November 16, 2007
According to a CNET News.com article, former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley claimed national security is “going to be won the classrooms” and “A train wreck is going to happen unless we wake up in this country. ” Bradley was speaking to a group of technology elites about education’s inability to produce enough skilled workers. To change the situation, the former New Jersey Senator called for national standards, doubling teacher’s salaries, and pay schemes based on student achievement. Bradley further went on to say it is time for the federal government to enforce national education standards because of the to produce the qualified workers needed for the future of our country. Anticipating critics who would cry local control of schools would be taken away he responds, “Well, sorry. This is a national issue.”
This is not the first time education was considered a matter of national security. The National Defense Education Act of 1958, a response to the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, provided the first federal funds for education. The purpose of the act was to increase math, science, and modern language abilities in students to counter a perceived education gap with the Soviets that threatened national security. In Senator Bradley’s claim education is a matter of national security has validity. The ability of today’s students to learn how to learn, problem solve, and work collaboratively is important. Considering the current war against a loosely organized terrorist group transcending the borders of sovereign nations, the argument that the future of our national security is in the classrooms has merit. The military is constantly reviewing its strategy and tactics and developing new ones to achieve its objectives with the constraints set by civilian authorities.
One of the biggest problems with the No Child Left Behind law is the fact that while every student is supposed to show they are learning according to standards, each state develops those standards and definitions of success. This inconsistency further hinders the ability to produce highly skilled and adaptable workers needed to meet the challenges of the future. National standards can be achieved with continued local control of schools. Adopting national standards could free school boards and district administrations to concentrate more on providing tools, training, and support for teachers to meet those standards.
While no teacher or administrator will ever claim to be overpaid, care must be taken when implementing pay scales based on achievement. There is an old story from the Soviet Union about a nail factory. The manager of the plant, whose position and salary was based on performance, was given a goal to produce one million nails in a year. The nails that were produced were too small and weak to be of any use for construction purposes and the industry suffered. However, the manager met his targeted goal. The next year, the central planners set the plant goal to produce one million pounds of nails during the year thinking the manager would correct the situation. The manager achieved his goal but the nails produced where like heavy spikes and proved to be too big for construction purposes. The industry still suffered and the housing shortage continued. If teachers are told their pay is based strictly on academic achievement based on test scores, then students will be highly skilled in taking tests but those skills will not help students in the real world. While their pay may be based on achievement, teachers must be assured they will have creative freedom to make learning more meaningful for their students without fear of economic loss.