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A Six Point Plan for Our Public Schools

Wherever the revolution in public education begins, it ends in the classroom.  The following is a six point plan for turning around our public schools. 

SEE ALSO: Robin Lumb's previous article on this subject "Righting the Ship: How We Can Fix Our Public Schools"

  • Instead of Charter Schools, let’s try “Charter Classrooms”. Launching a charter school is a major undertaking. Many are undercapitalized and few have the resources that our public schools have. So why not experiment with “Charter Classrooms” in our lowest performing schools instead? The concept is simple: Public school administrators would enter into agreements with individual teachers who are willing to assume more responsibility and work longer hours in exchange for significantly more authority over their classrooms and higher pay. In schools where charter classrooms came to predominate, teachers would effectively run the show and principals would transition to the role of facilitators, monitoring classroom activity but spending most of their time behind the scenes providing material and moral support. Using this approach, teachers would get what most say they want – greater autonomy, stricter discipline and better pay – while parents and taxpayers would get the improved student performance that comes from accountability.
     
  • Longer school days and longer school years. Charter Classrooms notwithstanding, underperforming schools – especially elementary schools – should extend the school day by at least an extra hour and the school year by an extra month. When we can afford it, we should implement the same change in every school.
     
  • Put teachers back in charge of their classrooms. The Charter Classroom concept again notwithstanding, we need to give teachers the authority to run their own classrooms and the latitude to apply their teaching skills in the manner that works best for them. This grant of authority also needs to extend to every aspect of classroom discipline. Teachers must be allowed to set behavior standards and remove students who are continually disruptive. As for students who pose a genuine threat to safety, they should be expelled.
     
  • Concentrate on grades K through 4. I was appalled to learn that gains achieved through Mayor Peyton’s early literacy program had been entirely wiped out by the time those children reached the 3rd grade. As the Mayor has demonstrated, younger children from disadvantaged backgrounds are capable learners and highly receptive to positive influences. Let’s get to these children early with a sustained effort that concentrates additional resources on grades K through 4. The singular goal: Inculcating basic reading and math skills that will help these children continue to learn throughout their academic careers.
     
  • End social promotion and the grade inflation that enables it. According to the Florida Times-Union, 47% of educators and at least 55% of community leaders and the newspaper’s readers acknowledge that grade inflation is a problem. 57% of educators admit that in some schools students who are not prepared to move forward are often advanced to the next grade level anyway, a practice known as “social promotion”. The Times-Union quotes school Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals as saying that students who are repeatedly held back “are dropout[s] waiting to happen”. Someone should remind our Superintendent of the opposite effect: That the social promotion of students who are unprepared inevitably leads to producing high school graduates who can barely read.
     
  • Cut the dropout rate by attacking the problem from every angle. In addition to ending grade inflation and social promotion, each of them contributors to the high dropout rate, we need to aggressively enforce our truancy laws. Children who miss too much school will inevitably do poorly in class. The problem compounds as absences mount and students fall farther and farther behind. Early intervention programs, special tutoring and vocational training options for at-risk students are also essential. For those students that do drop out, make it easy for them to drop back in with an offering of remedial reading and math classes as well as online learning programs for those who qualify. The Florida Virtual School is an online resource that allows students to complete their high school education at their own pace. Let’s make this option available to drop-outs as well.

7 Responses »

  1. Loved this! Problem is that it makes too much sense. It is such a great and inexpensive way to transform public ed. Thanks!

  2. Sadly Darren is correct. This makes too much sense to be implimented by the "one-size-fits-all" educational system that we have in Duval county and the country overall for tha matter.

    It is amazing to me that Duval county can have some of the best magnet schools in the country but some of the most mediocre regular schools. Sadly politics and bureaucracy are carrying the day.

    Rave on Robin!

  3. Mr. Lumb's six recommendations are very worthwhile but need to be part of a more comprehensive plan to radically reform the Duval School System. Radical reform will need to be implemented prudently but with deliberate speed. At the national and local level, public school governance, policies and operation are an ideology that ignores the will of the people. Parents, governement, non-government and religious organizations are also part of the problem and need to be part of and support the radical reform. Incrementalism in this area is no longer acceptable.

    Until leaders are willing to take up the needed reform, huge numbers of Jacksonville's children and most of the community will continue to be damaged. Only the degree of damage will vary.

  4. no offense Robin, but the only way our education will improve is if we have more choices in first and secondary education, students spending LESS time in school, and getting government out of the way.

