Feb 28, 2005
And No Child Gets Ahead
EdWonks points out a funny article comparing Arizona's version of the standardized testing to a new football program. The idea is that if no child gets ahead, then nobody is left behind. And to an extent, it's very astute. But it is very short-sighted and proves my point that school teachers have lost the ability to lead.
For the record, let me say that I partially support NCLB. Not because it is going to end our problems, which it is NOT going to do, but because it is the first federal legislation that admits we have a problem in our schools and requires that we fix it. Basically the act gives schools 12 years to get their acts together by laying out a list of proficiencies ("standards") that every student must have.
There wasn't much fuss over it until recently when the first round of assessments came due. Now, it is the source of headache for every administrator who until recently has had a very cushy job. Pile on top a stereotypical propensity for liberal politics, and you have a grade AA grievance! A true conspiracy theorist might look for evidence that McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Motrin, has lobbied for NCLB in order to expand their market in the "educator" demographic. Maybe McNeil determined in 1998 that 8 in 10 teachers use Bufferin for headaches -- clearly a market opportunity for Motrin!
Returning to my point, there is very little wrong with NCLB in itself. It gives money for changes such as fewer students per teacher, English education, continued education for teachers, etc. But, just like prescribing antibiotics to a regularly sick person who eats no vegetables, the program addresses the symptoms and not the disorder.
Take a look at Arizona's AIMS blueprints (pdf) (UPDATE 9/16/05: new links here) for their NCLB math standards. What a mess! Can you imagine having to write a test that incorporates all of this crap? And how do you relate that to little Jamie...has she learned math or not? As a programmer, I spend most of my days looking at charts, databases and standards/requirements and am very good at gleaming a real-world perspective from them -- but I get very confused trying to relate the AIMS blueprints to a real person's level of knowledge.
Now consider the amount of money this will cost every state to implement similar standards, write similar tests, assess every student, and then report on the results. And then consider all of the committees that will have to be formed to investigate the lying and cheating that districts do to avoid losing their funding come year 2012.
Let me reiterate that more legislation will not improve our schools. Only leadership at the deepest level will.
I would love to have the opportunity to take over a public high school with the responsibility of getting it "fit" by 2012. Here's what I would do:
I would re-assign 11 of the 12 deans to classrooms and reduce their salaries to a normal teacher's wage. I would remove all coaches from the classrooms unless they can indubitably demonstrate their qualifications as quality teachers. The coaches can keep their salaries so long as they volunteer wherever they feel they're the most help.
I would dismiss the police, all but one security guard and the metal detectors. I would double the number of trash cans, replacing the 50-gallon drums for bathroom-sized models. I would invite all the parents and children over for breakfast and lunch every Saturday to do any handiwork to maintain the facility. Volunteers can also come in during any school day to help. My savings in administrative salaries should easily pay for any additional cost here, assuming that many of the parents can negotiate discounts or donations from their employers where relevant. I could also partner with local service clubs like Rotary or the Optimists Club. "Detention" would consist of custodial work.
Volunteer parents would cook the school lunches in the cafeteria. I would get rid of the pop machines and replace the candy-peddling school store inventory with actual school supplies. You can't improve at anything unless you eat right and have the proper equipment.
I would bring in interesting speakers every week, gathering the whole school to listen and participate. There would be an open invitation to parents.
I would poll the students weekly, asking things like who their favorite and least favorite teachers are for each subject or where they feel they are weakest and strongest academically, etc. Based on my findings, I would interview students to find out more about their input so that I could better address the core issues. After all, who knows more about what goes on than students? Besides, this whole thing is for them. I would also do the same for the teachers.
I would promise to help every student afford continued education, no matter what. There are a multitude of possibilities for accomplishing this. Denver's mayor recently pledged to do it for a failing middle school (Link in MS Word here, HTML here).
I would take 6 or so random students out to a nice dinner and some cultural event every week. I might not even ask them about school.
Kids 18 and older would be allowed to smoke outside so long as every butt was disposed of properly. No, I do not smoke myself.
Classes would be re-arranged to employ as much discussion and self-discovery as possible. This includes math, science labs, history and foreign language. Desks would be arranged to form conference tables in every classroom. Eventually real conference tables would replace the desks as the budget allows.
I would replace as many textbooks as possible with original texts: Euclid for Geometry, Descartes for algebra, Newton & Leibniz for Calculus, Livvy, Plutarch and Herodotus for Western History, Freud and Jung for psychology. Etc. I'll photocopy them if I have to.
Every student would write a blog and regularly discuss their ideas in groups.
Every student would participate in Olympics of the Mind or similar programs.
At the end of each semester, every student would meet with all of their teachers for 20 minutes while each teacher in turn reports their assessment of the student's performance. Next, they would address trends or anomalies discovered from the reports and ask the student to answer any questions, make clarifications or disagree with an assessment. I would encourage every teacher to perform the single-class version of this prior to the larger meeting.
Every year, each student would write or revise their life plan, consisting of steps and milestones for 1, 3, 5, 10, 20 and 30 years.
I would set up internship programs for as many professions as possible. Students would earn pay for their work. Yes, this would be difficult for a large school. But schools always have resources proportional to their size and location.
I would make it clear that I expect everybody, including the teachers, to be excited about learning. I would make it clear that everybody is expected to continue their education after graduation.
There would be as much reading out loud in the classroom as possible. This improves every body's reading skills.
And I'm sure I would do more, but I am getting tired. You probably are too.
Heeheh. Can you imagine the uproar I would cause among the faculty? I can't help but laugh whenever I think about this.
But I don't think I would get much uproar from the parents. And if I did, I would put their student in a separate part of the school for the kids whose parent complained. There, the student would go back to the boring 8 periods with lectures from unmotivated adults. It wouldn't take long before the student told their parent to shut up and let them try the new ideas.
My ideas are not new ones. They are all based on the premise that people live up to what is expected of them -- high or low, good or bad. In fact, each piece is being successfully used in a private school somewhere in America, right now... Scary, isn't it? I suggest you call the police!
The truly unfortunate part about my ideas is that most of them would be impossible or illegal in a public school. It is often illegal to demote a government employee. You certainly can't fire a teacher that hasn't been indicted of a crime! It is a ridiculous hassle to take students off-campus to learn. In some cities it is illegal to dismiss the police or remove the metal detectors. It can be illegal for non-custodial government employees to perform maintenance on the facilities. Ugh, and here I am reminding us of this crap right before taxes are due.
This is all very sad to me because I am excited to learn and teach. I expect great schools from a great nation. Thanks for listening.
UPDATE 2/28/05 4PM: Well, I have one parent and one teacher that would give me a school! In return, I would put TwentySomethingMom in charge of the school lunches assign ASYB to the lead the math department (or any department she wants).
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