Recently the Times Dispatch reported a new plan by the Chesterfield Board of Education for the future of its beleaguered K-12 system. According to news reports, students should be prepared in the 21st century (which began 13 years ago) to solve problems critically, be productive leaders, exhibit core values of leadership and service. Had the board included work for world peace and solve the problem of world hunger, graduates of this system would be well prepared to answer questions asked of Miss America contestants. An examination of the plan shows it to be more of the usual educrat rubbish rather than a serious discussion of the problems of K-12 education.
Pupils in Chesterfield will be able to solve problems and be productive citizens. To achieve this end, the plan puts strong emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. In my experience students must have a significant grasp of the fundamentals of each discipline before being able to integrate concepts. Who will teach an interdisciplinary course? Will teachers be expected to be expert in several disciplines or will these be team taught? During my career at Governor’s School I taught a course with a science colleague that combined environmental science, economics, and government. The course was discontinued because the school could not afford the cost of two teachers in one classroom.
The Chesterfield plan places heavy emphasis on technology as an instructional tool. My experience in education demonstrated to me that many computer experts are not up to the job of integrating computers with subject matter. The amount of data in economics (see rfe.org) demonstrates the huge job it would be to find the information, translate it for use in a class room of differing abilities, and effectively use it as a teaching tool. This task would overwhelm most instructors teaching multiple subjects.
Chesterfield seems to want to replace academic rigor in a discipline with some type of “feel good,” “everyone does well” system. This fits in perfectly with the way too many children are raised today. They join a Little League team, go 0-for-4, the team loses 10-to-0, but everybody receives a trophy. Failure is not pleasant but it is part of a learning experience. Chesterfield’s apparent embrace of a “friendship” between student and teacher would undermine both academic rigor and discipline.
In recent years, Chesterfield, along with most districts in Virginia, has decreased staffing levels, and frozen pay since the 2008-2009 school year. During the past four years inflation has compounded at approximately 2% per annum while the cost of health care has had an annual rate increase of at least 5% . To remain in teaching, Chesterfield offers its staff as incentive a rapidly decreasing standard of living. Governor Bob and his misogynist, plutocrat-loving Republicans have further undermined educators’ financial futures by withholding $640 million of the state’s contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.
I know of no successful enterprise that has succeeded over the long-term without offering its staff the prospect of a better life. The fantasy proposed by the educrats in Chesterfield never addresses the fundamental problem in Education: money. Is teaching a viable career or is it something akin to being an airline stewardess in the 1960′s — something you did until you got married or went back to university to prepare of a “real” job. I’ll bet that the employees of Bain Capital worked hard because they were compensated. Why should school teachers play be different rules? Don’t the fundamental rules of Capitalism not apply to education?
– Les Schreiber