An Alternative to Parasitic Prep

The United States:  land of opportunity, birthplace of the American dream.  That dream was once rooted in a world class education system.  Today, while the US is still considered a world leader in many areas, education is not one of them.  The current world education rankings put the US at 17th in Reading, 32nd in Math, and 23rd in Science.  For a country that ranks 6th in the world in GNP per capita this seems a little low…  Doesn’t it?  I mean we chose daily how to allocate our financial resources.  Isn’t the education of our  tudents the most critical investment we can make?

We are not short on attempts to change education.  We try something new almost yearly.  We reform, retest, retool, reteach, increase standards, increase teacher accountability…  the list is endless, and year after year, change after change we don’t get a whole lot better at educating our children.  So who are the ultimate losers in this failing system?

The students of America are.  Those students are growing up in a globalized society.  Their future will be one of competition with each other and with the students from the rest of the world.  Are they prepared for that eventuality?  Will they rise to the top?  Are we ready to accept the consequences if they don’t?

So who benefits from the status quo here?  This part of the question is rarely addressed, but requires an understanding that in this country someone has to be benefiting or a  change would have happened.   We consciously or unconsciously have decided to prioritize something above the education of our children.  What is that something?  You don’t have to dig very deep to find the simple answer.  The beneficiary of our educational ineptitude is the test prep and supplemental tutoring services industry.  Take two major purveyors of these services.  Princeton Review in 2009 reported a profit of $76.3 million.  Kaplan goes beyond the test prep and tutoring services to include college offerings in “for profit universities” and in 2006 their revenue exceeded $1.6 billion.  So our flawed education system does have benefits.  It benefits businesses, and this industry is a multibillion dollar industry.

At this point you may be asking yourself about my own hypocrisy.  After all, I am part of this industry and I reap the benefits of the system failure in my own career as a test prep

There is a difference though.  When I started my business, Ace It Test Prep, LLC, in the greater Daytona Beach area, I consciously chose to try to make it restorative.   I want
it to actually help the education system.  I was determined that I wouldn’t be just another parasitic prep company that feasted on the scraps from a flawed system.  So I gave back to the community – I offered my services cheaper than my competitors but made them better, I provided free services to those with financial need, I even started a scholarship fund to help students with college expenses.  After seeing my own success I realized that this industry can actually be part of the broader solution to the education
woes of our country.  That’s where the idea for Top Teacher Test Prep, LLC began.

Top Teacher Test Prep will not be another company that gives little if anything back to the system and actually benefits if the worse our system gets.  Most companies have no interest in actually improving the education system because it would make students more successful and consequently lower their profit margins.  That’s one of the key differences between Top Teacher Test Prep, LLC  and other companies following this antiquated model.  Our business model is to use test prep tutoring, and the money flowing through it already, to actually improve the education system of America by recruiting and retaining the highest quality teachers.   We anticipate a trickle-down effect from this initiative.  More good teachers means fewer bad teachers, which means better quality education, which means less need for all of these ineffectual reforms, and in the end this means overall improvement in our educational system.

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Making the Profession Economically Relevant Again

A recent report in US Today citing current employment figures indicates that the jobless rate for individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree is at the highest level since 1970.  With unemployment rates reaching consistent highs and no relief in sight, College grads are broadening the horizons of their job search.  We stand on the cusp of a potential watershed event for public education.  With dwindling job prospects elsewhere, highly qualified individuals are looking for gainful employment.  What if we get just a few of these people to turn their eyes towards the classroom as a viable employment option?  Think of the possibilities.

Teaching has traditionally been viewed as a secure career with unsustainable pay.  It fell
into one of the following categories.

A.  A good job for the second income earner in the family.

B.  A job that didn’t pay “too badly” if you factored in benefits and retirement plans        (states tightening their budgetary belts changes this now).

C.  An idealized career because of the impact one can make on the future of society, but a real career option for most because the prestige was limited and the economics made it a  hard choice.

D.  A good second career (for many top tier individuals), one to enter after they were already financially secure.

E.  A job that  allowed innovation in the classroom but fell short of offering  opportunities for true entrepreneurship.

I would contend that the current, prolonged economic downturn provides the opportunity to shift these perceptions and bring the best and brightest into the teaching profession again.  I blogged about a similar event earlier this year when I addressed the influx of talent into the education system that followed the Great Depression.   Top Teacher Test Prep provides a system to return the teaching profession to the place of prominence that it deserves.  You no longer have to go into teaching once you retire and can afford to not make any money.  You no longer view it as a fall back career.  It can become a sought after position because it is a world changing position that now becomes an economically viable career option.  No matter where you decide to teach, our system allows you to double and even triple your yearly income.

