"Teachers, teachers, teachers" -- that's NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein and Rev. Al Sharpton's three word solution to closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.
These odd bedfellows have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that's given the misleading title of "Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap." Charter schools are one solution they propose, but the more important ones are the creation of a set of national standards for schools to test against, and re-allocating current federal education spending toward recruiting and retaining the best teachers to troubled schools (and rewarding them on merit). As they point out "there is no reward for excellence in inner-city schools when an outstanding science teacher earns the same salary as a mediocre phys-ed instructor."
(Interestingly, in some schools in NYC, this is not the case. A private program called "Math for America" pays math majors a bonus above their scale salary for teaching in needy schools. But it is mostly true).
Klein and Sharpton point to the growing body of evidence that teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement, and that the current things we reward -- tenure beyond a few years and advanced degrees -- have nothing to do with anything.
It's a fascinating piece. We've talked about teacher quality before on this blog, so I'd like to talk about their other federal idea: the national set of standards. In the era of No Child Left Behind, states are required to test children regularly, but they have been responsible for creating their own tests. Net result: most states create extremely easy tests, in order to show most of their kids passing. This solves the immediate problem of nixing embarrassing headlines but, of course, does nothing to create citizens prepared for productive employment.
I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers think of the idea of national standards. I think there's a lot to like about it -- as long as the standards are rigorous -- for a couple reasons. A key one is that it could, in theory, make acceleration easier.
Here's why. National standards would require a national test. There's no reason -- in this green era -- that this would have to be a paper and pencil sort of thing. Economies of scale would almost demand that it not be. If the test was developed as a computer process, that would allow all the grade levels to be in there, and the test to move along with the child, moving forward until the kid is stumped. This would provide an accurate picture of where individual children stand. There would, of course, be a set level for what constitutes proficient in, say, a fourth grader. But if a nine-year-old scored far beyond that, up to what a 12-year-old should know, then this information could be put to productive use.
There is, of course, the question of who would set the standards, but there could certainly be a panel of educators, parents, scientists, mathematicians, literature experts and so forth who could come up with this, with input from colleges and employers. What do you think? This is a topic I'd like to write about more, so please let me know if you see problems with it.
On another note, we're going to be starting a Q&A series on Gifted Exchange with people representing all facets of gifted education. If you know a teacher, principal, school board member, etc. who would make a good subject and who'd be willing to talk with me, please email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com. We could also throw in a parent or two if you think you have an interesting angle. And let me know if there are any "big names" you'd like to hear from, and I'll try to track them down!