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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Teacher Unions Should Push for More Aligned Curricula


Unions and politicians continue to argue over how much teachers should be judged by the results of standardized tests.  But this misses the real point.

Consider this reasonable premise:  School systems test, measure, and reward only a very small percentage of skills that a team needs to be valuable in the productive world (for some of the missing skills, go here)*.  Even the oft repeated argument that schools really teach so much more than the curricula is harder to defend in this era of increased "rigor".

If true, this has two financial implications for school systems:
  • First, our society will only grow so quickly with a paucity of needed skills.  This means that we collectively cannot afford all of what schools can and arguably should offer, such as rich after-school programs and higher teacher salaries. 
  • Second, the success that former students do experience in the productive world can only partially be tied back to school experiences.  In other words, people believe they more often succeed despite the foundation of skills learned in school not because of it.  
The argument over using metrics to evaluate teachers is moot.  Of course we must.  But in this era of misaligned curricula, both sides are on a doomed path.  Unions (and the Academic Ph.d. Guild) have to passionately drive change towards aligning rather than legacy content.  Only by fixing what is taught, and more importantly, how, can we fix this less than zero-sum game and move purposefully into the future.

* This chart visualizes the charitable model that schools don't teach wasted or wrong skills, just incomplete.  

As an aside, this leads to an interesting paradox.  If Unschooling Rules is true - if more time in schools beyond a certain point leads to a less prepared workforce as it displaces important other activities (see places to learn for examples) - then the school system strategy of growing funding through increasing school hours delivered may be long term counter-productive and self-defeating by creating a stag-flation school hours effect.

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