Friday, September 5, 2008

A Breath of Fresh Air

Brian Crosby is a veteran high school English teacher from Southern California who has written a very interesting new book called Smart Kids, Bad Schools: 38 Ways to Save America's Future. It's a fairly quick read and many of his ideas for improving government-run schools are eminently sensible. Some of his suggestions that I fully support include:
  • making schools' physical appearances and policies less like prisons
  • having larger class sizes with higher quality teachers in high school classes
  • having K-8 schools rather than separate middle schools or junior highs
  • not selling junk food or beverages on campus
  • having daily PE and a strong arts program
  • having high-quality vocational education for non-college bound students
  • merit pay for teachers
  • eliminating tenure
  • paying teachers in hard-to-staff schools and specialties more than others
  • ending social promotion
  • bringing back the teaching of basic civility, personal responsibility, respect for and consideration of others, and other virtues
  • more rigorous classes for gifted students
  • more field trips
  • incorporating community service
  • empowering teachers to actually do their jobs instead of being micromanaged by administrators and bureaucrats
  • less standardized testing
  • improving teacher preparation programs at the nation's colleges of education
  • having a career ladder for teachers
  • better fiscal management so that schools get more bang for their educational buck
  • requiring parental involvement
  • expelling chronically disruptive students
  • ending frivolous lawsuits by parents
  • placing caps on out-of-control special education spending
Other of his ideas I believe have merit for certain students but I'm not convinced should be mandatory for *EVERYONE*:
  • a year-round calendar. This should be an option available to those parents who want it. Research also suggests it may be beneficial for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. But middle-class families who prefer a traditional calendar should still have that option.
  • a longer school day. Ditto for what I said about a year-round calendar.
  • full-day kindergarten. Ditto. 30 hours per week is a long time for young children to be in an institutionalized setting away from their families. 15 hours per week may be much more appropriate for many five year olds.
  • charging parents for the cost of textbooks plus a flat tuition of $200 per child. I like this idea but believe it should be done as a sliding scale depending on the family's financial circumstances. Also, families should be permitted to substitute their own labor in lieu of a monetary contribution if they wish to do so.
  • abolishing homework. I agree with this for the lower grades where there's no evidence that assigning homework actually raises student achievement. In high school, however, I do believe that students should be expected to complete a reasonable amount of non-busywork assignments.
  • outlawing teachers' unions. I agree with Mr. Crosby's assertion that teachers' unions typically stymie educational reform. I'm not sure that I'd go as far as banning them outright, however. That seems a bit anti-democratic (note the very important small "d") to me. Sensible campaign finance reform would go a long way in reducing unions' role in blocking good ideas through political influence.
On a handful of issues, however, I feel Mr. Crosby is totally off-base. I'll discuss those in a future post.


C said...

Good job Crimson Wife! I just found you blog and enjoyed the post! I think school days should be shorter -- not longer. In order to build more family time into the day. Also K-8 schools should be within waling distance of homes. More focus on academic learning and less on 'brainwashing'! I am also a transplanted Red Sox fan (now in AZ) homeschooling our 4 kids (17, 15, 13, 8) Life is good!
--Clare Willis

Henry Cate said...

Do you think that public schools as they are currently structure can really be salvaged?

I've read a number of articles and books by people saying that the government schools can be saved if we just follow some plan. But decade after decade things get worse.

Crimson Wife said...

I don't think the government-run education system should be saved. But that doesn't mean I'm writing off government-run schools completely. I think there is a place for them within a completely overhauled primary & secondary education system. However, they likely wouldn't be educating anything even remotely close to the current 85% of students.

I strongly believe that *ALL* parents should be able to choose the educational option that *THEY* feel is best for their own children- whether that's at a government-run school, a private or religious-affiliated one, homeschooling, or some combination of the above. There should be some amount of government assistance to pay educational costs available on a sliding scale depending on each family's individual circumstances.