Thursday, September 10, 2009

Yet Another Reason You Should Support Vouchers

If you aren't reading George Will, you need to start. In his awesome column today, he talks about Republican candidate for California governor Steve Poizner:
...but Steve Poizner has surmounted other obstacles, as when he volunteered to teach without pay in an East San Jose high school. After he sold, for $1 billion, one of the technology companies he founded after moving to California from Texas, and after serving as a White House fellow, he walked into San Jose's school district office, explained that he graduated No. 1 in his class at the University of Texas, earned a Stanford business degree and now wanted to teach American government to high school seniors. A functionary declared: "Nothing you have said qualifies you to be in the classroom."

Undeterred, he placed calls to the district's 12 high school principals. Eleven did not return his calls. The 12th, whose students were mostly from working-class Hispanic families, gave Poizner the opportunity he describes as the hardest, and most rewarding, thing he has ever done.
Any system which doesn't allow someone as qualified as this to teach is already failed. I bet there are tons of parents who would be happy to have their kids taught by this guy and others who don't have the right "qualifications". If only they had money so they could make the choice for themselves.


p.a.whelan.nd said...

I read the article by George Will. The more important thing is the needlessly complex requirements to do anything of substance and the criminalization of teachers actually enforcing any discipline in public (and increasingly private) schools.

I cannot disagree with the functionary. Teaching is a difficult thing to do. I was a tutor for 3.5 years in high school and 3 in college. Actually teaching someone something is difficult. I had the opportunity to study under some excellent research PhD's -- that could not explain an iota of their field to ambitious college students. High school students require much more particular handling as well. I went to a nice private high school -- the best in the state and we required all of our teachers to have some sort of education in education or start studying it as soon as they got there.

No one can argue with Mr. Poizner's success. However, the capacity to teach and the capacity to do do not always come together. Especially with particular codes of operation in a constrained environment. It is interesting that the article made no mention of his success/failure in the classroom -- only that he found it engaging, difficult and that he moved a trash can. Tons of parents would be happy to have their children taught by an outlier of success. However, I feel that tons of parents would also like some assurance that the teacher has some sort of training/ability to actually teach. We need to have some sort of expedited/discounted process for highly qualified individuals to get that training.

I agree that we need some sort of competition among the schools though. We must also have some way to get problem children out of the classroom and into something else -- but productive. Bring back chain gangs, there are plenty of rocks that need busting or ditches that need digging.

Adam Freund said...

Teaching is a difficult thing to do, but so are many other things. Computer programming is hard, building a billion dollar business is hard, getting into Stanford Business School is hard. It may be the case that teaching requires additional skill sets in order to be successful, but it is extremely likely that someone as successful as Mr. Poizner has the ability to pick up those skills and make an excellent teacher.

The main point I would like to emphasize is that the current educatonal establishment takes the wrong perspective. Instead of making access easier for highly qualified people, they are more concerned with jumping through unnecessary hoops. Had the article said something like:

Mr. Poizner went to 12 schools and expressed
his desire to teach and eleven of them
expressed extreme enthusiasm. They told him
he could enroll in the accelerated 2 month
course in teaching instruction and then
begin teaching.

This is what I would expect from people serious about getting high quality people into the classroom. As a sidenote, I heard this guy on C-Span speak and he had a similar problem. His name was Jonathan Kozol, a big liberal. He wanted to become a teacher and couldn't because he didn't have the right credentials. He ended up circumventing the restrictions by becoming a full time substitute teacher. He went to Harvard.

The article wasn't really about his teaching career, it was about his potential run for governor.

All these problems can be solved with vouchers. If teaching credentials have merit, then private schools (similar to the one you attended) would require them. Also, private schools would be able to kick out problem children which I agree is a major problem. The current educational establishment punishes children who want to learn by placing juvenile deliquents into classrooms.

I think we are pretty much on the same page.

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