The Department of Education is faced with many challenges: some relate to managerial mismanagement as reported recently in the press, others to the poor academic record of its students and even the failure to date to present a credible 10-year plan to address the latter. The Department has a substantial number of good teachers, pockets of academic excellence and decades of testing experience…yet the overall record is unacceptable.
The question is “Where to Begin?”
The Single-Letter Grade
Up until a year ago it confined its annual reporting to the BGCSE exams with a “Single-Letter-Grade” for all schools…public and private…and for all 26 subjects. The score always ranged between “D+” and “D-”; and the results were never treated as “Good News” in the media. Although readily apparent to employers, parents and taxpayers alike, academic under-achievement has been far greater in the Public Schools; and that reality was being concealed behind the “Single-Letter-Grade”.
If the Department had reported the BGCSE (the Bahamas General Certificate for Secondary Education) scores for the Public Schools only, then the grade in all subjects would have ranged between a “D-” and an “F” and not between “D+” and “D-”. Furthermore, reporting the English and Math grades would have enlarged this embarrassing picture.
However, it ceased making the “Single-Letter-Grade” report on the grounds that it was misleading.
YES! It was misleading. BUT..with this action it lost a valid and necessary way to measure the Department’s overall performance.
A Revised BGCSE Benchmark
What we have now from the Ministry and Department are anecdotal examples of educational achievement that are true but do not address the broader issue of non-performance. There are “theoretical” discussions of learning without reference to academic under-achievement, illiteracy and drop-out rates; and there is the displacement of responsibility with a discussion of the dysfunctional family. In short there is the appearance of simply defending the status quo.
The Department must face the humiliating reality of its past and present…acknowledge it…dramatize it…and earn creditability. Otherwise today’s Administration will always appear as part of the problem rather than the solution.
It should use the BGCSE public school data for all subjects and for English and Math separately. It should start this in connection with a new 10-year plan. This giant step is necessary because any effective program to end the scourge of academic under-achievement and illiteracy is likely to elicit an immediate and powerful opposition.
This is what is happening across America in cities like Madison, Wisconsin, New York City and New Jersey. Washington D,C., unfortunately, started a successful reform program but now may be in retreat because of an effective union-managed political counter attack.
A New Vision
But…many, many school districts are turning toward the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Knowledge Is Power Program education templates presented in the “Waiting For Superman” documentary; and they are applying them to their districts. For instance, there appear to be three such districts in the state of Florida alone.
The Bahamas needs a commanding educational and political vision that will carry the country through the inevitable brutal political storm in order to reach the promised land…the cure to the scourge…the end of under achievement and illiteracy, near permanent learning impairment and reduced life-time earnings.
That New Vision could entail either a.) the transfer of the Harlem Children’s Zone template to the Bahamas with its “U. S. Inner-City” learning software, teaching techniques, training and critical experienced personnel, or b.) a more modest effort that the Department would define.
BUT either effort must start with it identifying its most ineffective teachers, moving them out of the classroom and replacing them with higher quality teachers, even foreign teachers, if necessary.
This is that critical incremental investment in the nation’s human capital that would help the country avoid the social, political and economic disaster that surely will come with the status quo.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The views expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Nassau Institute (which has no corporate view), or its Advisers or Directors.