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(from one who served time in the trenches)

When was the last time you opened a newspaper or some form of social media when someone was not venting about the deplorable state of education in America? That’s what I thought. Me, neither.

I’m no longer in the thick of it (kudos to those who are!), but here some random thoughts anyway. Well, three, lest I get carried away.

Class size matters.

Sure, you can put another desk in the room and fill it with a body. But you must then proportionally reduce your expectations regarding individualized instruction and personal attention for each child. Well, think about it! You give, say, a 4th grade teacher 35 students—that’s fewer than ten minutes per student in a normal school day. Never mind the additional time for marking papers and writing reports to parents, planning lessons, and on and on and . . .

It is just as bad for the high school teacher. There is a direct correlation between the number of students and the amount of substantive work that is required of them. Say it takes 5 minutes to grade an essay (a short one!)—that is time outside the actual teaching day. Five classes of maybe 30 students each—just how many essays/projects would you be assigning? Class size does, indeed, matter.

Admin overload.

Why is it that in education, the less contact you have with kids, the higher your salary? Those who are enamored of a business analogy will answer (with a smirk), “CEOs earn more than line workers.” Really? You want to make that comparison? Where does that leave students—who should be at the center of this enterprise? (I think a far better analogy, if you have to have one, would be doctors:patients::teachers:students. Teachers, like doctors, often have more education and training than their administrators.)

In America in the last couple of generations, we have seen an exponential increase in the ratio of teachers (I include counselors here) and administrators. I mean we have principals, each with 1-4 assistant principals and above them are superintendents and assistant superintendents—all with attendant clerical staff. And then—then!—there are curriculum coordinators to cover every subject area. They seem to spend more time “coordinating” their little bureaucratic fiefdoms than in considering what actually happens in the classroom. And we wonder why so many children get left behind.

Teacher evaluation.

Everyone knows who the best teachers are in any given school. Parents pull strings like mad to get their kids in those classrooms. Of course, these are subjective judgments, for no one—no one—not even the proponents of that idiotic test- ridden, colossally expensive No Child Left Behind fiasco—has come up with a truly effective, truly objective tool for measuring teacher competence. Faithful attendance at faculty meetings and neat lesson plan books are hardly evidence of classroom performance.

Merit pay? Turns out that is something of a joke in many schools. (Principals have their little fiefdoms too.) Sadly, the usual way for teachers to earn more money is to leave their classrooms and become administrators.

Admin types do try, but personally I never ever found an administrator’s evaluation of my teaching to be in the least helpful. I do not think I was just being arrogant. What I did find very helpful were private and anonymous evaluations by my students delivered to me after grades were posted for the school year. But my students were young adults.

Bottom line: No. I do not have a definitive answer, but surely there MUST be a better way.