Education is a stunningly inefficient human endeavor. A teacher might invest hours of time on a student only to discover that the student’s family situation is too unstable to allow any of the teacher’s influence to stick after the school bell rings. Or the teacher might get dispirited about students’ indifferent reactions to a story, only to discover that a couple of those students recall the story years later and are inspired to write great novels or, better still, become teachers themselves. Or (an irony I have myself experienced) a ‘bad’ teacher might spur a child to believe she could do better if the roles were reversed, so she strives to reverse the roles. Unlike so many other aspects of our economic and social environment, the links of cause-and-effect are tenuous indeed when discussing the ‘value’ or ‘success’ of education.
Nevertheless, we must not give up on the ideal that everyone should have opportunity for a good education to help them strive for what they might choose to strive for. And we must continue to study how better to reform, adjust, and align the educational systems we have. As with environmental and housing issues so important to MKCREATIVE, we are pleased to pass on the word when private and public concerns combine to improve the educational environment of our communities. Today’s example is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation‘s report “PRIMARY SOURCES: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools,” a project done with Scholastic and recently published online.
The report is built upon a number of polls and interviews taken by educators in lower, middle, and high schools across the country. The results and case-studies emphasize a couple of dynamics in education that clearly are situated in the present economic and political situations we find ourselves in. For example, one middle-school teacher asked, “How do we prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist?” The opportunities and technologies that will move the next era of economic growth clearly require training children with skills that we ourselves might not be fully comfortable with yet. But, as the report points out, a rich and general education must remain the bedrock of the training, so as to allow flexibility and insight as one must contend with such a dynamic – or ‘unsettled’ – economic future.
The other dynamic – one that has always existed but that has pulled more people into its vortex in recent years – is educating youth out of poverty. When asked about whether their students were prepared to move to the next educational level (including leaving high school for college), the confidence teachers held for their students whose families had less that $40k was well below the confidence they had for kids in homes making $50k or more. The longer term effects of poverty become a self-defeating cycle, of course: the children of the poor tend not to be as successful in school, which means they do not have the resources to move up the economic ladder. Which means their kids begin a step back from their already disadvantaged parents. And so on.
Pointedly, though, what teachers generally wanted was time with students, not necessarily more resources/money. The policies the report recommends include more face time between teachers and small groups of students, and a broader, but ‘shallower,’ list of standardized tests. That is, the report encouraged states and the federal government to coordinate testing forms and expectations, but not expect so many of them or so large ones (many of which take 2-3 days from a week to implement). Instead, have numerous kinds of measures that involve an array of thinking skills. The teachers who succeed in this environment deserve reward, of course, but again the telling request was for raised expectations in curricula and the resources to get them done with the students.
Monetary resources might be coming from the grant and philanthropic sectors of the economy for a while. We have often linked to materials at The Foundation Center, but theirdeserves specific mention today. It has video interviews with educators and with grant providers, and a myriad of links to other resources.