Short Termism Tanked The Economy: Is Education Next

If we are going to apply business practices and such to education, let's be all inclusive. If we are incorporating such terms as free market and data and accountability, we need to incorporate discussion of problems in business. One such is the concept of short termism.

Short termism is making suboptimal decisions for short term benefits that are often at the expense of the long term well being of the organization. In fact these short sighted decisions are often detrimental to the sustainability of the organization. In the business world, short termism takes the form of cuts in training, research and development, financial input of capital, and any other investment. The big question is always about the ROI, or return on investment, in the immediate future. Actors under this short termism philosophy will gladly take $10 for each of four months than $8 each month for a year.

Well maybe it is not that simple, but I was trying to make a point. In education today, I see a problem with appropriate investment, cutting corners to meet short term goals that should contribute to intermediate and more long term goals, and developments toward an unsustainable system. We spend time analyzing facts, figures, and data to the point that people are dehumanized. This allows people to make decisions that will ultimately victimize the most vulnerable without compassion just to make a buck (or higher test scores).

Anyhow, I digress. What does all this have to do with education?

First, I will discuss the lack of training. Teachers invest as much, if not more in training, when compared to other professions. Teachers spend their own money earning advanced degrees, additional certificates and endorsements, and continuing education hours, but are paid little more than low level professionals with less education. Teachers are expected to perform miracles in horrid conditions with no support, and most universities do a poor job o preparing them to work in these conditions. Additionally, traditionally prepared teachers have all of their internship and "vocational" hours before they graduate, but then they are turned loose on the kids with no fail safe for while the teacher is gaining her footing. (It is widely accepted that a teacher is not generally effective until after three to five years.) There is little support for first year teachers beyond the mentor (who may get a small stipend) in some districts. And what about the kids? What are they supposed to do while this rookie gets it together? (Don't hate me. I am a teacher and I have been there too.) Why don't we invest in a safety net for the new teachers and her students so that we don't waste the time and money allowing them to fail? Think about the cost of students' remediation, professional development plans for the teacher, the damage to the teacher and students' self esteem, etc. is it because there is money to be made in remediation? Or because its cheaper not to have the safety net? Short sighted much?

Which brings me to Teach for America...
If research suggests that it takes three to five years for a teacher to become effective when they have been through a training program, what is with TFA? First of all, these people have no training. Second, if they are so passionate that it makes them better than trained teachers, why don't they make the commitment and spend the time and money on teacher preparation? Third, if it takes at least three years to be a good teacher, why is their commitment only long enough for them to bumble around? Why do we waste resources training these people when we KNOW they are not committing? It's because it is cheaper to pay them less and invest a couple thousand in training. A bit short sighted if you ask me!

This brings me to alternative preparation--TAPP
In Georgia, they have the TAPP program. Now I have seen some excellent teachers come out of this program and I have seen some horrid ones. It has been my observation that those excellent teachers who commit to training in this program are very intelligent and compassionate. They know that they teach kids, not subjects. Those who are not effective teachers tend to be more charismatic (brown noses, wink, wink). The program is quite rigorous. They prove themselves with the portfolio that they submit for completion. During the years that they are in the program, they are supported with a mentor and a "TAPP lady." (I apologize that I don't know the position title.) I believe in traditional preparation, but I also believe that every teacher should receive this type of support their first two years. What is more, these TAPP teachers are required to make a five year commitment to the district that trains them. Many stay on after the commitment is ended. I think that the investment made in these teachers is less short sighted.

Who Will Teach Though
Now I will give my take on how firing teachers is short sighted. First of all, let us be clear. Teaching is not an attractive field. People are not busting down university doors in the teacher prep department. If it were, there wouldn't be a need for TFA and alternative routes to certification. Let us be clear on Fact Number 2. Teacher retention is not at optimal levels. A quick search on any university library database will show you that much. Let's not even mention how many people are not teachers because of the test. So here is the scenario in a theater. People are not lining up to see the show. Of those few that are in the line, some won't have the admission fee (test scores) so they can't get in the door. Once in the door, some will walk back out because they don't like the show, but they gave it a shot. How many do politicians think are left for them to be throwing them out the door too? Short sighted? Absolutely. (Not to mention teacher attrition will rise with the new evaluation system.). Who will teach? Oh yeah! Computers are cheap and the people who watch the kids play on computers don't have to be highly educated. We save again! But do we really?

