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Public School: America’s Most Pressing National Security Threat

August 23, 2011

Super teachers alone can’t save our schools.

 

That is the headline of this recent Wall Street Journal article by Steven Brill. At the top of the article, Mr. Brill commends Dave Levin (co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools) for his role in promoting achievement and opportunity in the American public school system. But the crux of the column is that even KIPP’s superstar teachers “aren’t enough to turn around an American public school system whose continued failure has become the country’s most pressing long-term economic and national security threat.”

 

While KIPP schools are doing an exemplary job of improving student and teacher standards, it’s unfair to expect charter schools to carry the load. With roughly 50 million students in 95,000 K-12 public schools, our entire system needs a massive infrastructure overhaul necessary to enact comprehensive change. Where do we start? Aside from a new, relevant curriculum, the answer is with training. Not just academic training, but psychological training.

 

Roughly one month ago, I wrote an article entitled, “Why Teachers Aren’t Professionals.” In that post, I suggest that the reason for a lack of professionalism among teachers nationwide is due to the cyclical nature of The Consistency Principle – society doesn’t consider teachers high-end professionals, so they in turn don’t feel, or act like high-end professionals themselves.

 

While we can’t expect every public school teacher to devote the same dedication to the job as their counterparts at KIPP, we must convince them to try. To quote Mr. Brill, “Mobilizing an army that large requires…creating work lives and career paths for teachers that will motivate a good portion of them to stay for a while.”

 

Doctors and lawyers train for years before achieving successful careers. Their ambition is long-term, and society rewards them for sticking with it. Ask any MD or JD at a dinner party what he or she does for a living, and you’re sure to get a proud answer.

 

Of course our public school system needs a major managerial makeover. But as Mr. Brill alludes to in his article, we need to motivate and mobilize a new generation of educators to help the upper management. And the only way to do that successfully is to alter the self-perception of being a public school teacher in the first place.

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