Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teacher Shortages are not the real issue… They are a Symptom of the real problem: An outdated and under-funded system.

I think of teacher shortages as a serious and pressing issue. They are a symptom of a struggling educational system. There are many reasons for this:

- Teachers in South Dakota are the lowest paid in the nation, with or without our current special programs. People who have met the call are beginning to retire, but there is no one to replace them.
- Forcing public school consolidation punches holes into the economic fabric of our state by ultimately “closing” communities in rural areas. Subsequently, rural and sparsely populated areas cannot attract new teachers.
- Lack of a ‘plan’ for education has resulted in a lawsuit against the state by a federation of educational institutions, dividing our state.

What do we have to do to effectively solve this problem?

The answers lies in first understanding we have entered a new economy, one that is knowledge-based fueled by technology and within a global theater. For decades our educational system has prepared individuals for industrialism. While this was the solution for the past, it is the problem for the present. There is an old saying ‘if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.’ We have tried over and over again to use the same system and we keep expecting different results to no avail.

So what should we do?

First, our educational system must be redesigned to focus on the demands of our new economy. We all know math, science, and technology are key educational components. However our current delivery system is not effective. Vertically integrating our K-12 system with our postsecondary educational system is absolutely critical to accomplish this task.

Secondly, our education system must be in sync, horizontally integrating with our ever changing economy. To accomplish this high order, we must create public and private partnerships to enhance collaboration between our newly vertically-tiered educational system and the economic drivers in our state. Hopefully we are arriving closer to an appreciation for a research and technology based approach to economic development; using knowledge to capitalize on our resources.

And thirdly, we must become realistic to the ‘new model’ that will be developed from this vertical and horizontal integration: a model that predicts enrollment, captures quality teachers, and is flexible to allow innovation in administration as well as delivery of education to our bright young minds. Within a new framework, efficiencies will present themselves; however we must understand and be prepared to be willing to make any possible new investment.

We must not stand by any longer and expect things to suddenly change or go away. Only as we seek creative solutions will we arrive at a better place.

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