Now, I will attack the second issue: cutting corners to meet short term goals
In determining goals for accountability purposes, we often are attracted to that which is easily tailored for comparison. We also like that which produces results that are easily scored and reported. Enter standardized tests! Good for something, but not everything. Using them for everything (and they are used for everything) is short sighted. The bubble in tests are extremely limited in that they can only ask you to identify the best answer, and writing tests can be very subjective even with a rubric. At any rate, teaching to the test occurs and critical thinking suffers. What is worse, the community of learners with differing opinions that cause academic discourse has been ruined. Thus, encouraging a type of academic inbreeding that occurs when no one is able to challenge an idea. (We all know incest leads to retardation, right?)

Let's go further and discuss the yearly testing required under No Child Left Behind and the money tied to the testing targets. The purpose of short term goals is to grade steps toward an end. To basically create a process. The problem is in developing goals that will contribute to the desired end. First of all, there is a single desired end which means that all processes converge to meet it. This process is the opposite of the divergence necessary for critical thinking. The second problem is that in utilizing the graded steps, that we call standards, we have employed various "objective" standardized measures to evaluate progress. Then we analyze data in an obsessive-compulsive way. All of this has led to very myopic views of students and their intelligence. Students are reduced to data points and their intelligence reduced to that which is easily quantified for disaggregation, comparison, and reporting. In education, we do neitherWhen the reports do nor read desirably, that which is least expensive to address is scapegoated. The real barriers to educational improvement (poverty, resources, teacher training, social equality and generational lack of education) are never addressed either because we do not want to admit they exist or we do not want to bear the financial cost.

Enter teachers and the myopic view that their sole purpose in life is to raise test scores. Teachers are easy targets. Most teachers are women and anyone who has attended a school thinks that they are experts in education. Thus, the idea that teachers are easily replaced by anyone with a degree or even computers is developed. So teachers jobs a threatened and school funding is threatened based on assessment of short term goals created based on projections by those who are not practicing in the field.

Back to goals. What happens when a short term goal is missed? Do we adjust the long term goal or the timeline? In education, we do neither. We blame the teacher, calling her ineffective and threatening termination rather than support. This puts teachers in a position to create cheats and shortcuts so that the test scores look proper. This provides the necessary short term goals, but what about the instances when the shortcut doesn't work. Here is an example that I have heard from a middle school language arts teacher. She gets students that insist that the word fast is not an adverb because it does not end in -ly. She said that she catches the dickens trying to I teach and then reseach because it was taught improperly in the first place. The children don't even have the first idea about the way an adverb functions. So not only are these children able to identify adverbs, they struggle with adverbial phrases and clauses, the associated punctuation, and usage. This is also an issue involving covering or exposing children to an issue instead of teaching it and allowing for exploration. (But that is another story for another day.)

Let us rethink even the long term goal for a minute. Is high school graduation the long term goal when we are aiming to encourage lifelong learning? It would seem that even that is short sighted considering we would hope that three quarters of their lives lie ahead. If we do not place importance on good citizenship, in addition to the academic achievement, will the academic achievement matter? Will they be able to maintain society with no social skills?

Myopic views encouraged by short termism in education:
Myopic view of the children as students rather than people who need academic development as well as character development. They are viewed in terms of needs and deficits instead of rights and resources. We don't even recognize interest only ability.
Myopic view of teachers as though they aren't people with their own families, needs, and rights.
Myopic view of education and intelligence as the ability to produce certain test scores.
Myopic view of schools as test-achievement assembly factories

Let's be clear one more time. Businesses have earned an epic fail with this short termism. Why are we letting them throw these practices on our children? The constant analyzation of numbers until they say what you want. The implementation of a microwave mentality and short term, suboptimal goals. The long term unsustainability and eventual failure of a system based on getting mine now. We saw it in the business world, the real estate bubble, the stock market. We see it in the outsourcing of jobs. (If Americans are not working, who is going to buy your crap?) We see it in the health care industry. If a person isn't insured, they use the emergency room as an expensive doctors office and never pay. They are stabilized and sent on their way only to return. (Sometimes, fixing them properly would be cheaper.)

I didn't even speak of the dishonesty and greed short termism and its impatience breeds. And the desperation those at the bottom feel due to oppession from the top. in Atlanta, they called it top-down-heavy-handed. Do you see any other effects this short termism is having on education? I am sure I missed some short termism in education.

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