Rethinking Public Education
In your Saturday edition you had three articles relating to our current public education issues.
The first is the problem with teacher absenteeism. This all stems from a number of things started as money-saving policy change by the State of West Virginia Department of Education.
I am currently a retired public school teacher (Wheeling Park High School, 33 years) and I am also a substitute teacher. The old contract that was in place when I was hired gave teachers a few retirement options. One was to take unused sick days and have them converted at the time of retirement to cover the cost of health insurance. Days saved applied to current health care costs. This was a great perk. The state discontinued this for all incoming teachers a few years ago. They now pay a flat rate tat is about the same as a substitute receives for one pay day. For most long term teachers, this is a loss of about $50-$100 per day. So, if you can call off now you get your entire rate in your paycheck. So saving days for the end is not really cost effective. So the incentive to save is lost. I retired with quite a few days to be added for insurances and thanks to my own good health had many months of paid insurance.
The second and third problems are related. With West Virginia teachers at the 46th lowest paid in the country, it’s hard to find and retain long-term teachers. Teaching here as a primary source of income; it just won’t make ends meet. Other jobs in our state pay a lot more and with an uplifting economy, it’s not going to change any time soon. Placing non-educational majors in hard-to-fill positions could work if done correctly (like OCS in World War II). But the reality of public school teaching is that subject knowledge is important, but classroom preparation, test preparation, classroom control and adolescent psychology are more important.
Most teachers have passed the classes they are teaching when they were in high school and keep abreast of the changes and updates in the fields of their interest. New teachers need in-class mentoring more than subject updates. Technology just adds to these problems, it does not solve them. Most of teachers next year will have every student have their own laptop computers. Will that mean students will bring them, keep them charged and updated? I’ve been in classrooms where students are so ill-prepared at home that they don’t even come to school with a pencil (although almost all come with a cell phone and a charger.)
My last issue is the nature of current education in the United States. We need to re-evaluate exactly what we are teaching and why. Knowledge doubles (and there are many variants of this) about every 5-10 years, but in class, time has not kept pace. No new days or hours have been added in over 50 years. You simply can’t teach everything anymore. We need to pick and choose. Many students are getting a fine academic preparation and go on to higher education but many do not. Finances are a real problem. Students who are not going to college really don’t try too hard in academic classes. Our vocational education has not kept pace in many years and most vocational students need additional time after high school, which also costs money. Entry level jobs are getting scarce. Even fast food restaurants are automating. Checkout jobs have been self-checkout in most retail stores and those retail outlets are leaving for internet only sales. What do we want a high school graduate to know? We must put our heads together and take a good look at what we have and what we need in the future.
Kim Stephen Mattis