Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Episode 63: Part 2


“Road to the 21st Century #1 – Reinvest in Human Capital”

The next few posts will be part of a series called “Road to the 21st Century” where I will outline my ideas on how to get our country back on track, mainly focusing on the long term strategies for building a successful economy that this “bubble and bust” proof. Because manpower is critical to any successful economy, I thought we’d start right at the source, education. Thus this post is a continuation of “Episode 54:” In that post I laid out my educational philosophies, so rather than rehash them, give that one a quick glance over, and fell free to add anymore thoughts to the comments.

Our Competition for the best minds

Let us begin by examining who we are up against for the best minds of the 21st century. In one corner, you have China. China’s success in becoming an emerging power is largely due to two factors: they are communist, so the government solely dictates the direction of the country without pesky things like individual freedoms, and second, they have historically embraced education, considering the military class as the low class. I’m sure the playing field is a bit even for the two groups these days, but China’s embracing scholastic endeavors makes them a step ahead of us on the road to the 21st century.

Our other competition is really the rest of Asia, whom we can lump in one big category. Japan will continue to be the electronics capital, Singapore the communications capital, and Taiwan is posing themselves to be the computer manufacturing capital. Where is America in this equation? Sadly, we are absent. Because we have become a nation of consumers, the spotlight shifts to the companies who are making things. Because we are not consuming these days, we inadvertently leveled the playing field in our favor. I do not consider Europe to be much of a threat right now. They are more our partners than competitors, and though they are leading on technologies in green tech and telecommunications (though Apple is giving them a run for their money), many of their inventions are only viable once they hit the US market. I suspect this is mainly due to Americans really being the best consumers in the world, and their more socialist tendencies make it harder to reward great innovation.

It Begins With the Babies

In order to rebuild the American workforce, we need to start with the babies. Yes, the babies. By which I mean pre-school education. Kids have a super incredible brain for the first 9-12 years of their life. Their neural pathways have not been set yet so they can pretty much learn the basics of anything you throw at them. I have seen 11yr olds who are completely trilingual (English, Spanish, and Chinese). I have seen 9 year olds with a great baseball swing. Any kind of repetitive task they do, they swallow it up until about age 12, when the neural pathways are set. Then, they spend the rest of their life refining their skills palette. In order to rebuild the new workforce, we need to invest in early childhood education. I believe that it should be a requirement for one year of preschool. In this year, they would learn the basics, shapes, colors, the alphabet, etc. That way they can start with grammar and phonics in kindergarten. This would essentially put the students a whole year ahead of our current system. I am in a minority of people who believe this, but we should teach both English and Spanish in preschool, and then a third optional elective in junior high school. Most every child in any other country can speak two languages; I believe we should do the same.
The free market can play a big role here. To alleviate the costs of preschool education, and make a transition to a required program, we can utilize the already numerous preschool institutions that exist rather than building new schools.

Obama’s Outline for Elementary, Secondary, and Higher Education

Once out of preschool, I believe education should largely remain in the public domain. Obama has budgeted $135 Billion for education. He hasn’t fully addressed this issue yet, so let’s talk about what he has said thus far. First let us remember that a lot of this money does go into teacher training. As I have argued, many teachers do not seem to be prepared to educate the new breed of student who is fully immersed in technology. Second, the money is going into increasing teacher salaries, which I believe is very fair, since it is one of the toughest jobs out there (bias placed aside here). Finally, a large portion of the money is going into rebuilding projects to repair and modernize schools with new computers, science labs, and learning centers. The rest of the money should be delegated by the states.

While states should have the say in how to run their school system so it is in line with their budgetary needs, there needs to be a national standard. The lack of a national standard makes it nearly impossible to benchmark states against states, and our country against the world. In music, we have national standards, but they are optional, and are not required in the lesson plans we submit to administration. This is a BIG problem. Without a standard, education is a free for all, and students from different states receive unequal education which defeats the purpose of a public school system. For example, I am a New York certified teacher. Because NY has some of the toughest education standards in the country, my certification is good in most every other state. Florida on the other hand has some of the weakest standards. By implementing national standards, all the students and teachers should be on the same page, ensuring the entire country is well prepared for higher learning.

