By Gregory Smith Dixon

Schools need accountable, creative teachers

Math, science must improve for high-tech jobs

The presidential election has focused on many issues. Some silly and some as serious as they get. What I’m not hearing is what we are going to do to improve our children’s education.

Our education system is based on a farm economy. We still have and need farmers, but the vast body of people work in offices, factories, construction or transportation. The list goes on and on.

What is new is the need for students who can go into high-tech fields. These jobs not only pay well, but employers are going begging overseas to find the individuals they need.

Educators don’t want to hear this, but we need to set up a performance-based system to reward teachers who produce results. The howls of indignation can already be heard from instructors. The tenure track has been the big golden ring instructors work toward. It is not working.

In every field, professionals are held accountable. Make the sales quota and keep your job. Bad economy. Not an excuse. Dumb customers. Not an excuse. Making a lot of excuses on why you can’t is a one-way ticket out the door. 

So why can’t we have the same for the teaching profession? If you have disadvantaged students, you lower the bar and work on raising it by increments so they can catch up with better-off children. There are ways to make it happen. 

According to a recent report by the Harvard Education Policy and Governance, Latvia, Chile and Brazil students are making gains three times faster than American counterparts. In 2009, Program for International Student Assessment ranked the average 14-year-old U.S. student 25th out of 34 countries. Not good. Embarrassing. 

We are a great nation. Unfortunately, we are failing our children and grandchildren when it comes to school. Teaching math and sciences requires extra effort because students have to work hard to understand the concepts. It can be done.

In my high school back in the early 1970s, an instructor created a math club with the promise he would teach us how to calculate the odds in poker. Friends who would have never agreed to join an academic club enlisted in order to play poker on school time. Yes, we played poker. However, first we had to sit through a session on determining odds. Percentages.

Later on, he taught how to play billiards through the use of angles. We learned vectors. Later we learned derivatives in order to calculate the arch a water-powered toy jet might go upon takeoff. 

My high school math instructor brought us together because he wanted to show us how useful math can really be. We came out of self interest and learned despite ourselves. 

Does every math and science instructor need to teach poker and billiards to get students to learn? What if they did? The point is, a little creativity can go a long way to get students interested in math and science. 

We are no longer playing games. The future of our nation’s prosperity depends on how well we prepare future generations. So, too bad, teachers. Performance-based rewards need to be installed.

Note to readers — Gregory Smith, a former reporter for Sauk Valley Media, has lived in Dixon with his family for about 20 years.

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