TEACHER PREPARATION Most any student eligible for entrance into our Wisconsin universities can be admitted to our 35 teacher training courses. In South Korea, only 5% of applicants are admitted to elementary education courses. In Finland only 1 in 10. We produce a surplus of teachers. Despite our many highly dedicated teachers, we employ relatively low standards when hiring teachers. A bipartisan but controversial National Council on Teacher Quality evaluation study found that not one of our thirty-five Wisconsin education institutions cracked the top list of education schools in the country. A more recent Four Star 2017 survey identified only two of our schools as even Two Star! Why not allow only those Wisconsin high school graduates with the top third of SAT scores be admitted to teacher education? With tougher certification, competitive salaries and an exciting, challenging “Stretch Targets” culture, will we not begin getting again the ‘best and the brightest’ to teach? Most experts agree that effectiveness in teaching is not a question of charisma. Rather it is a mastery of subject, good coaching and hard work at learning the craft. “Good teachers are not born, they’re made!” (Elizabeth Green)
CERTIFICATION OF TEACHERS Wisconsin and Massachusetts were at similar levels of mediocre K-12 performance back in 1993. Today, Massachusetts, now at global achievement levels is rated the best state in the nation, while Wisconsin has shown virtually no improvement. What did Massachusetts do differently? According to a Wisconsin Policy Institute study, just two things: (1) Created and implemented six years later very rigid, targeted high school graduation requirements (MCAS). (2) Required, like their lawyers and their doctors, that all K-12 teachers be certified to very high standards in their respective subjects (MTEL). The first year only 40% of the Massachusetts teachers were so certified. The State gave the remaining 60% five more years to pass. “Muscle and weight behind state standards!” (A. Borsuk, Refocus Wisconsin) Yet in Wisconsin in August, 2016, sadly the DPI to recruit teachers made it rather easier to be licensed!
EXCEPTIONAL TEACHERS/TEACHER RESPECT The first requirement for exceptional teachers is to NOT feel sorry for their students. Rather, to come into the class room each day with very high expectations for their kids! These certified teachers that buy wholeheartedly into “Stretch Targets” and work hard to improve their skills and the skills of fellow teachers are a critical factor in performance. Most of our Wisconsin teachers are good, well intentioned and want more of their students. As an entire district moves ahead on “Stretch Targets”, and eventual huge improvements in performance and rising student scores are observed by the public, community respect for these great teachers and attractiveness of the profession will be earned back!
WELL ROUNDED EDUCATION Yes, much emphasis must be put on math, science and reading scores. They along with writing are the foundational blocks for learning and technology. They are also the easiest to track internationally. But subjects such as writing, literature, history, political science and computer science should certainly not be overlooked. Indeed, the study of these subjects will be enhanced if students can read, think, and count well above their grade levels. Art, music and health/physical education likewise can then be better used to generate knowledge and imagination and life long habits of health, good citizenry, and the work ethic. Yet, should not school districts also determine that for focus and economy, subjects such as drivers education be taught as well by other institutions?
FUN! Enjoyable events, creative projects, and limited but fulfilling extra curricular activities with ‘learning’ devised by these highly qualified teachers will hopefully result in students working harder at all levels. The parental praise and self esteem movement in education, unrelated to achievement, can be dangerous for a child (Bronson&Merryman, Nuture Shock). But joy of learning with increased academic intensity will rather enhance self-esteem. Massachusetts in 2016 embarked on a series of experiments to generate more fun in their internationally top rated schools. Madison’s One City Early Learning Centers have adopted from China the very innovative, widely praised AnjiPlay system that provides preschool children with far more “fun, love, risk, joy and reflection” in their learning.
FEWER TESTS? Reducing the number of mandatory tests currently may not be possible. And certainly teaching from ages 3~4 on should NOT be geared primarily to tests. Yet well qualified teachers in the right environment will have a good feel for student performance vis a vis the global “best”. Some Wisconsin high schools such as in Kettle Moraine & Pewaukee School Districts have already begun the international PISA tests to globally benchmark. All Wisconsin students at age 15 should ASAP begin taking these OECD-sponsored tests that emphasize critical thinking. (Could we save time, energy and space and take the mandatory Common Core and other currently required tests all in the same day/week with the international tests? That’s what they do in Germany.) Hard work and fun and thinking in learning should be at the heart of the classroom effort! Good test results will follow!
LONGER HOURS American children spend fewer hours in school than most other top performing countries. A growing consensus indicates that longer school days and summer studies will result in faster learning!