Dismal Exams

First Published: 2012-08-17

The Nassau Guardian”s front-page story “Dismal exam scores continue” (August 8, 2012, page 1) focused public attention on one of the country’s greatest problems…too many of the nation’s public school leavers are illiterate and do not earn a high school diploma. A logical conclusion is the “Department of Education is a failure”.

Changing the Status Quo

The Minister of Education, in his review of this year’s BGCSE exams (The Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education), described the continuing dismal state of public education, the status quo, and the limited progress being made. To his credit, and as reported by the Guardian, he defined the problem and did not make excuses nor criticize the validity of the exams.

In the recent election the Prime Minister promised to spend huge amounts on education; now the Minister of Education promises to increase dramatically the number of English and Math courses to address the illiteracy problem. The ultimate test, as always, is “what do students actually learn?”.

The overriding problem is the Government’s public schools. Yes…as a whole…they are a failure and public education reform seems like an impossible objective. Unfortunately, that may be true.

Let’s look at two examples. In the U.S. the two worst performing public school systems have been Detroit, Michigan, and Washington D.C..

  • In Detroit the collapse of the auto industry, the economy and its public school system is described in “Race, Economics and Education in the Motor City” published in The Tribune, May 30, 2011.

(Refer to http://www.bahamasb2b.com/download/detroit-urban-tragedy.pdf )

The city’s public school system fought school reform right up to the bitter end. That’s when the money ran out and the state took it over. It is now installing a system of privately operated charter schools.

  • In Washington D.C., Adrian Fendy, a past young reform mayor, hired a tough School Chancellor who drastically cut waste and corruption and tried to set up an attractive incentive payment system for teachers. In two years Washington D.C passed Detroit in the annual rankings.

Then the anti-reform stakeholders…the local and national teachers unions, the bureaucrats and administrators, business contractors, politicians and voters aligned with them…mobilized and voted Adrian Fendy and his Chancellor out of office at the next election.
What can be done?

Here are three ideas that can only be implemented over time. The DOE can…

  • Start with Charter Schools that are privately operated and devoted to excellency in their specialized fields whether that be vocational or college preparatory. They should pattern themselves on the Kipp school system popularized in the “Waiting for Superman” documentary. The DOE to date has rejected this concept.
  • Issue education vouchers to students who can redeem them at one of those charter school. The DOE claims that its financial support of private schools is the equivalent to a voucher system..
  • Test all teachers for English and math competency, record actual classroom learning; and then systematically discharge the poorer performing teachers using these and other valid measures.

The Political BarrierSystematically implementing these ideas over time will be difficult simply because of the political strength of the present stakeholders who “benefit” from the status quo.

But the CPAL Economic Report “One barrier to doing business in The Bahamas – government” (The Guardian, August 8, 2012, page 8) identifies the biggest barrier, a “Poorly Educated Workforce.”
Politics is the barrier. It takes courage, conviction and dedication to do what is in the interest of the people and the nation rather than in the interest of the present stakeholders in the failed system.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

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