What if the education system could actually reap the benefits of the recession instead of continuing to be victimized by it?  We just need to market this correctly, and Top Teacher Test Prep will help to do just that.

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Finding the Joy in Teaching (And Keeping It)

As I settle into another year of teaching, I am reminded yet again why I am called to this profession.   I drive to work every day, before the sun crests the horizon, with a smile on my face.  My eyes may be heavy, my mind may be racing, my wallet may be light, but
I am happy with the work that I do.   When I pause to reflect on the source of that happiness, which I don’t do often since we rarely look for the causes of emotions we are content with, I find that I have to dig deep to find its source.  I eventually locate it at the
root of the educational process itself.  In my role as a teacher I reside at the nexus of invention and inspiration.  It is the idea that each day in my class I have the ability to create something to help my students to be more, to do more, to think more than they did before they entered my class.  In reality we travel this path together and I find myself inspired to push the limits of my own potential even as I demand the same from them.

I believe that there are many people who, if they gave themselves the opportunity to do so, would fall in love with teaching.  What is not to love about a profession that offers one the opportunity to better themselves while giving back to others at the same time.  But, it is the practicality of the job that tends to get in the way of its enjoyment.  The public perception of the profession and the priorities we set in our lives conspire against it as well.  Even the best teachers, who feel the calling, can get separated from this root of

For those of us who truly feel the calling as educators, it is rarely the work itself that leads to our feelings of discontent in the profession.  It is the framework we work in.  Working harder isn’t a problem for me.  Peek in my window at 4:00 am and see me grading papers as proof of that.  It isn’t the time demands that are a problem for me.  After a long week of work when the sun rises on Saturday morning you can be sure to see me on the beach picking up trash with the Environmental Club.  It isn’t the lack of resources, equipment or materials that are a problem for me.  I’ll write a grant, I’ll do a fundraiser, I’ll go out with bucket and net to the local pond and get the materials myself for that lab.  It isn’t accountability, standardized testing, or the constant evolution of content and theory.  So what is it?

“It,” is the expectation that we will always agree to do more for less.  There are few, if any, other professions that would expect to operate successfully with such expectations of their employees.  So this provides us with the main avenue of intervention on the educational system.  If we create a structure to allow teachers to do what they love and be rewarded in the process, then we can inspire more talented people to enter the profession and help to keep them there.

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Is it Better to be Lucky than to be Good?

Is it better to be lucky than to be good?  It is an age old question, and while hotly
debated it has never been fully decided.  Clearly there are times when luck can give you an edge:  a hot goalie in a 7 game playoff series, flies swarming the opposing pitcher when he’s been virtually unhittable, or leaving your house late and missing a car accident on the freeway.  But there are also times when being good would be preferable:  playing in a piano recital, operating on a heart attack victim, climbing the vertical face of El Capitan.  Personally when I decide which carpenter is going to fix my roof, I’m going to pick the good one not the lucky one.

What is not debated is that to some degree luck has a hand in many facets of our lives.  In his book Outliers:  The Story of Success,  Malcolm Gladwell  discusses, among other things, how luck has played a role in our education system.  The quality of education that our students receive has been influenced  by accidental talent influxes in the past.  One particularly poignant example occurred during The Great Depression when a cohort of teachers with unprecedented talent entered the public school system due to lack of secure jobs elsewhere. Through the decades that followed the salary gap for females in the rest
of the working world meant that talented women continued to find their way into the classroom.  Better Teachers = Better Education and Better Education = Better Prepared Students, and what country wouldn’t want that?

But here’s the thing.

Why are we relying on luck for this?  Why do we depend on accidental influxes?  Shouldn’t we have a better plan?  I mean these are the teachers of our children.  Shouldn’t we be actively recruiting the best  and the brightest?

We think so and that’s what we will do.  A good education provided by a first rate teacher shouldn’t be an accident it should be a requirement.  So let’s bring the best and
the brightest into the classrooms of our country and then let’s give them a reason to stay there.

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Conversations with a Vascular Surgeon

I was fortunate enough to spend the last week with my extended family, and at one of our gatherings I had the pleasure of speaking with a relative who is the chief of vascular and endovascular surgery at a major medical center in California.  In the course of our conversation his wife mentioned that I actually had his dream job, being a high school Biology teacher. I was taken aback at first but he confirmed the statement.

