Friday, February 03, 2006

Inflammatory Editorial:
And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, a Rant

The National Science Foundation has announced that the NSF Fiscal Year 2007 budget overview will be held on February 6, 2006. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, President Bush stated in his Tuesday night 2006 State of the Union address that he wants to create "...a program to train 70,000 teachers for Advanced Placement high school classes in science and math, as well as bring... 30,000 math and science professionals into schools to teach [with] $380 million in 2007." As noted on such blogs as Dynamics of Cats (from which comment made there by the Dark Wraith this post is derived), this level of funding is of dubious sufficiency to the goal set forth by the President.

In fact, $380 million for the preparation of a total of 100,000 new teachers would mean that the average beneficiary of this initiative would directly or indirectly receive $3,800. Important to note in this regard is that this money will likely not be distributed in its entirety to those in training: colleges and universities will receive at least some of this money in the form of NSF grants for establishing or upgrading their teacher training programs. With the cost of a four-year education at a public college averaging $5,491 per year (an increase of 7.1% over the previous academic year) and that at a private college averaging $21,235 per year (an increase of 5.9% over the previous academic year), a small share of a $3,800 sum will provide little draw for most students. More importantly for the long run, this initiative offers no fundamental change in salary structures for educators in service or planning to enter the profession. Driven largely by local and state factors, those salaries will not be affected in any material, permanent way by an initiative that throws what appears at first blush a large amount of money at a gaping chasm that is orders-of-magnitude larger.

The President, reflecting the concerns of other well-meaning and less well-meaning commentators on education, is attempting—albeit inadequately, at best, and disingenuously, at worst—to address a "shortage" of qualified teachers in math and science. There is, however, no shortage: shortage from an economics standpoint implies a non-market distortion that imposes an effective price ceiling below the equilibrium price that would clear the amount of a product being supplied with the amount of that product being demanded. In the present matter, a shortage would exist only if it could be argued that the price (salaries) for teachers was less than what would exist in an unregulated market. That would be difficult to establish: private schools—a market in which no argument can be made that government or majority voting blocs impose salary distortions —pay less than public schools.

The price being paid to teachers is, unfortunately, creating no shortage; but it is producing a long-term catastrophe, particularly since simplistic, short-term solutions keep getting piled, one atop the last, on the fiasco.

The problem is no better at the college level. One of my specializations is teaching remedial and "developmental" math. In other words, I am charged with accomplishing in a matter of months what was left unaccomplished over twelve or more years of formal, pre-college education. This I do quite well.

The students come in droves; and no fewer are arriving now than did before the "No Child Left Behind" initiative. In fact, the prospective learners are in even worse shape now because they are rammed through pass-the-test-at-all-costs curriculum without the least regard for solid, years-long skills development appropriate at each grade to both emotional and mathematical maturity level.

And that is emerging as the second problem now looming on the horizon: schools are rushing to prove how butch their math programs are by ramming high-level material into the curriculum at lower and lower grade levels. This is an exercise in futility on stilts: even if it could be argued that some "average" emotional maturity stage could be altered at a certain grade level, the mathematical maturity stage (which exists in its own matrix of cultural, social, and other parameters) has its own, separate pace that is not going to dance to the tune of great sounding, pandering curriculum scope and sequence overhaul. More to the point, teachers cannot magically change the parameters of the society in which the children grow up, so teachers cannot construct whatever effect would be necessary to proceed with getting kids to do calculus while in diapers.

No Child Left Behind is destined to become No Child Left, Period.

So what's going to happen? More of the same will be forthcoming: kids who cannot write a grammatically correct sentence, much less a cogent, essay-length review and analysis; students who have no essential sense of how numbers work in basic mathematical operations (oh, but they'll be able to apply math to "real world" nonsense); parents who will continue to drift in their own fog of self-indulgent materialism conveyed to their kids in everything from electronic noise addiction to crippled attention-at-length skills; and politicians (both Republican and Democrat) who will preen themselves before the voters with yet another round of disgraceful funding tied to useless, ill-informed, git-tuff-on-them-kids-and-teachers education mandates.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. For my 25 years as a college math teacher I'll still be making under $20,000 a year to do the impossible. And while the education Renaissance earns applause for Mr. Bush, Congress, state legislators, and local school boards, the miracle show of mind, magic, and math will continue on schedule in Lecture Hall 12B.

The Dark Wraith has ranted.

This article is cross-posted from The Dark Wraith Forums.

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