Modernizing Shelby County Education

Over the past 6 months, I have truly learned more about education in our country than I have ever known. As I have spent time reflecting and influencing education reform, I have some observations that new school districts can learn from.

1) Innovation is the enemy of complacency – the continual process of reinventing education to fit into the current culture and generation sorely lacks in Shelby County

2) 80-85% of our district budget is invested in human capital and benefits. Close to 15% go to the rest of education. The cost of human capital continues to rise although we continue to underwrite and provide a job to somewhere north of 1500 teachers who grade out at a level 1 or2 out of 5. We pay rough between 75 – 100 million and continue to pour millions of dollars into professional development.

3) Our level 4 and 5 teachers are woefully underutilized.

4) Information technology is still not being utilized anywhere close to its capacity to deliver quality instruction.

5) Unions are a thing of the past. Antiquated reasoning and protection of poor teachers has led to a glut of poor teachers that continually get recycled in the system due to their seniority.

6) We as a community have not fully embraced that education can be without boundaries.

As a board member of a system who find it so difficult to modernize due to the desire to protect jobs, I would offer the following strategy for the pending municipal districts:

1) Understand the value of a dollar and maximize education delivery by investing more in technology and less in human capital. Invest in a secure, robust education delivery infrastructure to allow children to participate in courses no matter what school they sit or if they work from home.

2) Hire only level 4 and 5 teachers and level 3 teachers who have potential. New hires will work as an understudy to level 5 teachers for 2 years until they are proven and have a rigorous professional development process.  Pay them a premium salary and benefits and then build a platform for them to reach hundreds of students through technology. regardless if they live in Bartlett, Arlington, G-Town… Expanding the reach of such great teachers will lower the overall need for human capital and expose students to some of the best teachers and learning environments regardless of walls.

3) Develop podcasts of common core instruction by level 4 and 5 teachers and give access to those pods to children to participate in at any time of the day. Offer access to these courses outside of the district for a small fee.

4) Do away with books and replace hardback with ipads or e-readers..

5) Offer home based education to students/parents who desire to have only a virtual education.

6) For middle school and high school , develop an online curriculum catalog. Allow students to register for classes online and take online courses.

The reality is that education could be done so much better for far less cost and with better outcomes. The unified board dilemma is that too many people are concerned about keeping their jobs then truly modernizing and revolutionizing education. That in part is due to the size of the district. I exhort any new LEA to truly embrace modernization. I think the term reform is an old word. Modernization is more accurate.

We can truly make a district that is lean, mean and effective…

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