The current K through 12 educational system is obviously failing on a bunch of levels. You look at the results. The number one thing is improving the quality of the relationship between the teacher and the student. Now how do you do that? Well, there’s no one quick answer, but obviously the first thing is to get good people into the classroom. Good teachers into the classroom and get bad teachers out of the classroom. And to take the teachers who are mediocre and improve them. and so that sometimes involves a fair bit of churning, but I think the best thing we can do immediately is to either improve or get rid of the bottom six or seven percent. The studies show that doing that would make a big difference.
We’re in an air of austerity. We’re probably going to see increasing class sizes as budgets come down. So what we should do is we should take the kids and put them in the classrooms with the best teachers. And then we should reward those teachers for the extra kids they’re going to have in their classrooms. We should increase their salaries. It is better to have to be a kid in a classroom of 35 students with a good teacher than it is to be a kid in a classroom of 20 students with a bad or mediocre teacher. And so we want to move people toward the good teachers.
The second thing we want to do is we want to make sure that our emphasis on reading and math tests, which are important, is not exclusive. Because one of the things we know is that, why do people succeed? They succeed because they have emotional intelligence. And it’s the art and the music that widen their repertoire of emotions.
The third thing we need to do is we have to make sure they are emotionally engaged in schools. If you want to know who’s going to drop out of high school, ask this question. Who’s your favorite teacher? The kids who can say, so-and-so is my favorite teacher, they will not drop out. The kids who look at you like the question is crazy because it would never occur to them to have a favorite teacher, they will drop out. So you need to have institutions which build those kinds of relationships.
Some of it, for some of the good kids, it’ll happen in the classroom. But for other students, you need to build other ways they can relate to teachers. I had a superintendent in Sacramento, California say to me recently, “The way we keep our kids in school is through the A, B, C’s, athletics, band and cheerleading. And so as we are in our budget cuts we can’t get rid of that stuff because we will essentially be slicing off a lot of marginal students.
And so these are some of the things we need to do to really make school a more emotionally addictive place.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.