Cars, telephones, computers, airplanes, medical practice and many other human activities are increasing in quality on a continuing basis. Why not education? Because, too often, educators must produce a better quality student using raw material that resist being improved. But the fact is the materials scientists and engineers manipulate to produce better quality products, when they are not dealt with properly, also resist being transformed. The problem, then, is that many educators have not learned how to deal properly with their resources: students and other educators. Effective teaching is the hardest job; that is, (1) if educators are expected to be successful in the education of children, and (2) if school districts fail to have proper perspectives about what kinds and levels of expectations constitute success.
Quality education is a product of quality teaching. But exactly what is meant by quality education? And how can it be accomplished? In most schools there are quality teachers who could be model teachers. Some learned what it means to be model teacher--and how to become model teachers--in teaching-training classes devoted to instilling such knowledge. Some taught themselves over years of thoughtful trial and error. Some quality teachers learned through thoughtful consideration of factors which cause students to gain, retain or lose interest in learning the courses these teachers teach.
Why are students more successful under certain teachers? What is happening at all professional levels of education within states and school districts that create better and more creative educators?
One of the first things I heard, during those trying years of getting my feet wet in the teaching profession, was that a "good" principal must first have been a "good" teacher. One must conclude that a "good" superintendent--who hopefully also was once a good principal--must also have been a good teacher and therefore knows what kinds of things should be going on down the chain of command that leads to successful students. If principals were not good teachers, are they able to communicate appropriate expectations to their teachers? What expectations would superintendents communicate to their assistant superintendents, principals and other instructional leaders? Unless principals had once been "good" teachers--and superintendents, good principals--how can they know (or recognize) when expectations are reasonable, when they are being achieved by subordinates, and what to suggest to assist subordinates who really want to become "good" at what they do?
Teachers will differ in their abilities to be creative in developing effective teaching strategies they toward fulfilling their responsibility and desires to be quality teachers. But even those who are not so creative in developing effective strategies can implement effective strategies if they know what they are, what the performance expectations are, and are helped--or taught how--to Implement the strategies. Teachers who know what things to do and why they are done will better understand and identify with the teaching and learning processes they are expected to use. What is true of teachers also applies to every other educator within the district.
How, then, can model educators be produced and made available at all administrative and instructional levels?
Enabling educators to become "good" at all levels requires that school boards become knowledgeable about expectations at all levels within the chain of command, recognizing and communicating expectations, and monitoring executions at all levels. This means school board must be educated, not only by their interactions teachers and administrators, but also with community leaders, parents and even students: We can seek the benefits of student ingenuity while students are in public schools--before they go off to make "big bucks," pursuing various wealth-building opportunities in the business world, not in education.
But something can be done about that.
Education will never keep up with the progress and demands of technology and medicine--nor with the needs of a society because of that progress and those demands--without the kinds of education that born of the same levels of intelligence and financial rewards. Levels of economic and political empowerment are related to levels of educational knowledge and achievement. Average people cannot become outstanding educators without being self-motivated to pursue a path of (or at least toward) excellence or unless they, themselves, have high quality teachers either as models or as teacher-training instructors, at all levels of education: in colleges and universities whose professors teach and train public school educators.
Does genius that solves problems on a technological nature lend itself to creative pursuits in education? In other words, can talent only pursue innovations consistent with some innate qualities when money activates initiatives or can talent be directed in directions of need, where needs motivates rather than predisposition.
Well, all of this prelude is intended the set the framework for raising the quality of teaching in all schools to the same high levels of quality. If students are required to master the same curriculum, students should have the same levels and qualities of instruction by teachers who use methods that are equally effective. How do we do that? One way may be by using the ideas suggested in this column as a basis for beginning in-school, in-school district and in-community discussions and problem-solving initiatives related to educating children. Using the best educators as role models and making video tapes of their use of effective strategies should be available to teachers and administrators according to their need for assistance. These model ducators should be paid consistent with the success they have displayed in their own teaching and in improving the skills of less proficient teachers and administrators, consistent with district definition of what it means to be a high-quality educator.
If we assume that more intelligent people make better problem solvers, then education must attract a larger percentage of our most intelligent students into the teaching profession, and we must enable them to earn what they could earn in other professions. What can cause these to happen? parents and patrons who are committed to making sure (1) that those who are elected to school boards are the most competent and caring members available, and (2) that those who are qualified are not hindered in their efforts to improve the quality of education the district's expectations.
The consequence of not choosing quality leadership for school boards is that qualified people stop seeking school board positions. Voters don't know for whom they should be voting--and why--because community leaders, including many church leaders, don't cooperate and keep their memberships sufficiently informed and involved about elections that effect the futures of their children and grandchildren. Too often, even essential community leaders and their organizations for various reasons remain silent, uninvolved and, foo often, uninvited.
How can processes that provide quality education for all children be started? Only if the community of parents, businesses, and organizations are disturbed enough about inferior education to say on behalf of the district's children, "(We're) mad as hell, and (we're) not going to take it anymore." But a community must care enough about its children before it can become mad enough. For the African American community, such failure to care enough reflects a degree of self-rejection. But these are recipes for familial, educational, financial failure and communal extinction.