Old Education Formulas Need an Update

Old habits are hard to break. Unfortunately, nowhere is this cliche truer than when it comes to one's political and societal beliefs. Some of these "hard to break" mindsets are alarmingly prevalent in one of the most influential, yet inexplicably untouchable of our institutions — education.

For years, I parroted the traditional rhetoric supporting the educational process. I narcissistically hailed the system because I was a product of it and even though I sensed the structure had glitches, I never stopped to question if schools' success educating students or helping them find jobs after graduation was remotely being measured.

This week I spoke with Naomi Schaefer Riley who authored The Faculty Lounges: and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get The College Education You Paid For. Her book boldly challenges long held notions about higher learning and offers a different perspective on the merit of tenured professors. Her impressive research stands some of the old paradigms of public education on their heads. "Traditional colleges and universities seem to have a monopoly on establishing credentials — not only is the credentialing process expensive but it is certainly not one size fits all," she commented.

Higher learning institutions in Miami do an exceptional job of providing the traditional fare of college courses. Because of the changing dynamics of our business environment, the needs of our community are not wholly fulfilled by conventional college programs. The slack seems to be picked up by for-profit, vocational schools, which are more intensive and service the needs of students who are looking to develop skills that can immediately translate into good paying jobs.
Ernesto Perez, CEO of Dade Medical College, explained that his college’s programs offer serious students “life-altering, practical education.”

“We work with the person that would generally be making minimum wage and offer them an opportunity to attain the skills to triple their earnings,” Perez explained.

What is encouraging about the “for-profit” schools, outside of the services they claim to provide their students, is the fact that we don’t have to accept Perez’s assertions at face value — if his college is not successful educating and placing their graduates, their doors will close. There is a healthy, competitive, free-market measurability about the way these colleges conduct business.

Regrettably, when gauging the educational process the notion of accountability got swept up in a partisan political maelstrom and somehow became an abhorrent concept. Teachers’ unions have spent an inordinate amount of resources demonizing most plans that quantify the quality of education and measure the success of graduates after they leave our institutions. This is not surprising, given the disdain most public-sector labor unions have for competence and efficiency.

For years, our public schools (K-12) needed serious reform. Instead, what we received from our school boards was an increase in failing schools and more layers of bureaucracy — less bang for a lot more of taxpayers’ bucks. The impressive growth and success of charter schools in Dade and Broward counties clearly depicts parents’ desire to seek an alternative to the traditional system

There is no doubt that the FCAT initiative established in public schools by former Gov. Jeb Bush, in an attempt to quantify the levels of success in schools, is ridden with flaws. However, it at least attempts to ascertain a tangible sample of how effective our education plan is.

When I brought up some of the issues teachers’ unions lob against the FCAT, like removing a teacher’s creativity and independence in the classroom and leading to the claim that they are “teaching to the test,” the author, Schaefer Riley, chided, “What’s wrong with teaching the test? At least they are teaching something productive.”

I am confident that our schools are populated with competent, dedicated professionals who can make a difference. The lack of barometers to better examine the success of our schools does not rest on the shoulders of the educators. The failure of measurability instead should be attributed to those who fight intransigently to protect the inefficient status quo.

THE MIAMI HERALD
 

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