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SLIDESHOW: Whitney Tilson's Plan to Fix Education in America

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SLIDESHOW: Whitney Tilson's Plan to Fix Education in America

Whitney Tilson has become one of the strongest voices in the fight for education reform.

As the founder and Managing Partner of Kase Capital, many investors know of Tilson as an outspoken money manager. He is also very dedicated to improving the American school system.

"There is no magic bullet to fix our system of public education in this country," said Tilson. "It's taken us 40 years to go from one of the best systems of public education in the world to -- I say, a mediocre system -- that's middle of the pack relative to our economic competitors. I think it's going to take us 40 years to get back to the top of the pack."

Tilson said that this is not a fight where there are "quick victories."

"But rather, it's a long slog where you go three steps forward and two steps back every month, every year, and eventually you make progress," he said. "But it's not without its setbacks and it just takes time.

"I could tell you about the exciting things happening in New York City and Newark, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago, Connecticut. There are exciting things happening all over the country. But it's not something where quick, national change is possible."

Louis Bedigian is the Senior Tech Analyst and Features Writer of Benzinga. You can reach him at 248-636-1322 or louis(at)benzingapro(dot)com. Follow him @LouisBedigianBZ

  • Common Core Standards

    Common Core Standards

    Tilson said that the "single most exciting and important thing that's happening" is the adoption of Common Core Standards.

    "If you think about it, it's complete madness that the level of math or reading that a fourth-grader is expected to be at is different in Mississippi, Massachusetts and Alaska, let's say," said Tilson.

    "That's crazy. There should be at least basic standards that are national."

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Children Left Behind

    Children Left Behind

    "Every successful country that has a good education system allows local innovation and experimentation," said Tilson.

    "But there's a basic curriculum in the core subject areas that's national. This is really important."

    Why?

    "The answer is that the biggest problem with the No Child Left Behind Act of 10 years ago or so, is that every state was allowed to set their own standards," Tilson explained.

    "What 40 of the 50 states did was engage in a race to the bottom. Every year or so they dumbed down their standards, they made the tests easier or they lowered the passing score, such that politicians need to show progress to their constituents, because people care about education and it affects their voting.

    "So the politicians who control the school system, every year would lower the standards and declare, 'Hey, look! More of our fourth-graders are reading at grade level!'"

    In reality, no improvements were made.

    "That's why this Common Core curriculum is so important," said Tilson.

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Steady Declines

    Steady Declines

    "We have 3.5 million teachers in this country," said Tilson.

    "Over the last 30 or 40 years, the quality of teachers in this country has been steadily declining.

    "Every successful country in the world (in their educational system) has figured out a way to make sure that the most talented people are going into the teaching profession.

    "[They make sure] they are well-trained, well-compensated, and there's a system in place to help them get better at what they're doing and to help them weed out the bad people who just aren't any good at it.

    "Our system of recruiting hiring, training, supporting and evaluating teachers in this country is atrocious -- absolutely atrocious."

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • It's Not Brain Surgery, But…

    It's Not Brain Surgery, But…

    Ideally, Tilson would like the education recruiting, hiring, training, supporting and evaluating system to resemble the one America has in place for doctors.

    "It's generally quite competitive to get into medical school," said Tilson.

    "It's a very rigorous curriculum that teaches young people very important things that they need to [in order] to practice medicine.

    "Then there's a very difficult exam that weeds out the people that didn't learn the material, who aren't cut out, who aren't smart enough or who aren't committed."

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Don't Force Novices Into Tough Situations

    Don't Force Novices Into Tough Situations

    "When someone graduates from medical school and they pass the [Medical Board Exam], are they immediately thrust into [work], doing brain surgery in the South Bronx on a Saturday night [and] treating patients of gunshot wounds?" Tilson questioned.

    "The answer is: of course not! That would be insane to take a new person and stick him in the harshest environment of that profession.

    "But that is exactly what we do with our teachers."

    Tilson said that every year teachers with "almost no relevant training or experience" end up in classrooms with the poorest schools -- and kids who are the furthest behind.

    "Somehow we're expecting them to succeed and we're expecting the kids to learn anything?" Tilson questioned. "It's absolute madness."

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • The Solution

    The Solution

    Tilson would like to see a national program along the lines of Teach For America.

    "…Where it's rigorous, where it's highly competitive to get in, where there's rigorous training -- even for a short period up front," said Tilson.

    "But then critically, when Teach For America teachers are put in the classroom in the South Bronx, Teach For America provides a support network…to help them succeed."

    That's something that most schools "don't do at all," said Tilson.

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Congress Can't Do It Alone

    Congress Can't Do It Alone

    "The key to understanding the issue is that 90 percent of all education spending is at the state and local level," said Tilson.

    "It doesn't lend itself to Congress passing a law to really change or fix things. The battles are in the cities and states all over the country, every day."

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Weeding Out Bad Teachers

    Weeding Out Bad Teachers

    Unlike the traditional school system, Teach For America doesn't put up with bad teachers.

    "If they find somebody that turns out to be a lousy teacher -- they made a mistake and gave someone a job and they stink -- Teach For America will weed them out," said Tilson.

    "Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher."

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Stay Focused

    Stay Focused

    "Those two things -- raising standards and completely changing the way we recruit, train, hire, evaluate, reward and fire teachers in this country -- [are essential]," said Tilson.

    "If we were to fix those two things, I think we'd be 75 percent along the way of what needs to happen.

    "Both of those things are not things that happen overnight -- they're gonna take a long time."

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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