Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Education Reform on the Soviet Extreme

The New York Times today has a story about failing school ins California on its front page. Short column, little above the fold. The story reads, more or less, like the stories the Journal has put out, talking about how no one is really in any way satisfied with the state of things. Follow the law, repeal the law, allow transfers, have more schools that are succeeding to transfer students to, let schools take advantage of free tutoring provided after three years of failure, reorganize school radically after five years of failure (two years of allowing students to transfer out, two years of providing them with tutoring), blah de blah blah.

The problems that go into this are many, the approaches to fixing it varied. In this very space, I've discussed New Orleans, and the varied solutions New Orleans itself is pursuing. It's all well and good, but today, a different approach.

Every city, every single American city that has more than one elementary school, that has more than one middle school/junior high, that has more than one high school would have to adopt this reform.

Build one campus. One vast, vast campus, a beast of a thing, and ideally located in such an inconvenient place that every student has to be bussed in. Every student, of course, will be bussed in. No driving and dropping students off, and no student parking lots. This is to be a monolithic, homogeneous entity.

Every grade will have a building, large enough to accommodate the reasonable fluctuations in a cities population, and large enough to deal with a significant amount of expansion. In fact, each grade building, just to make this whole thing more towering, should have double the capacity expected of it. Every grade will have teachers who commit to that grade for five years or so, and an administration that has no opportunity for reassignment until ten years, at the least, have passed. Monetary recompense will be available so that advancement need not mean giving up a job one is doing well; gross negligence, high crimes, and treason will be valid reasons to get rid of people. Staff will need to be committed to this job, but at the same time there must be some form of pressure, so that this is not a guaranteed job whose performance is irrelevant to pay.

So, we have now 13 schools on a vast stretch of land, serving the entirety of a city, and each committed to a single grade, K-12. Add a 14th school, to allow for pre-k (and to allow for a lucky number of adventurers). There is no flexibility between grades for teachers, and a good deal of versatility in the education system is lost. Now every student can be reasonably expected to be educated the same. There will be no grade skipping, and there will be no honors tracking. If the school decides to have an honors system, it will have to provide a full array of educational specialty, assignment being made at a given year based on IQ test scores taken at the beginning of the year. Arbitrary, certainly, but with annual re-evaluation. Students will not be held back, and will advance with their peers, even if the class they go into is at a grade level or two lower. This hyper-tracking may be as inadvisable as no tracking, but the important thing is that the decision is made once, for the whole nation, and no greater deviance is allowed.

Test scores will be taken twice each year - once when kids enter the grade, and once when they exit. Test scores, for evaluation of teaching ability, will come from two set-ups. One will be end learning over beginning learning. The second will be from last years end learning to this years end learning, based not on "last years fourth graders were better than this years fourth graders", but based on "this years fifth graders show significant improvement over last years fourth graders". At an annual conference for all the teachers and administrators, the people who created the tests will come in and explain what the test results mean, as will knowledgeable critics. Test scores will be shown to teachers in such a way that, while individual teachers need not be implicated and blamed for having a disproportionate number of challenging students, deficits in what these kids are learning will be identified, and this knowledge can be passed on from the teachers who had the students to the 6teachers who will have the students.

The ideal here, the goal of this leviathan of education, is to create such a beast of homogeneity that as many variables are humanly possible can be controlled. This in universal nationwide so that the affluent don't flee to different cities, and that should be combined with a full shutdown of all private school, so that option is gone as well. Given nothing else, no other alternatives, people will make the public education system work, will have to make the public education system work, and inherent flaws will be dealt with and worked through by all parents and students, not just those with no other options.

This is not really an idea I endorse, but I fervently believe in giving every radical notion the full inspection that rational ideas are afforded. "Like the good archer, we aim to high, so that falling short, we still hit our goal"

And with Machiavelli paraphrased, I think it is time for me to go off to work. Tutoring, in a New Orleans school.

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