Obama has stated his belief that all students should attend at least one year of technical school or higher education. While this shouldn’t be required, I also believe that it will become a prerequisite for most every job in the 21st century. I argued in the previous post that ideas are what will be most valuable in the new economy and manufacturing will largely be deferred to Asia. Thus a college degree or technical certificate would give the new workers of the future specialized skills to perform building tasks. I believe that instead of manufacturing goods, the workers of the new economy will be building lots of prototypes. Thus a failed auto industry scenario is impossible because a worker wouldn’t be manufacturing only one thing; any building project that requires special knowledge of photo-voltaic cells would have a worker trained for that task. The demand for specialists means they would earn a higher wage, and that there should be some kind of work awaiting students upon graduation.

Closing Remarks

Preparing our country to compete in the global economy requires investment in the American people. We need to increase the educational standard, and economically incentivize getting an education. It is becoming less and less of a choice as we progress anyway, as jobs that require no education need a high school diploma or GED. Jobs that needed a high school diploma need a bachelors, and so on. With a new teacher workforce, and employing the educational philosophy discussed in Episode 54, and following through with Obama’s vision for education, I have no doubt that the next generation of students will far surpass the output of the rest of the world. We have the brains, the motivation, and the competitive culture to make it work. All that is missing is a foundation commensurate with the 2sy century.

Stay tuned for the final part in the series “Free Market vs. Public Education”
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8 comments: on "Episode 63: Part 2"

del patterson said...

Dear L,
Have gone and lost your ever lovin' mind?

First, I applaud you for giving a damn about our nation and our kids, so anything that shines a light on those pillars is appreciated.
May I go over a few things?

You mention China and Japan as two superior countries in the arena of education. It is important for your reader to know that China, Japan, India, and most nations of the world cherry pick who goes on to high school let alone college. They cherry pick who takes the national tests. And, get this, they spend in the neighborhood of about 10 to 25 % of the GDP on education where the clarion call for financial support for ed in this nation is at a whopping 4% (and falling fast). In this country cherry picking never happens as to who goes to high school and only rarely happens on collegiate testing. Perhaps the greatest part to their winning equation is the culture which teaches "respect" for knowledge and inculcates the concept of concentration (something sorely lacking in the U.S.).

You mention the teaching of phonics and grammar to the youngsters. Are you sure. I definitely am not. Far too many reading teachers say one must not "cookie cutter" any learning approach. Even in little ones, one size (method) does not a learner make. There are a host of learning styles for pre and elementary kids and hoisting up "mythical-dreamlike" solutions could be the potion for failure.

Under technology, you rant that that teachers are ill prepared to teach the techie-kids in their classroom. Touche! But the deal is in most school systems the better technology is found in the administration building (found segregated from the academic world); there one will find whiteboard, huge computer monitors, fast speed phone systems, and the latest in software. In the actual schools, one might look to the science and math departments for find all the new gadgets (they reign royal to all powers that be. Most other departs are light years away from whiteboards, fast modems, or modern software. (Oops, let's not forget the holy oval and the hoop with all the netting, as they are the opium of all administrators in that football and basketball bring in the receipts and they get every uneducable inducing toy on the planet).

In your statement about how the feds should dole out the money you end with the incredulous statement of, "The rest of the money should be delegated by the states". Give states such as Oklahoma, Kansas, Virginia, Utah, ....go ahead just name a state....and you have the very thing we have now. NO MONEY FOR EDUCATION.. Leave such a decision for the state and you will have a state using the money for sports stadiums, highways, corrections, and even workmen's comp.

Standards? Come on L, we already have them. The ACT/SAT; the Military Assessment Test. They are all nationally standard on their face. Do you really want the test makers whose lobbying efforts knows no limit clamoring for more tests they could decipher a vapid student from a scholar.

All students should be required to have at least one year of college or technical school?
Are you sure? We have states that won't appropriately fund our current school and you want this pipe-dream.Who will pay for it and at what costs? Health care for the elderly or a cut in food stamps?

Under your requirement what would you do with special needs students? What about the emancipated 18 old who just wants to get a job and help put food on the table? Would your requirement deny them laissez faire economics that your article seems to stress.

I could go on and on, but I am sure you are tired of my rant. Forgive me. I love the teaching profession and I truly believe kids get the bad rap from Reagan to Obama, and by God, I will defend them until I die.

conservative generation said...


I was thinking hard how to put my thoughts down and then saw that Del actually hit on many of them. Even the part about US education vs Asia and most of the rest of the world. We offer excellent education to all. Many EU and Asian countries only educate the best and the brightest.

