The final spot where I’ve got to disagree with Principal Vanderhoek from my previous entry is where he says that there’s no magic bullet. Humbly, I do believe there is a magic bullet, and it’s not that complicated. It’s called social investment. This hypothetical money should be spent primarily on increasing classroom staff in low-income schools. Here are my other suggestions:
- Reinvent the teacher role. I have several suggestions for this:
- Double the number of teachers and halve their courseloads
- Separate the teacher role into its components — classroom manager, academic specialist, administrative assistant — and put multiple adults in each classroom. Some roles could be shared between classrooms.
- Elite teachers should be allowed to assume multiple roles, and they should be compensated accordingly.
- Bring back tracking, but do it in a flexible way. If a kid is not being successful in the large classroom environment, they often begin to derail the education of every other kid in the classroom. Poor behaviors begin to eat away at the classroom culture, and before you know it, you start seeing behavioral issues spread, like a virus. Nip that in the bud.
- Take the struggling children out of that environment and get them the intensive academic and/or behavioral help they need. This is where the investment comes in. We need to pour resources into the most challenged students. Aim to get them back on the mainstream track, and use small settings, extended school days, and year-round schooling to make it happen. Some will make it back to the mainstream, and others won’t, but either way, if this is done correctly, we will have made a substantial difference in life outcome for the most difficult students.
- Meanwhile, positive classroom culture becomes much easier to establish and maintain in the mainstream environment. I believe that the impact on student achievement in the mainstream environment will be immediate and dramatic.
- Get rid of social promotion. We have so many children that are behind their “correct” grade level. Stop pretending that they’re going to magically catch up. Teach them from where they are, in cohorts of kids at the same age/grade combination–sadly, there are more than enough behind-grade-level children to make this practical. It might take a few more years for some children to graduate, but when they do, they’ll be a lot better educated. This applies to the kids from point #2, who are out of the mainstream. These are the biggest drop-out and delinquency risks, and we will do a much better job retaining them in the schools if we are actually meeting their needs. The traditional age/grade correspondence is antiquated and unimaginative, and there’s no good reason not to replace it with something that actually meets childrens’ needs.
The only problem is that I don’t believe the average American cares about solving the problem. As I’ve said before, people abstractly care about closing the achievement gap, but for the most part, it’s out of sight, out of mind. People need to understand that it does matter to every American. And it’s not just about social justice, it’s also about the pocketbook. The issue is that the failings of education are costly to our country, no matter what. Right now we’re pouring money into combating the effects of poverty through band-aid programs (TFA isn’t free), police, jails, and welfare. If we can pour the money into fixing one generation of children, we can make a substantial dent in the cycle of poverty, and it’s going to pay off in the long-run in future reductions to those other costs. To me, it’s a no-brainer.
I guess the real question is: in today’s Taxed-Enough-Already environment, can we muster the will to invest in our nation’s future, or are we just going wait around to let the free market work it out?