I suggested with a laugh that he switch careers.  The laugh was reciprocated, so I let the comment drift away, but it hung in the back of my mind.  Here again we can see the crux of the problem we face in education in America.  The recurring argument in my mind went something like this.

If teaching high school Biology was his dream job.

And if he was more than qualified to be a Biology teacher.

And if he obviously wasn’t afraid to go after something he wanted – included in his medical education were stops at two different Ivy League schools.

Then what was the problem?

I didn’t ask the question of him so pointedly, but I will assume as many of you would, that the prestige accorded with the medical profession as well as the compensation one receives for being in his position, probably outweighed his dream.  Maybe we will be lucky and he will have a second career as a high school teacher; I hope so.  But maybe this is also another sign that the mission of Top Teacher Test Prep is necessary.  Top Teacher Test Prep’s goal is to get people like this doctor into the education profession and keep them there.  We hope to rectify that lack of prestige and lack of compensation through our system, and as more people join the movement we can create a groundswell of talent rushing into the profession and change the course of education.

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In the strictest sense of the word, APATHY is defined as the absence or suppression of passion, emotion or excitement.  In my mind when I think of apathy a very specific vision comes to mind.  It’s from my Intro to Psych class freshman year at Dartmouth when I was introduced to the idea of Learned Helplessness.  Basically, if an organism perceives that it has no control over the negative stimuli it faces then it just gives up.  So think about how this applies to the leaders of our educational system, our teachers…

The end of the school year is when teacher apathy is so pervasive that it’s hard to ignore.  It’s partially the disjoined schedule with exams and student absences combining to
remove most of the flow in the classroom.  But mostly, it’s the effect of the pressures from the year and trepidation of the year to come.  Some teachers are innately apathetic, those who dislike their job but are too far in to change, those are the perennial complainers and they probably just need a change.  My concern is that the good teachers, the ones who really like their jobs and care about the students become victims of this apathy as well.  These teachers have put their heart and soul into their students all year but they
are told that it’s not good enough and they now have to do 10 more things the
following year with 20% more students and a 10% pay cut to boot.  Teachers also know that next year they will be in the exact same situation again.  The education system doesn’t look like it will be changing to alleviate any of this, so how can we expect anything but growing apathy from our teachers.

So if teachers are supposed to be the flames that light the candles of our students, what good is a teacher whose fire has been extinguished?

We need to keep our teachers excited about the profession and committed to their students’ successes.  While we can never take away all of the stressors of life as an educator we can give them something to stoke their flames.  I keep coming back to that image in my mind from Psych class, the dog laying on the floor accepting the shocks.  Apathy. So how do you help the dog?  You give him control.  How do you help the education profession?  You give the teachers control, maybe not everywhere but at least in this aspect of their job.  That’s where we come in.  As a Top Teacher Test Prep Partner your reward is directly and immediately correlated with your effort.  The better you perform in your role as an SAT tutor or college consultant the better your students perform.  The better they perform the more business you get.  And the more business you get the more money you make and the more respect is accorded to you in the community as a whole.  Those rewards stoke your flame and that extends back to the classroom.

If the system won’t do it we will.



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Our Education System Needs Help

For years the focus in education has been on band-aids.  Based on the way that the education system has been set up at the local, state and national levels the band aids are necessary.  That’s because the system is continually trending towards mediocrity and the only way to deal with the decreasing quality of education that the system provides is to patch it up.   You know the patches, you hear about them all the time:  increase accountability, increase standardized testing, increase documentation, project based learning, standards based learning, formative assessment, summative assessment, intervention, teach to proficiency, remove tenure, do merit pay…  Exhausting.  The problem is that with every tweak to the system, with every supposed fix the bad teachers are rarely getting any better and the good teachers are getting more and more disenfranchised.  So what is the solution?

I would contend that the solution is obvious to most everyone.  Put good teachers in the classroom.  The problem with that statement is equally obvious.   Most of the top talent in our country doesn’t want to be in the classroom because the compensation isn’t there.  The old saying that people went into education for July and August was probably never true, but certainly isn’t now.  For most people it’s just not worth it.  Even the idealists are having trouble now.  I read an article recently about an Ivy League student who joined Teach for America after college because she believed in the idea of it, but after her two year commitment she realized that her belief in the mission wasn’t enough.    

But what if it was?  What if those excuses were gone and what if we actually put the best of the best in the classroom.  Would we still need to come up with a newer, better band aid every year?  What if our best teachers took home six figures a year?  Would more people be drawn to the profession?  Would we keep those idealistic teachers in the fold?  What if we could change the system without relying on the system to change?  Think of what might be possible…

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