I think you get what you invest in that respect. Asian countries many have industries they specialize in, but our work force is versatile, efficient and productive.

By the way Del. Last time I checked my school tax bill was more than Fed income taxes. Then again OK and NY as far as school taxes go are apples and oranges.

One thing you left out is administration reform. From what I can see, admins are both overpaid and ineffective.

More later. My wife beckons :)

The Law said...

Part 1 to Del's response:
This is the kind of debate I love! but my answer to your commentary is too long to blogger to handle so I'll do it in two parts...

Let me first say Del, I am a defender of the student as well. My whole thesis regarding education for at least 5 years has revolved around the idea that teachers are not properly trained to teach the 21st century, facebooking, myspacing, twittering, 24/7 cellphone using student. When I read the articiles in the AFT, NMEA, and local education papers, teachers often approach the solution backwards; they incorporate facebook, twiiter, etc, in the classrooms to try and reach students without really nderstanding the technology enough to apply it to the way students learn. There are plently of teachers, especially those comign out now who do in fact understand it, but now administration is stuck in a rut.

Regarding standards, there are no national standards for lesson planning I know of. In music, lesson plans I have to submit to the principle must include the NY State standards. National standards are optional, and some universities don't seem to really teach them. This isn't as big a problem in music, as it is, for better or for worse an ancillary program, and musicians are as good as the teacher is. But for reading, math, science, history, (and sadly missing from most programs, Civics) different states have wildly different standards for cirriculum content and what is considered passable. This SHOULD NOT!!!!!! be done by the government like GM, but rather a confederation of teachers working togethers with the Secretary of Education and the State Governers.

How China manufactures their students is irrelevant in my opinion. That country is a human rights nightmare, and as we try to make them a bit more civil to their citizens politically, we still have to contend with the students they produce regardless.

The Law said...

Part 2 to Del's response:
Regarding phonics and grammar, I have not advocated one appraoch over another, just simply that with emphasis of pre-school education, we can jump start learning by one whole year. Since I have taught multi-lingual students, who frequently translate english from spanish to their parents, I think it is possible to teach multiple languages early. People say that kids don't learn english well enough, but by improving teacher training I think we can learn both well. I'm not married to that particualar idea, but I think it is something to consider for the future.

Obama has stated his belief that all students should attend at least one year of technical school or higher education. While this *shouldn’t* be required, I also believe that it will become a prerequisite for most every job in the 21st century.

Is this not already the case? A friend of mine went right into the workforce at 18. But to become an electrician, he had to go to a year of trade school first to qualify for certification. All my idea would do is help to provide student loans for all trade schools so one has an opportunity to attend such schools rather than pay out of pocket. There will always be a "regular man's working job" out there, but I don't think the 21st century will be based on these jobs anymore. I didn't explain that clearly however.

Finally regarding giving money to the states, this fits under my regulations bill. I don't want to nationalize education because the delegation of the educational repsonibilities is not in the Constitution, so there is litte we could do on the federal level. You can however enforce legislation that punishes the state for misappropriating money. I don't know how hard it could possibly be to make an excel spreadsheet that says, we gave you $30M for education... where is the missing $2M? If it is not accounted for, slap them with a fine.

Finally, my best teaching stories involve special needs students. From teach a girl with cerebral palsy to really play the drums, not sit in the corner banging a cowbell, or getting a student with brain injury and lost feeling in their fingers to play their favorite rock songs on the guitar with a real band AND keep up! It all goes back to teacher training. From accurately diagnosing learning disabilities to the best way to implement an inclusionary cirriculum, to getting these students into the work/academic force. I've seen it done... now we have to get it from the local to the national level.

The Law said...

And to CGen and Del,

Regarding America vs. the world,

In terms of equal education to all, no one has us beat!! I 1000% agree with you guys there. In terms of quality? Not so much.

I do admit that I often leave out administration reform. I feel like by addressing things like national standards, that the nation has a benchmar we can reach together, which would by nature of such legislation, create administrative reform. But I 100% agree that admins (as they are in most every profession) is a huge problem. Still, that is largely a political issue, be it nation, state, local, or building politics. Producing great teachers is an easier goal to obtain that reforming a boys club instituion of administration. Great teachers would in my mind make admin step up their game.

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