Stimulating minds

Spending $1 trillion for highways, bridges and school repairs won’t stimulate the economy in the long run, argues New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. We need to stimulate learning, creating “more Google-ready jobs and Windows-ready and knowledge-ready workers.”

How?

Barack Obama is talking about preparing for global competition by  “investing in the science, research and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries and entire new industries.”

But, again, how?

Friedman proposes:

. . . give everyone who is academically eligible and willing a quick $5,000 to go back to school. . . .

.  . .  eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.

Academically eligible students — and quite a few who aren’t eligible — already go to college in the U.S.  Where we lose potential scientists and innovators is in the K-12 system. There’s no quick fix for that, though it would make sense to pay more to competent math and science teachers — and to other teachers with high-demand skills, such as special ed specialists. Exempting all public teachers from income taxes is a bad idea: We’re all in this together.

I back allowing foreign math and science graduates to stay in the U.S.

It’s also important to ensure that community colleges have the funds to offer  classes to laid-off workers who need to improve their skills.

Eduwonk has more on compensating teachers.

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Comments

  1. Where we lose potential scientists and innovators is in the K-12 system. There’s no quick fix for that…

    I agree with you about no quick fix, but the Direct Instruction guys offer quite a bit of evidence that there is a slow, detailed, but effective fix. Why haven’t schools all adopted Direct Instruction, or other programmes that have showed themselves to be as effective?

    I agree with you that exempting all public teachers from income taxes is a bad idea, it raises administration costs for no good reason (someone has to create a little box on the tax form saying “This person is a public teacher”, you need rules about who is a public teacher (Are guidance counsellors? Teachers’ aides? Speech and language therapists? Tutors?), everyone filling out the tax form has to spend a few seconds reading the form and deciding whether or not to tick the box, and the tax people very probably need to check that people who ticked the box are in fact public teachers, or are in fact hiring public teachers. Any teacher with income from more than teaching faces a slightly more complicated tax bill too. This is why all governments I know about tax all their employees, even though it’s a matter of just shifting money from one government bank account to another – it saves on admin. It’s far simpler and cheaper to just pay teachers more than to exempt them from income tax.

  2. Friedman is kidding himself if he thinks that exempting teachers from taxes will lead to better teachers. In very many school districts, getting hired has nothing to do with superior qualifications. It has everything to do with knowing the right people or coming from a particular family. I have seen school districts hiring students I know to be dolts and turning away much better qualified ones precisely because of the friends n’ family factor.

  3. As my good friend and mentor says: “nobody recognizes that we do have qualified, talented teachers already in place, they are just stifled by a system and culture that does not allow them to do their job”. Teachers continue to be stymied by legislators and administrators – most with no educational background (legislators) or very little classroom experience (administrators) – who make all the rules. Better pay – SIGNIFICANTLY better pay – might help recruit better teachers. Better teachers in the same system will be just as frustrated as the good teachers we already have. Until the United States quits bashing the educational system and decides that the education of our children is the single most important task of our government we will continue falling behind other nations. Education is not a business. Education is not for those that can afford it. A quality public education is a MUST for every child in this country. An opportunity to attend affordable (free is affordable) post secondary education is also a must for anyone willing and able.

  4. It’d be a good idea to cut the federal budget, to decrease taxes for everyone. It’s a spectacularly bad idea to remove taxes from government employees who can vote as a block. I’d agree to no federal income taxes on teachers–as soon as they all give up the right to vote. “No taxation without representation.” becomes “No representation without taxation.” At least Mr. Friedman admits that he’s married to a teacher.

    Giving everyone in the country $5,000 to go to college will only increase tuitions. There are a finite number of degree granting institutions, all of whom will appreciate the opportunity to increase tuitions.

    “If we spend $1 trillion on a stimulus and just get better highways and bridges — and not a new Google, Apple, Intel or Microsoft — your kids will thank you for making it so much easier for them to commute to the unemployment office or mediocre jobs.”

    Er, most people work “mediocre jobs.” The world needs mediocre jobs. If the sanitation workers strike in any city, they can bring it to its knees. Engineers working in air-conditioned offices on a project which will be cancelled in 6 months due to political shifts in management, not so much.

    Throwing money at the public schools won’t improve them. Anyone who’s looked into public school funding must notice the vast inefficiencies and outright wasteful spending found in school systems.

