Friday, October 14, 2011

On Education Reform

Being an English teaching assistant in Bulgaria has opened my eyes to a lot of the problems in the educational system here: underpaid teachers, a funding structure that seeks to increase the quantity of students rather than the quality of instruction, and curriculum standards that lack critical thinking skills, among many other things. A recent report (article here) published by the EU-funded Eurydice Network revealed that Bulgarian teachers' salaries are the lowest in the European Union, and the least likely to increase over the course of one's career. This is a sad statistic, and easy to point to when asked why the educational system seems so stagnant without many initiatives for reform. Most teachers I know work a second if not a third job, which leaves little time leftover to worry about how to change the bigger picture. Many of these problems could be attributed to Bulgaria's status as the poorest country in the European Union. However, any serious conversation on educational reform has to reflect on the fact that low salaries and falling standards are global phenomena, with the United States being no exception.

That being said, there are several programs and foundations addressing the challenges of American public education in the 21st century, including teacher training programs like Teach for America and after-school literacy centers like 826 Valencia in San Francisco (which also happens to be my favorite pirate-themed store). There is also a growing discourse on how to solve the problems within the public school system in the media and through local government channels. 826 co-founder and author Dave Eggers produced a documentary entitled "American Teacher" that seeks to further this discussion and stimulate a plan to attract excellent teachers and keep them with better incentives and higher salaries. It's screening this weekend in San Francisco and then going on a nation-wide tour. I really wish I could see it but I'll just have to wait for the DVD release.

I think that what these initiatives, like so many others, can teach us is that nobody has the "magical solution" to problems in public education. But with collaboration and a lot of creativity, anything is possible.

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