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WILLIAMS: Getting better teachers requires thorough education reform

- - Sunday, October 6, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Teaching — or at least teaching well — should be thought of as a "trade" not a "job." Those doing an everyday (or even complex) job require training, experience and steadiness to become successful. Teachers need all that as well, but it's more nuanced.

Teaching is essentially almost all interaction, and many aspects of life involve "teaching." Corporations teach and train their employees, parents teach their children. While teaching is a skill that can be developed, some are naturally better than others. Therefore you can't train a teacher the way you do a salesman at IBM, because there are a variety of methods for teaching a host of subjects.

Despite the proliferation of education degrees (which supposedly perfect the art of teaching), increases in test scores have been tepid at best. Professional degree requirements have limited the playing field so that a CEO or accountant can't become a teacher, bad teachers are believed to be able to overcome their missteps and become mediocre teachers, and schools don't compete for their students.

If our education system were run more like a business, everybody would be better off, despite what the unions say. Journalism used to be a trade; some of the most famous journalists never had journalism degrees but excelled because they perfected their craft, which from the outside looking in is simple — report what happened somewhere. The idea of teaching is simple as well, to relay information so people understand how to use it but, like journalism, we have made it complex to our detriment.

Kahn Academy is starting to revolutionize education. Many consider its website (khanacademy.org) the future of education, offering free online videos on a variety of subjects simple and complex, a free digital tutor if you will. But no one trained founder Salman Kahn in the art of teaching, though. (He only has a master's in business from Harvard and is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)

Think of how much money it has cost him to educate the youth in masses, compared to the vast sums the teachers unions have spent? Why do we shut people out with a similar resume? Teaching shouldn't be so limited. Many walks of life, experiences and backgrounds should be welcome.

The teachers unions and their supporters frown upon the idea of the education system being run like a corporation. The problem is we have had it their way for almost 40 years and test scores are flat. If what they are demanding to keep has been so successful, why can't we see the results?

When Michelle A. Rhee was appointed schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., one of the first things she did was give a survey to all her teachers in order to gain their perspective on their own performance. More than 90 percent of teachers in the District's public schools said they were doing a great job, yet their students' scores at the time were the worst in the country. What type of business would be successful if all its employees thought they were doing a great job, yet their company was shrinking every year? What kind of culture does that create in an organization and what type of environment does that foster? The result: mediocrity.

Individuals matter, success matters and results matter. The unions have taken over our education system and redirected money toward administrators, overhead and their own selfish interests. At at the same time, they stand guard against the forces of change needed to shake up the education system. Oddly enough, we need to start thinking more like Europe, and realize that if public education were run more like a business, our children would be better off.

Armstrong Williams is the author of the book "Reawakening Virtues." Join him from 4 to 5 a.m. and 6 to 7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.