    I would be in favor of a demanding national curriculum, which set rigorous standards in math, science, history, and English. If they start now, they’ll be done by the time my grandchildren are ready to enter school.

    More pragmatically, the federal government could set standards for high school science labs, and grants to schools to outfit those labs. (reasonable standards, i.e., bunsen burners, sinks, lab tables, safety equipment.) The feds must, however, refuse to certify any high school which doesn’t have the necessary equipment.

  5. Tracy W wrote:

    > Why haven’t schools all adopted Direct Instruction, or other programmes that have showed themselves to be as effective?

    Why should they? There are more immediate gains, for those who benefit, in the selection of educational fads over effective techniques. The stuff that works might take years to show much effect but the proponents of the latest edu-fad can immediately portray themselves as cutting-edge edu-pioneers.

    Educational attainments by kids, which have no direct impact on the fortunes of those who opt for them or immediate rewards in the way of attractive additions to the CV and reputation which might actually lead to better jobs/better pay from opting for the trendy.

    Not really much of a contest, is it?

    Joanne Jacobs wrote:

    > There’s no quick fix for that, though it would make sense to pay more to competent math and science teachers — and to other teachers with high-demand skills, such as special ed specialists.

    Depends on how you define “quick”. At the national level, looking at an entrenched, widely-distributed and disparate political entity that makes up public education “quick” might be decades. It did, after all, take seventy or eighty years for the current public education system to achieve its final victory so upending that institution quickly means less then seventy or eighty years but you probably won’t need a stopwatch.

    Fortunately, the current system has generated sufficient in the way of dissatisfaction to enable to establishment of its successor – charter schools – although how long it’ll take for the public to become fully aware of that alternative is not that easy to predict. My guess is that some time in the next five years the charter school idea will become much more widespread and begin to appeal to a wider range of voters.

  6. Charter schools were specifically exempted from many regulations in order to help them along. I think that if being exempted from regulations is good for charter schools, why isn’t it a good idea for public schools?

    Most folks simply WOULD NOT BELIEVE how much over-regulating and reporting requirments add to a district’s budget. New board members always come in pledging to eliminate waste & overspending, and then find that they are powerless to do so–because the cause of the “waste” is at the state and federal levels.

  7. “eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers.”

    Somehow, I do not see that effect following from that cause.

    I teach college, have been told I’m talented at it. Why didn’t I consider teaching school? Paying income tax had nothing to do with it – the Byzantine bureaucracy of many school systems, the fact that often the disruptive students are simply left in class and treated as “the teacher’s fault they’re being that way,” and the fact that we have a youth culture that is somewhat hostile to the idea of education, learning, and respecting elders – are more pressing reasons.

    Teaching college, at least most of the people who don’t want to be there, aren’t. And most of the students are mature enough to realize that goofing off and saying clever-rude things are not a good way to get attention.

  8. Apparently no relation to Milton Friedman.

    Eliminating federal income taxes would amount to a massive federal subsidy to the states. I’m sure a 40 to 45 percent increase in take-home pay would stimulate something, just not sure what. More than likely it would stimulate a wage freeze or wage cut until after-tax pay drops to what it would have been without the tax cut.

  9. For purely selfish reasons, I support not taxing teachers 🙂

    It certainly won’t make for better teachers or teaching, but I wouldn’t complain.

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    > Until the United States quits bashing the educational system and decides that the education of our children is the single most important task of our government we will continue falling behind other nations. Education is not a business.

    If education costs money, and I don’t see many teachers volunteering to work for free, education is a business.

    Pay for results is coming to public education. If you don’t think that it should, you get to explain why you think that education should get more money. If you think that results can’t be measured, you get to explain why we shouldn’t replace teachers with low-cost babysitters. (If results can’t be measured, there’s no point in paying more for better.)

    Note that one way to get the constraints out of the way of teachers is to penalize organizations that don’t deliver and give the money to organizations that do.

  11. Mike Curtis says:

    Ricki

    You left out the fact that college teachers/instructors/professors don’t have to be certified as teachers, nor endure the slings and arrows of the pursuit of formal education credentials. All they have to do is convince their employer that they are proficient in the subject they wish to teach to get a foot in the academic door.

    You are absolutely right in acknowledging that college students are primarily composed of volunteers who know that misbehavior has a consequence.

    Consider how much more effective, competent and competitive our educators would be if they had the same standards and salary opportunities as college and university educators.

