One of the biggest challenges facing the American education system today are teachers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011 there was a projected 3.7 million full-time-equivalent elementary and secondary school teachers. This was up 7% from the projected number in 2001. Clearly, the problem we face is not finding more teachers. Our real problem is finding quality teachers--teachers who are passionate about their subjects and are dedicated to their students.
Our previous post was a visual comparison of the Finnish and American education systems. One of the most shocking comparisons was the quality of their teachers. In Finland, only the top 10% of graduates are accepted into teaching programs. In the US, Teach for America--perhaps the most prestigious teaching program in the US--had a 12% acceptance rate in 2012. Acceptance rates into schools of education in large universities tend to be higher than 12%. Acceptance rates to the top medical schools in the US can get as low as just 3% of applicants accepted. Of course we want our doctors to be the best of the best, but do we not also want our elementary and secondary school teachers to be the best possible as well? After all, they are the ones who inspire and teach our doctors. Who would our doctors be without their teachers? In order to begin improving our education system, we must first learn to appreciate our teachers.
An abundance of teachers does not mean quality teachers. A large amount of teachers in the public school system are ineffective and downright lazy. Unfortunately, this is especially true in the poor urban areas where families cannot afford to send their children to private schools. The New York City school district has its own lazy teacher room--known as the Temporary Reassignment Center, or the Rubber Room--where they currently stick 600 ineffective teachers for an average of 3 years. The best part is that these teachers get paid full salary to sit in a building on Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eight Street in Manhattan and do absolutely nothing. If you don't think that there is something wrong with this picture then you seriously need to consider what the world will look like when these neglected children become adults.
So how can we fix this problem and start to encourage quality students to become quality teachers?
A few months ago I was talking to a friend of mine about where our peers would be going to college next year. He mentioned that his twin sister would be attending School of Education at Duquesne University in the fall on a scholarship that promised her nearly full tuition as long as she stayed enrolled in the program all four years. My interest piqued, I decided to do some more research into the scholarship. According to the Duquesne's website, the scholarship covers 50% of tuition and other fees and can be combined with other grants and financial aid. It is given to the most academically promising students in an effort to encourage students to go into the teaching profession and to be the best possible teachers (find out more about the scholarship at the school's website: http://www.duq.edu/academics/schools/education/leading-teacher/tuition-and-fee).
As I learned more about the scholarship, it started to sound like a better and better idea. The scholarship accomplishes two goals necessary in order to start to improve our education system. First, it is an incentive that will attract the best students in the nation to the teaching profession. Second, the scholarship promises quality teachers. If teaching programs can attract the best, most passionate students, it follows that after four years of schooling they will be the best, most passionate teachers (or at least in theory this should be true).
So I propose, that every state school should have a similar scholarship program in which promising students who enroll in the education school at a state institution should receive up to 75% of their tuition and fees paid for. The money would be provided to the states from the federal government and kept in its own fund with money awarded to recipients each fall prior to the school year. If a state so wished, it could add its own revenue to the fund in order the increase the number of scholarships. The one condition would be that students who receive the scholarship must work at a public school in the state that paid for their education for four years. This will ensure that students have a job when they graduate and the states get back what they put into the student. It would be a win-win for everyone involved--the student gets a nearly free education and a job, and states get quality teachers to teach a new generation of students.
If there is any hope to turn our education system around, we must start with our teachers. How can we expect our students to be at the level of Finland's students, if they are not properly educated and attended to. There is no easy, wave-of-the-wand solution to the problem, but any change may be good change at this point. So let's put our political differences aside and begin to work towards a common goal to right what we have broken.