A Six Point Plan for 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.