Aaron has tagged me for another writing challenge (Caring, Compassion, Charity from Alex Shalman) as well, and this is something that I have been thinking about** for years, and have actually come up with some plans, though they require far more money than I have currently. Who knows, perhaps this article will bring me into contact with someone who has the same passion as I do, but has the money to back it.
Alex, in the article linked above, says his passion is for taking care of children… so is mine, but with a different focus. You see, I believe that a lot of the negative things in the U.S. and in the world come from the fact that children are no longer taught how to be an adult. One of my passions is to build an alternate school system in the U.S. that actually teaches kids the things they need to know… both as far as academics go, and in regards to how to be an independent adult.
So what are some of the flaws with current school system? I'll limit this to just a few…
Kids Are No Longer Expected To Earn Their Rewards
Every year the school system in the U.S. marches farther and farther down the path to just giving kids credit for being present, rather than for actually learning and doing the work. At some schools students have to be unable to learn or apply over half of the material taught in the class before they fail! What's the point of the class if you only require them to learn half of the material?
The schools here are also trying to eliminate competition in physical education, sports, and the playground. If there are no winners, if hard work gets you the same result as little to no work, what is that teaching our children? One thing it certainly isn't teaching is a good work ethic.
Punishment Doesn't Fit The Crime
This works both ways… kids are allowed to get away with ridiculous things with little or no punishment for disrupting class, disrespecting the teacher, and sometimes even threatening the teacher or other students. After the lack of enforcement has its entirely predictable effect, draconian punishments are handed out for minor offenses, like a ten day suspension (or even expulsion) for bringing aspirin to school. If they would just let teachers enforce discipline at the class level, and then back those teachers up at the administrative level, we could prevent the former, and with oversight and accountability we could eliminate the latter.
Teacher Ability Has Nothing To Do With Teacher Reward
Throughout most of the U.S. teachers receive the same compensation whether the percentage of students who pass is 50% or 100%. And, of course, if you are going to use passing percentage to determine teacher quality, then you have to remove the ability for the teacher to give easy grades, and standardize. It would also let you include other, better (but not quite as obvious) criteria, like the improvement in kids from one year to the next.
Here's a quick excerpt from my thinking** on this:
We already have (at least) state-wide standards for what needs to be covered in a class. We just need to expand that a little bit further, and have a panel of non-teachers write questions for testing that knowledge, and then have computers randomly choose from a pool of questions to create a test for a specific student. If you want to take that one step further, you also submit those tests (once taken) to another independent panel to grade them. You have now taken away all ability for a teacher to play favorites (or its opposite, giving bad grades to a student they don't like), as well as to grade easily or harshly. You have also standardized what is taught to students, so that you can have a good idea what someone who has graduated from a particular grade knows.
It also doesn't take away the freedom of the teacher to teach beyond the tests… but that material isn't what has been determined is essential to graduating that class, so it is just bonus knowledge for the students.
This method would provide a good way to measure the performance of individual teachers up through schools and even to school districts or an entire state. Compensation could be based on this performance, encouraging good teachers to stay, average teachers to improve their performance, and bad teachers to leave. It also provides a very good way to compare the academic performance of individual students from different schools and different teachers… which I'm certain would interest colleges.
My passion is to change the schools… what's yours?
** I really have been thinking about this for years, and have documented some of my thinking, so if you are seriously interested, you can comment on here or send me an email at jasonivers at yahoo.
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