What I Want for Christmas

Santa, I don’t have a big list this year. I think I’ll keep it pretty simple, if you don’t mind? That way, when you come to my house, you don’t need to spend too much time. Enjoy the almond milk and the sugar-free cookies. You could use a little help with that waistline.

In fact, I am completely okay with you phoning this one in, or at least texting it. It’s pretty simple to do that nowadays; I’m sure your elves got texting down. It seems your elf Alabaster has some texting issues. Over a 100 a day, I hear.

Well, here we go. My twelve requests for Christmas:

1. Please silence any policymaker, especially one running for president, from talking about free higher education. Sorry Santa, it’s just a dumb idea with no economic grounding. You even know that! Need-based tuition fees? Sure, I’m all in, although that’s how we manage the financial aid piece. But Free? No way. Bad idea. Everyone needs a piece of the investment.

2. Please make the federal government push some of the future debt of students on to the states, who have been getting by with murder for years because of the federal role in higher education. PAY YOUR SHARE!

3. Not one more word about small class sizes in K12 or higher ed. It isn’t a thing. It doesn’t change academic outcomes. Only the culture and adequacy of teachers makes a difference.

4. Please eliminate charter schools. A bad idea gone bad. I can cite this over and over and over again in the research literature. Please Santa. Make them go away and take all federal money out of it (e.g., thanks Clinton; thanks Bush (both)).

5. Public K12 Vouchers. I don’t even want to start. Santa, please….

6. Please figure out a way to make technology improve teaching and learning? I know it has, but it has done so in an inequitable, class-based manner that broadened rather than lessened the gaps between our neediest and our most advantaged.

7. Provide more assurances that schools in poor neighborhoods get the best of teaching, not the dregs. Yes, pay those teachers more.

8. Bring back arts and music and shop class and all the fun things in school that have been unfunded over the years. Woodshop and graphics got me through high school and look what I’ve done? I actually became a graphic arts instructor (for seven years) before doing this policy and research stuff. If people really think school is all about academics, they are wrong. The best thing about school is about introducing youth to different things. Arts. Music. Language. Science. Poetry. Sports. Even the library. Hey, they don’t get to play trumpet at home, right? But they do learn about teamwork when they do at school. It isn’t just the football and field hockey team, it is the arts team, too. Fund them and watch academic scores soar!

9. Ensure that the people who are teaching teachers how to teach have actually taught before. Take a look; probably half of them never did.

10. Watch how much money university professors are making on the side while taking public funding as a foundation for their personal consulting business. For us ‘real’ consultants, it is akin to a government subsidy.

11. Please give us a new US Secretary of Education. Puleeze.

12. In the enrollment downturn of higher education, let’s hope that colleges that should close do; that those who are on the bubble get better; and that the system as a whole works to produce the best we have to offer and give everyone, with equity, a chance at a better life. We all benefit when that happens.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best of the season to all. Let’s hope for an awesome 2020!

2 thoughts on “What I Want for Christmas

  1. Class size absolutely makes a difference in outcomes, in at least two ways: it gives students more individualised attention; and it lessens the workload for the teacher/ professor. As someone who has taught primarily writing for over 20 years now and seen her workload go up because of rising enrolment caps, greater student need (lower preparation), and the v technology that’s meant to enhance teaching and make less work, I can attest first hand that, for ex., students learn more when 1. They get feedback sooner; 2. That feedback is tailored to their specific needs; 3.the teacher isn’t exhausted and in less of a buoyant mood than she would be if she weren’t running from campus to campus, class to class …
    And, as has been addressed before, teachers in underserved districts should be paid more and/ or receive benefits like loan forgiveness, but this alone will not address the needs of those districts and students: they need teachers with experience and dedication, who genuinely want to be there. And those teachers, in turn, need support from the administration and respect from parents and students– not to be treated like criminals, threatened with dismissal at every turn, assessed on the basis of test scores … apropos of which, that would be another essential overhaul for our educational system, esp. K- 12: either get rid of standardised testing or use it better, to help and support schools, not punish them.

    1. I appreciate the response. However, there is no research that suggests class size is meaningful at all when compared to teacher competency. A better teacher has much more impact on a classroom than class size (K12 or HE, although HE has barely been studied). Anecdotally (terrifying word) speaking, my best classes were the 300+ student classes with a professor who knew what s/he was talking about and new how to teach to a large class. Some of my worst? Small, nine-person classes that were too small to have any critical mass. Certain courses depend, like you mentioned, writing. But those classes usually have labs, too (or often too), or students can go to a lab in addition.

      Loan forgiveness programs don’t work, especially in education. What we’ve found is that the teachers are more often than not spouses of others than earn more; and they move forcing them to repay the loan before it is forgiven. I do agree: teachers in underserved districts should be paid more to attract better teachers there. I have done research in the worst school districts in the nation, and the teachers are often embarrassingly bad. I have literally read pieces by teachers who couldn’t spell or didn’t know proper grammar. Sickening. But that’s what we have in some places.

      Getting rid of standardized testing isn’t a solution; standardized tests are critical when normed across students and using diagnostically. When they aren’t, well, you make mention of that. Teaching to the test is not a great attribute of our system; but it isn’t the test: it is what the state and district are doing with the test.

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