Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hot Topic: School Reform

I read this VERY interesting Editor's Note in the April 2010 Seattle Business Magazine, and I wanted to post it on my blog.

I will be the first to admit that I am not very well versed in the current school reform movement going on in our country, but I do know that the high school in the town I live in, the high school I graduated from, has been accepted to the Race to the Top grant program.

Please note that in the article, the author writes that Washington schools have not been given access to the Race to the Top grants, but I think he is speaking about Western Washington schools.  The west side of the state tends to forget about the east side - we call it the Cascade Curtain.

Here is the article:

Tapping Experts to Teach
Four years ago, I was dismayed by the terrible math education my son was getting at a Seattle public K-8 school; for two years in a row, he had had the same incompetent teacher.  So I pulled together a committee of similarly concerned parents and started a before-school math program.  I put an ad on Craigslist and received resumes from a dozen qualified math teachers.  Students were divided into two classes of 15.  They paid about $250 each for the school year to cover the teacher's salary.  Over the course of their one 45-minute class each week, they completed an entire Algebra I curriculum.  Many who had previously hated math became big fans of the subject.

At a time when so many of the jobs available in our region require a high level of math and science, our public schools are failing us.  What chance do we have of graduating students in such important fields as chemistry, physics and computer science when so many give up on math by the eighth grade?

Key to the success of our before-school math class was the teacher we ended up hiring: She had a Ph.D. in philosophy and logic, and had taught math at the college level in California.  She wanted to teach in the Seattle Public Schools system, but couldn't get a job because she didn't have the requisite credentials.

Public schools need to take advantage of our region's wealth of science and math talent.  We should give public school principals, like private school principals, the authority to pick the best people available to teach math and science classes, regardless of what their credentials may be.  No doubt there are many retired engineers and scientists who would enjoy a second career teaching in the schools.  They would not only understand their subjects better than many credentialed teachers, but they might also even be able to get students excited about careers in their fields.  Many youth avoid those fields because of the tough work required.  But few realize that once they get over the hurdle of acquiring an education, prospects for an exciting and lucrative career are higher in the sciences than in liberal arts.

Former Microsoft executive Scott Oki has been an aggressive advocate for schoole reform not just on the question of certification but also on a range of issues outlined in his book, Outrageous Learning: An Education Manifesto.  Oki's next step is to creat a parents' union, a membership organization that would raise money to represent the interests of parents and kids ot counter the influence of principals' unions and teachers' unions.  It's a great idea.  Our failure in Washington to pursue innovative solutions to improving schools is aprticually punishing today because this intransigence has prevented us from gaining access to grants offered under President Obama's Race to the Top program.  At a time when our schools are in crisis, we can't afford to let unions bureaucratic inertia stymie progress.  There are smart, obvious solutions that we fail to pursue at our peril.

Leslie D. Helm

So, there it is.  I disagree with several things.  I agree with several things.  But if we don't get in to a public school reform debate, I would love to host a little discussion about the idea of employing uncredentialed teachers in public schools.  Do any of you have any experience with this?

If you have a lengthy opinion that you would like to share, feel free to email it to:

I will do a follow-up post in about a week and share my opinion - but I don't want to taint the discussion or make one side of the arguement feel unwelcome!  So please, by all means, comment, rant, rave, DEBATE!  But no fighting.  For now.

-Grace's Mom


  1. I'm not sure how I feel about this........on one hand, I went to school to be a teacher, but didn't get my credential. I feel like I am just as competent as the next teacher......however, I didn't go through the credential process, so who knows? I can't wait to hear what others have to say.

  2. Do you mean credentials as in having a teaching certificate? I do think it is important to have one for teaching above preschool. The reason is there is so much about curriculum, behavior management, inquiry-based and sequential learning, and teaching strategies that is important to know. Many brilliant mathematicians understand math, but maybe don't understand people or how to teach those concepts, especially to hormonal teens! ;) (I do not have one and teach preschool, but at this point have 12 years in-field experience, numerous professional development trainings, a B.A. in Child Development and almost a Master's in Ed for School Counseling.)
    I don't teach in public school. I heard that my friend who teaches Kindergarten in a public school has to buy her own crayons for her classroom. I think that is so sad. The school budget should provide funds for classroom supplies, even if they are limited.

  3. I really don't have enough knowledge about crecentials to post an opinion here but sounds like a great topic to get into!

  4. Great post, certainly something we should keep in the back of our headshow to get your ex back