develop the bulk of their sense of identity while in the 9-12 grades.... our system should be designed to promote higher education, and academic motivation into that identity. High schools being too easy does not promote that. Raise the bar, make it harder, make graduating high school a worthwhile achievement again, and students will focus more. They will focus for love of personal progress or for fear of failure, but they will work harder (then smarter in a few years).

OK, that's my rant. Peace.

For hard data on how we are stacking up: check out the Program for International Student assessment