The public debate now raging regarding how to spend additional educational money has boiled down to a binary argument: give teachers a raise based on student performance or give teachers a raise without factoring in student performance. Although teachers should be paid well, I am a firm believer that paying teachers more will not improve student performance. And improving New Mexico’s student performance is the core issue that should be targeted with any new money. I propose thinking a little differently about where and how to apply this windfall.
Education is a three-legged stool, where one leg is the students, the second leg is the entire educational infrastructure and the third is the parents, or home support. And, like any three-legged stool, when one leg breaks, the system collapses. The New Mexico public education stool collapsed long ago as New Mexico always falls at the bottom of any national educational measure.
In the student population leg, individual abilities are distributed normally. Natural ability can be considered inherited, God-given, or the sum of a set of unique DNA sequences, but it is the unique stuff with which we are born. Some people are naturally great at math, while others are not. Some like drama, while others like science. Some people work with their hands, while others prefer a desk. Teachers understand this as a core factor in their craft, but there is not much a teacher or school system can do to change or improve this first leg of the stool.
In the school system infrastructure leg, facilities, curricula, administration, programs, bus services, classroom supplies, teachers, etc., are all critical pieces. Currently, the teacher’s pay debate is … part of this leg of the stool. Naturally, money has always been necessary to establish and maintain this leg, and most money allocated for education should flow into this leg of the stool. Most, but in my proposal, not all.
The third leg is the support structure the students have at home. This is the most difficult part of the stool to influence and control, so this leg is mostly ignored or, at best, given lip service. However, if reinforced in a meaningful way, this is where student performance would improve. But, beyond giving traditional lip service, what can a system do to strengthen this leg?
My approach is to teach parents and guardians to be better parents and guardians, at least as far as their parenting involves their child’s education.
Here is the plan. The school year is 10 months long. Once a month, each school offers a 60-minute seminar, in the evening, for each grade level from K to middle school. Parents and adult guardians are paid to attend. Five of the 10 seminars would deal with specific grade-level topics, such as performance norms and expectations, where and how to access tutoring, reading requirements, discipline, homework, classroom book reviews, the use of technology in the classroom, developmental issues, etc.
The second five would address more general educational processes and child developmental issues appropriate for each grade level. Topics might include the need for exercise, diet, cellphone down time, how to deal with peer pressure and bullying, setting up a homework environment, online learning, how to talk to kids about drugs, safety, processes to … address performance concerns, etc. If parents attend the seminars, they receive money from the state at a rate based on attendance. Let’s say $100 per student per session attended. Some might argue that paying parents to attend these sessions is inappropriate, but I would consider teaching parents how to parent better an investment in education.
Implement a trial program first. Teachers and administrators who develop and make this evening presentation would be paid. However, certain expenditures, such as buying new curricula, starting elective building improvements and staff pay raises, would be suspended for four years. Evaluation metrics could be established and remain unchanged for four years. Let’s try this approach and see if it helps. If, after this trial period, performance is improved, the program becomes an integral part of the school process and factored into future budgets.
More money for teachers has not improved student performance so far. Our rating is so bad that we should try something different.