Thursday, December 29, 2011

Give community-based public schools the same freedoms #edreform


Now that this holiday season is being relegated to the ghost of Christmas past, the mainstream media appears to be gearing up (or pushing) for the next battle in Lansing: GOP lawmakers want more cyber schools in Michigan.

I'm certainly pro online-learning and my record as superintendent of an urban community-based school district proves it, but before lawmakers simply add new types of schools, they must work to ensure a level playing field.  Take off the 19th century seat-time shackles in traditional K-12 public schools, as well as relieve us of the growing, burdensome regulations that do not contribute to higher levels of learning for all students.

Lansing and Washington continue to tie the hands of traditional schools while providing unparalleled flexibility and freedom to charters and cyber charters, which primarily serve to enrich the corporations that run them. Private business does not exist to serve the public good. They exist to serve their bottom line. That's not criticism of private-sector business, just a reminder that their interests do not change just because they venture into the public sector. As an example, a construction company and its subcontractors do not exist to provide needed classroom space for kids; rather, they exist to make a profit off of construction contracts for new and remodeled schools. They may be building a school but other than the jobs they create based on the healthiness of their bottom lines, they do not contribute to the public good.

If you truly believe the rapid expansion of brick-and-mortar as well as cyber charters will improve student achievement, give the same freedom to traditional public schools. Here's some suggestions to get you started (I recognize that these are not from Michelle Rhee or Bill Gates so you probably already stopped reading this post, but here it goes anyway):

  1. Eliminate the graded-school system that was never designed to improve student learning but only to control the growing masses of students in cities.
  2. Eliminate grade-level based state assessment since this is a major obstacle to eliminated the graded-school system. By saying students have to take high-stakes tests every year to measure an additional year of learning assumes that all students learn at the same pace - THEY DON'T! Allow students to take assessments when they are ready.
  3. Immediately eliminate the Carnegie unit in high school graduation requirements. Students are graduating unprepared for the real world after barely earning the minimum credits in core academic areas instead of focusing on mastery of specific benchmark standards. PS. That might take some students to age 20 to do so - SO WHAT! Are we saying learning should only occur between ages 5 and 18?
  4. Get rid of all seat time requirements. If a student is engaged in learning in any way that is connected with his or her school, and credit for learning is granted by that school, the student is present and the school should be credited accordingly.
  5. Eliminate all of the special education regulations and statutes that actually compel most schools to warehouse special needs students in lower achieving environments, instead of being supported in regular, rigorous core academic classrooms so they can learn at the same level as their peers.
  6. In Michigan (and many other states), abolish the asinine (and some might say bipolar) restriction against starting the regular school year prior to Labor Day. This clearly was not a decision that was based on what's best for kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the family might be able to squeeze in another few days of vacation but schools should be focused on kids' futures, not convenience in the present. There are at least 185 days available during the year for being tourists.
  7. Stop the overwhelming urge to use public schools as social laboratories for every little whim or interest that comes up. There are only 1,098 hours in a Michigan school year and it's already been proven that to cover the entire K-12 curriculum requires that a student attend school until age 22, so stop piling on the stuff that's mostly coming from the need of politicians to say, "See what I did?"
Taking action on these seven simple issues would move traditional K-12 schools into a more flexible environment that will allow us to experiment more with non-traditional modes of instructional delivery and learning, just like those being touted by building-based and cyber charters. This is real ed reform versus the latest rage of funneling public school monies to the private sector testing industries and charter school management companies. This is the public interest.

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