Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Plan to Improve our Schools

It is possible to guarantee that virtually all public school students be rated competent or better in English and Math.

Here's a Detailed Plan

It will be difficult, but not impossible, for us to guarantee, as mentioned on the opening page, that virtually all 4th graders will be competent in English and Math in one year, that all 8th graders will be competent in five years, and that all high-school graduates will be competent in nine years.

Here is how we can let ourselves make this guarantee. We begin with the steps which lead to the implementation of a working plan, and then show a first draft of the plan itself.

1. The Superintendent and the Board will meet and decide that the schools will make a coherent and complete plan for school improvement, the details being left to the Superintendent.

2. The Superintendent and his or her staff will put together a tentative plan (see below), which will be submitted to the principals. The principals will be encouraged to share it with their teachers, and will hear their comments and criticism.

3. The Superintendent will meet with the Principals. Together they will revise and improve the plan, ending with one that meets everyone’s approval. It is essential that everyone agree that the plan is feasible, and that it will result in high-school graduates who know English and math. (It may be that school attorneys should be present to determine that the plan contains nothing that will cause legal problems.)

4. The Superintendent and his or her staff will determine what extra costs will be incurred in implementing the plan. The costs will vary from year to year, so in the beginning there should be something like a three- or five-year plan of additional expenses, which plan will later be amended as time goes on.

5. The Superintendent and Board will meet, and the plan will be approved. (There should be no difficulty here, for the Board will have been kept abreast of what has taken place in steps 2 to 4.)

6. The Superintendent and Board will publish the plan, and will guarantee that the District will meet the goals it specifies. The plan will, of course, be subject to discussion and criticism. The critics should be answered, but it’s important that the Board not permit the plan to be changed because parents or children or anyone doesn’t like it. In particular, there are likely to be complaints that the discipline requirements are too strict, and that it will be bad for children to be held back when they have not learned what they should.

7. The plan will be submitted to the County and City, who will be asked to provide the necessary funding.

8. The plan implementation will begin.

Suggested first draft of the plan:
(Note -- ‘first draft’ means it may be modified in step 3 above.)

Our aim is to have ALL our high-school graduates be at least competent in math and English (reading and writing). We will do this by:

* Ensuring that every student learns what he or she should in each grade before being passed on to the next one.
* Not permitting any student in any school to disrupt any class.
* Helping teachers improve their teaching skills.

* Encouraging the acceptance of new ideas from any teacher or principal.

We will carry out this plan in the following steps:

A. We will ask for help from principals and teachers in locating the teachers whose abilities and experience have made them exceptional in managing their classes and in providing complete, interesting, and challenging materials. We’ll also ask them to identify the teachers whose teaching skills are average or below. We’ll ask the exceptional teachers to help tutor the other teachers, and will set up schedules for this tutoring, which will cover the maintenance of discipline, the presenting of materials, and the identification and support of children having problems. All the average-and-below teachers will be required to take this tutoring, and their improvement will be judged. Any who fail must get additional tutoring. Presumably this will require week-end or evening work both by the tutors and the teachers getting help, and all must be paid to teach and to listen. This is the first requirement for extra funding.

B. The plan requires that, to eliminate discipline problems, we develop a detailed Code of Conduct (if one doesn’t already exist) and be serious about applying that Code to all students in every class. This means we must:

* Insure that all students and their parents understand and agree with the Code. Copies of the Code will be given to the students and sent to the parents with a statement that it will, from now on, be strictly applied to all.
* Insure that all principals and teachers are aware of the details of the Code of Conduct, and that they agree they must apply them at every instance of misbehavior. They must “share and communicate high expectations for appropriate student behavior.” This is best done in meetings, first of the Superintendent with the principals, and then of the principals with their teachers.
* Identify the schools where discipline is still a problem, and take special steps (perhaps by giving instruction to some of the teachers) to see that these schools are as trouble-free as all the others in the District.

C. Since we have been using Social Promotion for so many years, it will not be practical to discontinue it at all grade levels at once. If an 11th grader has the reading and math skills of a 3rd grader, we are unlikely to bring him or her up 8 grades in one year. So we will:

* a) In the first, second, and third grades pay extra attention to the students who do not learn the material. Provide extra tutoring, and if necessary mandatory summer school for them. Insist that elementary students who are failing, have failed, or need extra support because they are English-language learners or they have learning disabilities take after-school and summer reading programs.

* b) Require that students who fail at the end of the summer course must repeat the grade. (In subsequent years we’ll apply a and b to higher and higher grades.) Tutoring and summer schooling are essential, and come before any after-school or summer activity.

* c) In later grades, provide extra tutoring and voluntary summer school for students who don’t learn the material; but, unless a teacher or a parent objects, promote the child even if he or she
is behind.

* d) Require extra funding for the extra tutoring and mandatory summer schools.

* e) NOTE: obviously this plan means that it will be several years before we meet our objective of having all high-school graduates literate in English and math
* f) [Provisions a through d may be modified in step 3 above. The consensus may be, for example, that only the first and second grades be included at first, or perhaps that the summer school be mandatory for failing students in later grades.]

D. We’ll adopt the policy of encouraging teachers and principals to try out new ways of meeting our goal of getting every student to learn what he should at each grade level. Such new ideas should be proposed in writing to the District office, including some way of measuring its success or failure; but approval should be quick and the proposer should understand that his or her idea is very welcome. At the end of the year the proposer should report on the result. If it’s favorable, the District may suggest it be used elsewhere. Perhaps there should be a financial incentive to encourage innovation.

We’ll also welcome ideas proven successful in other schools, anywhere. Such ideas may come to light at conferences, via friends or acquaintances in other places, or through searches on the Web. There might be a financial incentive for anyone who discovers a useful idea, from any source.

(End of the draft plan.)

We’d be delighted to hear from anyone who has a comment on this plan. To comment, just click the underlined word ‘comments’ at the bottom of this page (or any of the other pages), and tell us what you think. We’d be glad to hear from anyone.

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