06 March 2012


I've written in the past about education ~ here is a list of some of those posts.  The issues are many and varied, and of importance to us all.  How each of us develops is (in part) a result of the quality and quantity of our parents' education, as well as our own.  As adults, we are in a position to favorably influence the development of our children, and their children, and their children, by informing ourselves about what is going on in our schools, and working to change what needs changing.

Perhaps the most fundamental facet of education which needs reform is the quality of our teachers.  For too long, mediocre teachers have detracted from children's learning simply because they didn't make any gross mistakes, and held their jobs long enough to attain seniority.  Under the seniority system, in tough economic times (like now) when budgets are tightened and faculty are trimmed back, it is those with least seniority ~ regardless of the quality of their teaching ~ who lose their jobs first.  It's called LIFO, or Last In, First Out, and it is a national scandal.  Here is a brief video which explains the process.

Naturally, many high-quality, innovative teachers also attain seniority.  But not enough.  Why in the world would we want to retain ho-hum teachers for our children, when we can assure the best possible quality in all our teachers by the simple expedient of abandoning the seniority system entirely, replacing it with job retention based on performance?  A few states have done just that, realizing that when layoffs are based on seniority, our students lose great teachers.  Here is a map, color-coded to show states at high risk of losing effective teachers due to seniority (red), states at moderate risk (yellow), and states at low risk (green).  You can click on your own state to learn the details, and how to take action ~ by contacting state legislators to demand that layoff decisions be based on teacher performance.  That performance can be measured by the learning that takes place among students (in the form of test scores), by peer review, by comparison with teacher evaluations across one's state, by improvement in one's own teacher evaluations over time, by annual attendance at in-service seminars and classes to assure one's currency in the field one is teaching, and yes, by the assessments of one's students.  Such a holistic approach should assure the retention of the best-performing teachers in lean times, regardless of age or job longevity.

Here's a curious side to education which I recently encountered.  It seems that many parents are delaying their children's entry into kindergarten by a year, on the theory that an added year's maturity will give their children a scholastic edge, and an edge in later life.  The practice is called redshirting.  I have mixed feelings.  When I was that age, the rural school district in which I lived didn't even offer kindergarten.  My first experience with school was first grade.  In Montana, the year you start school is based on the calendar year in which you were born (as opposed to the academic year).  I was born in March, so was marginally older than most of my 1947-born classmates.  But (after I'd changed schools several times) they had the benefit of an extra year's socializing in kindergarten, something I felt self-conscious about.  

I'm not certain that intentionally working the system so that your child is a year or more older than his/her classmates is exactly fair to everyone.  Academic advantage aside, what about social skills?  What about the size and maturity difference?  I have no ready answers, only questions.  You can watch the 60 Minutes segment and read the transcript here, and draw your own conclusions.

Then consider the opposite age displacement ~ those children who either start school at an earlier age, or who skip one or more grades in school due to their abilities.  Some kids experience disorientation and (for a time) feelings of insecurity when cast among classmates a year older.  Others, particularly those who are autodidacts, don't notice or don't care.  Andrea Kuszewski, who provided the redshirting link, is one of the latter.  

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