My high school student, a senior, had a dilemma. He wanted to be a medical doctor and he had been accepted into the pre-med programs at both Johns Hopkins and Harvard Universities. I was not too sympathetic about his “problem.” He was fortunate and would do well at either school.
Back then, I was teaching at Hong Kong International School. Virtually 100 percent of our students graduated to attend (mostly elite) colleges and universities. HKIS served children of consulate officials and corporate families. Highly skilled upper level folks from Union Carbide and Caterpillar and other international companies came to Hong Kong for twice to triple their regular U.S. salary and with all housing, school and medical expenses paid. Highly-educated and motivated parents had hard working and motivated kids.
Simply, we turned out the best because we only took the best. There were no poverty kids in our school because there were no Westerners living in poverty in Hong Kong. None from broken homes. We had no “high need” or “at risk” kids. Class grades were not bell-shaped but were mostly A’s and a few B’s. Everyone was college-bound.
HKIS raided American schools. They brought over the best-of-the-best teachers they could find. But that was not the most critical factor. When we had a student teacher rookie, or a local hire who was not a veteran, the students’ performance remained high. Pull that whole HKIS faculty and put them in an inner city school in our big cities, a school serving students from poverty homes and mostly single parents, and there would be few students with the dilemma of choosing between Johns Hopkins and Harvard. Despite their best efforts, that bell-shaped curve would shift lower.
Unfortunately, teachers are seen as the only factor in student success. Perhaps this wrong perception is due to the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver where Jaime Escalante taught students calculus. What was not discussed in the film was that the students who remained in his class were those who were motivated and hard working. While his students at Garfield High School, East Los Angeles from 1974 to 1991 were not wealthy, they were there because they could meet his expectations for rigor and hard work. The lazy, those who had fried their brains on drugs, the videogame addicted—were not in his class.
Unfortunately, Schools of Education invented “outcomes.” List the outcomes you expect and then hold the teachers “accountable” for meeting those outcomes. It is simple-minded.
But apply this mythology—that all students will meet outcomes—to medicine, where every patient who enters a hospital will come out cured. Nope, the best of doctors lose patients and the best of teachers lose students. Outcomes are always narrowly defined. In medicine, if we define “healthy” as a normal temperature, doctors would distribute aspirin to get everyone’s fever down, since that is the measure of the hospital and doctor, and ignore conditions that are not measured. That of course is exactly what has happened under the last decade of No Child Left Behind outcomes that only measured language and math—the rest of the curriculum got shortened or dropped.
For patients whose chances of surviving are least, their only hope may rest with the best surgeon. As a result, the best surgeons may have the highest death rates. Use outcomes bean-counting and they will be penalized. Hospitals will then play “hot potato,” re-directing ambulances bringing in terminal patients.
Measuring and awarding money based on “outcomes” is now the political football in the Topeka Legislature. Some want to measure outcomes 2-years-out; others want the bean-counting to begin immediately. They are both wrong. You cannot improve education by funding schools based on simple-minded measures any more than you can improve medicine by funding hospitals on their survival rates. Rich schools will get richer. Poor schools will get poorer.
Good education depends on good teachers. Under the current oppressive actions and bad attitude of most state legislatures, the number of young college students who want to enter teaching is nose-diving not only in Kansas but nationwide.