Tuesday, August 09, 2005


On National Public Radio, I heard a former New York School principal call the No Child Left Behind Act "All Children Left Behind". I like that, I've always felt that that is a deeply flawed law. Mandatory standardized tests have no place in the public school system. The guest left the public school system to be principal in a town where they are trying to do things differently and better. He said one of the flaws in the public school system is the compartmentalizing of the school system. His example was a student in biology class doing something that was more related to chemistry and being told to stop because that would be taught in a different class. Our school system has many flaws. I think we should do away with grade levels as well as compartmentalization. There should be three levels:

The first level (roughly equivalent to K - 5) is your basic skills that everyone needs to know - reading,writing, arithmetic,basic science,physical fitness,etc. The emphasis is on teaching the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are the foundation of a successful member of society. A child would be assigned a primary teacher when they enter school and would spend entire time at that level with same primary teacher. My son has ADHD and qualifies for Special Education. In his case, that means he has a social worker that creates an individual development plan and monitors his progress. He also has access to a separate room when his behavior becomes an issue or his class work falls behind. In my system, this would not be special education. It would be the treatment every student receives from their primary teacher. (Sidenote: Separate Education would still be required for students with mental or physical disabilities that make it impossible to succeed in normal classroom.) Each classroom would have kids of all ages within the age limits of the level. They would change to meet the needs of the students. For example, if there is a group of kids having a hard time with multiplication, a group would be created to help them. Another group might be created for students ready to read chapter books. The child's readiness for the next level would probably be evaluated by a combination of standard tests and at least two teacher evaluations, with the personal evaluations being given greater weight. The child could move on to the next level as early as ten or as late as 13. If the child has reached the age of 13 and is still not ready for next level, some sort of separate education would probably be required, just because having a teenager being taught alongside younger kids is not very practical.

The second level is mostly keeping an eye on the kids as they go through the turbulence of puberty. The emphasis at this level is inspiring individual spirits to function effectively within a structured society. Some knowledge would be taught, particularly things that would help the students as they try to figure out who they are. Things like philosophy, history, literature, logic, ethics and psychology. Sex and Religion would also have to be covered, subjects that are avoided in current public school system. This is probably one of the reasons our public schools are less then what they should be. As long as all of the major religions are introduced and given equal treatment, no violation of the separation of Church and State exists. This is an important part of learning who you are - finding what you believe in. They would also need to have the opportunity to learn things like anger management, meditation, physical fitness, the role of health and its effects on mental well being. The role of violence in their lives would have to be covered appropriate to the environment of the school. In an inner city school or other high crime area, this would be a very important part of this level. In less violent areas, this might be more focused on the separation of violence in fiction (TV,Movies, videogames) and violence in real life. Drug education would also be important at this level, although it needs to be covered at all levels, even the first level. Of course not every student has a turbulent puberty. Some students adjust to the society around them without much difficulty and wouldn't need a lot of extra support. So resources would need to be available to students of this nature as well. Upon entering this level, the student would be assigned a primary counselor instead of a primary teacher. If implemented right now, this role would probably be filled by people educated in social work. Eventually, a whole new education degree would probably have to be created. This level would basically be a collaboration between counselor and student that allows the student to grow and learn by whatever path the student chooses to take. The counselor's job is to provide the resources necessary and redirect from a destructive path if necessary. There would be very few hard and fast requirements at this level. Some things like social studies or physical fitness would be required and reading, writing,math and science skills would be maintained at the very least. The student would be encouraged to learn as much as they can, but only required to learn a bare minimum set of skills and knowledge. They would also be encouraged to begin exploring a career path. Standardized tests would be used when possible, but success at this level would mostly be determined by evaluations completed by counselor, teachers, student and parents.

The third level would be the equivalent of high school. I think the current high school system would work within my system. For instance, most high schools already place less emphasis on grade level and have classes of mixed ages. The emphasis at the third level is on preparing the students for their careers, and I think this is already the emphasis of most high schools. I think failure at the high school level (if it exists) is a result of the poor primary school system. That and improper funding and availability of resources, for which there is no excuse. Education funding should be a top priority for any government. If you have a good primary school system and proper funding, there is no reason that I can think of that would prevent the current high school system from being successful. The only changes I can think of is the removing of grade levels completely and placing less emphasis on grades and grade point average in favor of more realistic measures of success (whenever possible). To be consistent with my first two levels, age of student has nothing to do with graduation. A student could start the third level as early as 14 and leave as late as 21. Unlike the first two levels, the student would probably not be assigned to a specific person that guides them through the level. They would be expected to make their own decisions, with resources available to help them when they need it.

While I'm complaining about the school system, I have another beef. When is the school system gonna wake up to the fact that parents work? And that they work year round, usually until 5PM or later? The system seems to think that every house has a parent at home that can watch the kids when school decides to call a snow day or in service day or half day or summer vacation. Even on a normal day, it expects someone to watch the kids starting as early as 3PM. This is just plain stupid and needs to be changed. Every school should be open until at least 5PM and should have breaks no longer than four or five weeks. This is a win win schedule. The parents don't have to come up with ridiculous day care solutions, the teachers and administrators can teach more effectively with more days to teach and shorter breaks to recover from. If changes are made at the same time to make school more productive for the students, even the kids probably won't have serious objections. (Even if they do, too bad, it's for their own good). The only drawback that occurs to me is things like air conditioning. In places like Michigan where schools don't normally operate in the relatively short period of time where air conditioning is required, air conditioning is often not installed. Even if it is, running it year round is an expense they don't currently have to address.


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