    Robin you never addressed the social hazards of public schooling like violence, bullies, authoritarian school administrators, etc.

    The first step is to get rid of the department of education, it's a bureaucracy it's a waste of money and it's inflating the cost of school supplies. If I had it my way I would get rid of public schools and compulsory education laws that way education is handled by the market. But realistically and politically, that's not possible.

    The biggest corruption in public schooling are the union teachers such as the NEA and AFT. The problems with these unions is that they demand outrageous pensions, therefore a P.E teacher will get the same amount of money as a chemistry teacher. No teachers need to be accountable for what they do, they should get paid by their performance just like any other job, but that's not possible because of these unions. So we need to abolish the NEA and AFT.

    The bottom line is we should keep tax-payer funded schools, but end all compulsory education laws, limit the power of unions (I say abolish them), and allow school choice.

  5. Great ideas. The one challenge I see is the idea of putting the teachers back in charge of their classes. While I'm sure most would see the concept as an opportunity to pour their lives into the education of young people; some would use the verbiage to do as little as possible and keep their j-o-b-s.

    I'm reminded of the late Jaime Estcalante who taught east Los Angeles inner city low-achievers the subject of calculus. The story says that a peer once asked him how he was able to teach "those kids" (The storys' language, not mine) such a difficult subject. Escalante replied "When I come to work, I can either have a good day, or I can teach calculus".

    Another concern is the propensity towards violence tweens and teens have adopted. Some how a paradigm has been created that postures that all children are darlings and should be extended all courtesy and understanding. Holding young people responsible for their actions has become increasingly difficult because of the paradigm- even when they idolize thugs and drug dealers. The paradigm has worked so hard to improve the self-esteem of some children that those children have been trained to be narcissistic. A teacher trying to "get control" of a class with one or two of these children are approaching a situation that would merit delineation as "hazardous duty".

    I would venture to say that the challenges in Duval schools, and possibly schools around the nation are:
    A) Disruptive children diverting attention away from the scholastics
    B) Teachers and administrators more focussed on political/social perspectives than the three R's.
    C) Good intentioned Americans who mistake pity for compassion.

    The Duval County School System has been retarded by outside influences, unproductive goals, and over-politicalization.

    -nuff said.

  6. Robin,
    Interesting article! However, I think you're not fully encompassing the complexity behind grade promotion.

    Grade failure is a complicated problem. On one hand, a crutch that helps to justify "social promotion" is remedial classes. A ninth grader who can't pass Algebra might be moved up to 10th grade, and put into a remedial algebra class, which they may or may not be able to pass. However, the same individual may do well in all other subjects, but simply be terrible at math. Typcially, classes have mixed grade levels - an Algebra 1 class may have a few 8th, a lot of 9th, and a few 10th graders, who either are in remediation or elected to take the class later.

    Because of the way that high school credits are allocated (3 credits for this, 3 for that...), it's ultimately not that simple to hold someone back who doesn't succeed in one particular subject. They've gotten their credits for literature, civics, science, etc - so there's no way to make them repeat those.

    So if they're held back, do you make them stay in the 9th grade and with the exception of Algebra 1, take 10th grade classes...or keep them in the 9th grade and make them take all algebra, all the time? At that point it doesn't really make any sense. That's one reason why people get promoted despite having failed a class, and why they end up in remediation.

  7. Now I figure we ought to sit those kids down in their desks, tell'em to LEARN THE BASICS rather than all this arts and physics bullshit and if they come up with any kinda "I've gotta be creative" business then SMACK them on their damn heads! Reading, writing and arithmetic is what made this country great and it's what we need to bring back, self-esteem be damned! Our Founding Fathers would be damned near rolling over in their graves if they knew our kids are learning painting, music and robots before the three Rs! "Class discussion" was not a subject in their time!

    I'll bet none of the Framers could paint or ever went to any fancy schools to get "enlightened" but damn if they didn't have some good ideas! Now I can tell you for SURE that those ideas came from a lifetime spent in church and prayer, obeying their parents and not making a big hoopla about police brutality. They came into the country LEGALLY and learned English, not Spanish, Latin or Greek!

    The Founders of this great country were hard-working, no-nonsense conservatives and they established a tradition that we've forgotten nowadays! They were true patriots who weren't afraid to proudly fly Old Glory outside of their houses and damn the British socialists! Good solid Americans like Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay fought in the trenches against the British without draft dodging, complaining or crying like today's peaceniks! We MUST get back to that tradition if the USA is to survive!!!!!