Transforming America’s Public Schools

Almost a half a trillion dollars is spent on K-12 education each year and look at the results.

One out of every four American children reads below grade level.

One out of every three high school students do not graduate, a stagnant figure for thirty years.

In New York City, less than half of students graduate.  In Detroit that figure is one-fourth.  That’s a staggering number that puts new meaning to the term “dropout factories.”

The problem is not all the bad students; rather, all the bad schools.

Who decided that taking standardized tests was going to revolutionize public education?

Why does such a critical job as teaching require only minimum training and pay?

When did parents decide to stop believing the teachers’ point of view, that teachers are the enemy, to be doubted and questioned?

Why are we amazed that kids who are forced to sit still in uncomfortable plastic chairs for six hours a day easily get bored, distracted, defiant?

Like a dilapidated ramshackle fixer-upper that is more cost-effective to scrap than to renovate, now is the time to bulldoze America’s public school system.

The change that is needed in public education must be huge, along the lines of the civil rights movement.  The same fervor people exert in anti-smoking campaigns needs to be replicated in efforts to transform public schools.

The teaching of America’s youth should be viewed as a bulwark against democracy’s demise.  It’s no good to just let students “get by.”

We must demand excellence.  Our country’s economic future rests on it.

What’s needed is a cohesive vision of a new kind of public school system.

Lengthen the school day and the school year.  There is not enough time to cover all the material in 180 days.  By adding 4 more weeks to the school year and an hour and a half to the school day, children will have an additional year and a half of education between kindergarten and 12th grade.  And they will still get 11 weeks off.

Increase class sizes and teacher salaries.  Schools can’t find enough highly qualified teachers so have fewer of them.  Yes this will mean more crowded classrooms but better teachers can handle more kids.  The money saved from fewer employees can be added to the salaries of those instructors who prove themselves invaluable.

Eliminate homework.  With the longer day students and teachers will have more time to go over the work during class.  Kids can leave work at work and spend more time with their families at home.

Place a moratorium on No Child Left Behind.  Enough with the testing.  Put the focus back on where it should be: the work students perform in the classroom day in and day out.

Bring back vocational education.  Instead of shoehorning everyone into college, provide those students who demonstrate non-academic skills with alternative programs.

Kick out the bad kids.  The concept that no matter how badly behaved a child is he still has a seat waiting for him in a school is incredulous and the main reason why parents pay money for private schooling.  If a child can’t meet a certain degree of decorum, let his parents deal with him so that those children who do want to learn can learn.

A four-day work week for teachers.  Other public servants such as police and firefighters work four sometimes even three days a week due to the stressful conditions of their occupation.  Teachers should be afforded the same perk.  On the fifth day highly qualified paraeducators can run the classrooms taking students on field trips and job shadowing expeditions.

Do away with tenure and teachers unions.  Let bad teachers be easily fired and not cloak themselves in the teachers union armor.  It is time to elevate teaching to a real profession with rewards and punishments.

Go back and teach students the Golden Rule and have them employ it in mandatory community service.  Look at our society and the mess it’s in.  Much of this has to do with lax parenting and non-existent social teaching in the schools.  Students can become better citizens if schools mandate community service as a graduation requirement.

Put a lid on special education funding.  Nothing has wreaked more damage to the funding of schools than special ed has.  It costs twice as much money to educate a special ed student than a non-special ed student.

Start charging for public schools.  Too many people take public school for granted:  free learning, free books, free supplies, free child care, even free food.  No wonder many kids disrespect their place of learning.

Will there be heated discussions about implementing these changes?  Absolutely.

Do details have to be ironed out?  Of course.

But if we don’t get started with a sound vision of solid public schools, every new school fix-it plan whether it’s more testing, block scheduling or the latest computer software will add up to nothing.

Yes, national security is a top priority (though many people can’t locate Iraq on a map), but the best form of homeland security is education security.  Do we want our military to have poorly educated people in its ranks?  You can’t outsource an army.

Every day forty-seven million children attend public schools.

Every day three thousand students drop out of high school.

What type of experience do we want to provide America’s youth?

The time has come to act.

We must provide a public school system worthy of them.

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