  12. Rex wrote:

    > Charter schools were specifically exempted from many regulations in order to help them along. I think that if being exempted from regulations is good for charter schools, why isn’t it a good idea for public schools?

    Charter schools are public schools. They just aren’t *district* public schools. The burden charters *don’t* have to carry is the burden of unnecessary administrative overhead.

  13. I think easing the stranglehold that Edu. depts have on qualifying teachers would go a long way in attracting better people to the job. I can almost understand Early Childhood Ed.for lower grades, but I don’t know why high school teachers can’t be subject matter experts, and skip the jargon classes.

  14. but I don’t know why high school teachers can’t be subject matter experts

    High school teachers don’t just need to be subject matter experts, they also need to know how to teach their subject. At university there are plenty of professors who know far more about their subject than even their PhD students, but are hopeless teachers as they don’t understand how anyone could *not* get whatever their speciality is or because they forgot how much they were taught in the past.

    This is not to say that existing education schools actually add anything to teachers’ effectiveness, any feedback between what education college professors teach and what happens in new teachers’ classrooms appears to be minimal at best.

  15. tim-10-ber says:

    Tracy and all– Is there a reason to have a “college of education”? Seems to me it could be abandoned and the only classes kept are those that help a teacher learn to teach, prepare curriculum (that is really done for them) and manage the classroom.

    I really do not understand why the schools of education are needed.

    I welcome all thoughts and comments.

    Elizabeth

  16. Schools of Education, and the teacher certification with which they are joined at the hip, exist to limit entry to the teacher labor market. That serves the interests of those employed as teachers, and those directly dependent on the employment of teachers, unions, by artificially reducing supply and thus holding up wages.

    They also serve the interests of school boards and administration by providing a defensible approximation of competence in the teachers they hire.

    By hiring graduates of ed schools who are certified, parents and tax payers are provided with some reason to believe those teachers are competent. After all, they’ve just spent four years or thereabouts, in college learning everything there is to know about teaching and received the certification stamp of approval. How could they be anything but competent?

    But it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

    The ed schools get to outrageously inflate the cost of the instruction necessary to learn to become a teacher, thus increasing their importance and influence.

    You can see this operating most clearly in the value placed on advanced degrees from ed schools in that an EdD is only worthwhile in the pursuit of a bigger paycheck not, as is implied, the development of greater teaching skill. If an increase in teaching skill were the primary reason for the acquisition of an advanced degree there’d a need to prove the value of the degree in the educational attainments of the students enjoying the benefit of those greater skills.

  17. Tracy and all– Is there a reason to have a “college of education”? Seems to me it could be abandoned and the only classes kept are those that help a teacher learn to teach, prepare curriculum (that is really done for them) and manage the classroom.

    Hmmm, once you’ve taken on the tasks of educating trainee teachers to teach, prepare curriculum, and manage a classroom, I think you’ve already got enough material to justify a college of education.

    It strikes me that teaching is a separate profession of its own, at least as worthy of specialised schooling as engineering or medicine. Eg, at engineering school we studied physics and maths, but we studied them in the context of engineering, we learnt how to apply physics and maths to specific engineering problems, we learnt cool solutions previous engineers had come up in the past to engineering problems, and we learnt general rules about design, about testing, about ethics, etc. We also had specific courses on things like project management and first aid. An engineer doesn’t just need to know physics, they need to know how to design, build and test a new solution. And it really helps to not just learn the theory, but what clever uses people have made of it in the past. There was more than enough material for a 3 year degree. And I left not merely knowing things, but having had my thinking changed towards that desired by the profession – for example I was left with a compulsion to test every new design first.

    If we were to properly train would-be teachers to teach, along the lines that engineers are trained, an education school focused at high school teachers would be covering things like “how do kids fail to learn calculus, and how you can avoid those problems”, “identifying kids who need eyesight testing”, “signs of the poor reader trying to hide their problem”, “how to deal with abusive behaviour”, and training teachers to incorporate feedback in their lessons and to adjust the lessons on the fly in response to that feedback. (This is not merely educating teachers that they should be using feedback, it’s something they should be doing almost without thinking about it, like the difference between learning driving theory and learning to drive). I would be amazed if you could have a college of education that was effective at training good teachers without including lots of practice for its students.

    I am well aware that a number of colleges of education fail at this sort of professional education, I am here talking about what colleges of education could be like, and what I am inclined to think should be like (but am not dead sure), as opposed to what they are actually like.