An Idea for Improved Public Education

Discussion in 'Education' started by atlasshrugged, Jul 30, 2012.

  1. atlasshrugged
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    atlasshrugged Member

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    My father is an elementary principal at an impoverished school who, along with his amazing teachers, have really turned things around and increased learning. Recently, I talked to him about how he thought the education system in our state could improve. Here are some of his ideas. It's a long post, but I think it's a good plan and worth looking into.

    First, he said it's very difficult to hire good teachers. It's not that they don't exist, it's just that there are very few of them. Each year he hires 2-3 great teachers and 1-2 not so great teachers. On top of this, only 3 of his staff of 42 teachers are men. Very few men complete teaching degrees because the starting salary is $35,000. That's a great second income for families, but very difficult for a man who wants to be the breadwinner. If the salary was increased, more good college students (especially men) would consider a degree in elementary ed rather than business, medicine, etc. The only problem is this: It's hard to justify paying someone a starting salary over $40,000 for 8 months of work. This leads to his next suggestion.

    Where did the traditional "summer break" schedule originate? In our state it was a natural break because kids needed to help with the harvest on their family farms. As fewer families farm and require help from elementary aged kids, we just stuck with it because kids (and teachers) love a long summer break. But what if a year round schedule was more accepted? It's not a new idea, but the past version still left a teacher teaching only 8 months. What if 4 teachers taught 5 classes? Or 3 teachers taught 4 classes? the students still get breaks but the teachers are able to work more hours and justify a higher salary. Naturally, either fewer teachers would be needed (maintaining costs and reducing need for new school construction, but also cutting jobs) or class sizes could be made smaller and teacher-student interaction could be increased (costs increase but no jobs cut). This could be left to school districts or states to decide. Costs would increase for utilities and buses as schools would be open during the summer, but teacher salaries increase, quality of teachers increase, and you get more bang for your buck.

    His final point, and this is by far hi biggest, was the need to catch kids up once they've fallen behind. We evaluate students with a week of tests at the end of every year. It's not pleasant, but we can at least see how the kids are doing. But what happens with the kids who prove to be behind? We send them to summer school and expect them to learn the content in 2 months when they couldn't do it in 8. These tests should never shock a teacher. Most teachers know which students are behind, but when do they catch them up? With a year round schedule, every month or so when a class lets out for a few days, those struggling students can come in and get caught up on what they can't understand. This way, all of the students can be caught up before moving onto new principles. After all, should education build on itself?

    So, here's a proposed plan. 4 classes in a grade level use 3 classrooms. Each has a 6 week unit followed by a 2 week break. Classes alternate breaks so that at any given time there are 3 classes in session and one on break. Teachers teach 6 weeks of material and spend the last day of the cycle testing for comprehension. The students that are struggling can come back during some or all of their break and can get help understanding the material. Students receive a 4 week summer vacation while teachers spend some of their vacation with training and prep for the next school year.

    Additional Pros: Children's learning skills don't get rusty from a long break
    Parents are less likely to remove children from school for a non summer trip (Parents are more likely to schedule fall, winter, and spring trips during their child's break).
    Families who enjoy winter sports have opportunities for winter vacations.
    Children who get sick are able to catch up.

    I know it was long, but tell me what you think. Change is never pleasant and if I was a kid I would hate this plan. But it seems a little silly to let a kid dig himself a hole during the school year and try to dig himself out during the summer.
     
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  2. CrusaderFrank
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    CrusaderFrank Diamond Member

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    Kids who fall behind become Democrats.

    Ideally we need to eliminate the Department of Education and the UFT and turn schooling back to the communities. Most will do very well as a result, the few that don't will get the full attention of the media.
     
  3. Wiseacre
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    Wiseacre Retired USAF Chief Supporting Member

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    Good read, thanks for posting. My impression is that we have too many non-teachers in our school systems. Too many admin types sucking down big salaries that could be better spent.

    I'm good with a much shorter summer recess; used to be that schools in Europe only have a 4 week recess, not sure if they still do but our kids probably need more time in the classroom.

    What's your dad think about the unions? Many teachers are paying a thousand bucks a year in uniondues, whether they like it or not. Gotta wonder if that's necessary, doesn't appear to be helping the kids any.

    Finally, we gotta start getting creative; turn those teachers lose to pursue alternative ways to teach.
     
  4. atlasshrugged
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    atlasshrugged Member

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    Well, I'm from a pretty conservative state. So while the union is too powerful (as it is in most, if not all, states) but no union fees are due. He and I are not huge fans of the Union (they have an annual break from school to allow teachers to meet as a union. Talk about putting themselves above the students). And I agree generally with administration outgrowing their shoes, but it stems from the same problem. What happens to poor teachers and administrators who the union backs? They get desk jobs and a raise.

    Bad teachers are tough to deal with. He's only been able to fire one guidance counselor who referred to a kid as "the next Jeffrey Dommer" in front of the entire faculty. Even with her he had to face a little crap from the union. The best way he's replaced poor teachers is to push them to be better. Most of his poor teachers are lazy and content. When he stops in, observes class in session, offers praise and suggestions for improvement, then follows up to see that improvements are made. Eventually, teachers either saw improvements and caught the spark, or looked for a way to return to their mediocrity (by finding a new teaching job or retiring). The tough part is to not replace them with an equally lazy teacher. Every principle in the district knows which prospective teachers are the best, and it's competitive to get them on your faculty.
     
  5. atlasshrugged
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    atlasshrugged Member

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    We could probably use a few less Democrats. I would agree the the Department of Education has become way too big and inefficient, but I don't trust every community with our kids. School boards can struggle to make the most obvious decisions and I don't think they should be in charge of curriculum. If the country, or at least each individual state, had a common set of principles to be learned in each grade, I would trust local schools to find a way to do it. My dad's school district has changed it's math program 3 different times in the past 10 years. Who knew their were so many ways to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division?
     
  6. old navy
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    old navy <<< Action Figures

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    Your father has a lot of great ideas which just may effect improvement. I would like to add a couple of comments. I am a high school teacher and father of two college graduates.

    First, part of the problem at the elementary level is the entry requirement for teachers. Much of the blame for education failing in the US falls on the teachers. She is required to have a degree in education. Apparently somewhere along the way, teachers are not prepared for the job. Why not have a program that puts people in front of classrooms who know how to prepare kids? Who are they? Parents, youth sports football coaches, retired military, and other with a clean record and desire to make a difference. They would obviously have to test out in the subject areas, but most of us are really smarter than a 5th grader. Throw in some curriculum development and classroom management training with good mentorship and the result would be a faculty that produced kids ready for the next level. Not only does your father have a shortage of men, but a shortage of black men who want to teach at that level. My above recomendation would bring in plenty of those. The blow-back from the unions and Big Education would be huge though.

    The school year based on the crop cycle is still in use by most of the districts. The ones with an alternate schedule seem to do about the same as the traditional scheduled schools. Tourist industries around the country and world even, depend on US students getting out of school for a few weeks during the summer. The literature for sure indicates that knowledge and performance falls after the kids leave in June. There are so many programs to counter that. Not only should the rich kids be able to come back in the fall ready for the next grade. In fact, I submit that more summer programs are available to the under-privileged than those with means. My big crazy dream is to one day start a sports and activity program that starts with reading and math remediation, provides a nutritious lunch with healthy eating education, and finish the day with sports and other such physical activities. I know there are similar programs running today but are they working?

    Finally, the year round schedule with the use of the building, busses, and support staff would add tons of money that most jurisdictions not only do not have, but are not willing to come up with. There are systems in fact that are considering four day work weeks just to save on the utilities. Mayor Immanuel of Chicago is proposing a longer school day. His publicized reason of course is to improve one of the country's worst school districts. The real reason of course is to lower one of the country's worst crime rates. Kids are dying in Chicago by the dozens every month. Keeping them in school longer is not the solution.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2012
  7. atlasshrugged
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    atlasshrugged Member

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    Thanks for the comments. I agree that the utilities would be an increased cost. But if 4 classes use only 3 classrooms, that cuts down on eventual construction of new schools. And the new concept isn't just the year round schedule. It's the idea that children who need more time to learn can obtain it and catch up as they go.

    But I LOVE your suggestion for recruiting proven role models to become teachers. Teachers do a 4 year degree then do a year of shadowing another teacher. the problem is that these new teachers are used to make copies and grade assignments more than actually teaching. So many get hired before they actually experience being in front of a classroom. I'd have principles be in charge of recruiting and screening volunteers from the community to assist licensed teachers in teaching. They could meet for a half hour before class, the teacher could instruct them how to help, and they could increase interaction with students. Then, when prospective teachers are doing their degree, they get to shadow before they're licensed and actually experience teaching!
     
  8. Wiseacre
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    Wiseacre Retired USAF Chief Supporting Member

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    Well there you are, if teachers know they cannot be fired without an act of God, then there's no risk to doing a poor job.Other thing is, the schoold board and principals have to stand behind their teachers and force parents to take responsibility for their kids or boot 'em out of school.
     
  9. atlasshrugged
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    atlasshrugged Member

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    Or they could inspire the parents and the children to take responsibility
     
  10. blimpo
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    blimpo Active Member

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    Here is the problem with using test scores as merit pay.

    As an 8th grade teacher, every year I had 10 or 12% of students in my class that were 2 or more years behind grade level. Sometimes 5 or 6 years behind. I'm going to be punished for their low test scores?
    It doesn't take a genius to understand a kid reading on a third grade level in the 8th grade is not going to pass an 8th grade standardized test.

    The 3rd grade seems to be the reasonable area--if you are not on the 3rd grade level and fail the state mandated tests, you don't go to 4th grade.
    That way, every kid taking the 8th grade test should be on grade level for that test.

    Problem---what to do years down the road when every self-contained 3rd grade class has 68 students to be assigned.
    Obviously the public is going to have to be willing to build more rooms to accomodate the hold-overs year after year.
    Another problem is--who wants their 9 yr old daughter sitting in class all day with 15 and 16 yr old boys?
    More money will be needed to segregate these older teenagers from the younger kids.

    All this just isn't going to happen.

    I think it might be lawsuit time when a teacher inherits a bunch of kids that are way below that grade level and finds out his/her pay is based on their test results.

    Shep may be a good old dog, but you're in trouble if they expect you to teach him to talk...
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2012

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