(Disclaimer: I am not an expert in education or anything like that. Just another opinionated know-it-all. If that does not deter you, my...condolences?)

Watching PBS's documentary 180 Days:A Year Inside an American High School tonight and last night, and can think of nothing else but the fact that No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and everything else that we've done to the public education system, are just ass-backwards.

We're not teaching our children to learn. We're teaching them to pass tests. The only use for these tests is getting passed. And to discourage kids from trying to improve. Children, the children who need education the most, do not respond to failure by saying this motivates me to do better next time. They respond by saying if I'm just going to fail then why bother. Students who are behind their peers in certain subjects are never given a chance to catch up. We advance a 4th grader to the 5th grade but they are still reading at a 4th grade level, so how can we expect them to read at a 5th grade level? Ridiculous. It increasingly seems like the people making important decisions on our education systems, did not get very good educations themselves.

We're not allowing our teachers to teach. We're pushing them to treat their students only as job security, or to just rig the system. And if they show any interest at all in truly developing their students, it doesn't show up in the test scores and those teachers get removed. And in all of those cases, the students are the ones truly being cheated.

When we fail to properly teach our children, we fail to invest in the prosperity of the future.

So if I had the chance to open a school, how would I run things?

The overarching principles:

1. Let the kids learn at their own pace.

2. Let them learn what they want to learn.

3. Let the teachers teach what and how they want to teach.

First of all, how would the school function?

School days are split into three two-hour long blocks. One block is curriculum computer testing (CCT), the other two blocks are teacher-led courses (TLC).

Curriculum computer testing (CCT): Students work on computers on standardized test-style problems, based on a school district's required curriculum.
Part of CCT is active movement. Can't have students sitting around at a computer for 2 hours straight.

Teacher-led courses (TLC): Teachers devote an entire block to the subject of their choice, and classes have a limited number of seats. Since each day has 3 blocks, teachers have a maximum of 15 blocks to prepare each week, minimum of 12, and free blocks can be used to plan future lessons. At least 3 blocks each week must directly teach curriculum, and no more than 3 blocks can be completely up to the teacher and completely unrelated to curriculum. Teachers submit their lesson plans a week in advance, and after administrative approval, the schedules are made available to the entire staff, students, and parents.
Part of the courses is active movement (unless it's already part of the lesson plan). Again, can't have students sitting around for 2 hours straight.

Each day, students do one block of CCT, one block of student-chosen TLC, and one block of student-targeted TLC.

How does this structure work toward the three principles?

1. Let the kids learn at their own pace.

The CCT evaluates students on all the curriculum that the school district decides a student needs to learn before they can graduate. The students are not benchmarked against their age or grade level or the averages. Once a student reaches a predetermined level of proficiency, the student is allowed to graduate or continue until they reach their desired level. Ideally, a student would be allowed to stay indefinitely to reach their target proficiency, however realistically they would have to be moved to an adult program once they reach a certain age. So a student who wants to study science in college would aim for a Science score of 90%, and be willing to live with an English score of just 60%.

At the end of each week, the student sits with an adviser and together they go over the student's progress. The student's progress in each subject and the TLCs they take are tracked over time so both the student and adviser can see what the student is good at and can spend less time on, and what they need improvement on and should spend more time on. For example, a student's progress might be: Math 5%, English 10%, Science 15%. So the adviser naturally would want the student to focus on Math. But maybe the student has been doing Math, and it's just stuck on a plateau, so the adviser could decide maybe the student could use a break from Math, and pursue some other subjects. Together, they plan the student's courses for the following week, what to take as the student-chosen TLCs and the student-targeted TLCs, which targets the subjects the adviser thinks the student should work on that week.

Students do not compete with other students. A student's performance is not tied to their teachers' evaluations. Ultimately, the student decides how far they want to go, what subjects they want to focus on, and have the power to change these completely if they so choose.

2. Let them learn what they want to learn.

Students can grow in ways that will be valuable in the future but can't be evaluated through standardized tests. But only if the avenues are open to them. Forcing students to only study the subjects that the system dictates stifles their abilities to grow and develop as individuals. Students should be able to learn what they want to learn and that will only happen if teachers are allowed to choose what they teach.

This is where the student-chosen TLCs come in. Obviously, a student taking a TLC as their targeted lesson gets priority over students using it as their student-chosen TLC, but that is ultimately not a problem with this system. Maybe a TLC has 40 students who want to take it with a certain teacher but there are only 25 slots. With this system, the teacher can automatically teach the same TLC the following week, with the 15 students who originally showed interest getting first dibs.

If a student is only at the algebra level but wants to sit in a calculus class, they should have that option. It's possible that student actually picks up calculus much quicker than they pick up algebra. Humans all learn in different ways, to deny that is to deny what we know about the complexities of humanity.

3. Let the teachers teach what and how they want to teach.

If we want students to be enthusiastic about learning, they need teachers who are enthusiastic about what they are teaching. Giving teachers as much control as possible over what they teach is the best way of maintaining that enthusiasm.

Maybe a Math teacher wants to write poetry. Maybe an Art teacher wants to teach their experience with creating a budget. Maybe a teacher wants his students to create a social media website. They should have that option and the students will benefit from the overall increase in available subjects. Attending these class, maybe the students won't be making progress towards graduating. But they will be doing something that inspires them.

One of the weaknesses of the current system of valuing standardized test scores above all else is that classes that are not covered by these tests are the first to be cut, like Art and Music. This leaves students unable to expand their knowledge in fields other than just the ones that are covered by those tests, but are still valuable to a thriving society. Imagine a metropolitan city without an orchestra. With this system, teachers still have plenty of opportunities to expose students to subjects they might otherwise miss out on.

Since all the students are at different levels, it is possible that the teacher has students who are already familiar with part of the lesson in a TLC. That should be considered a good thing; being able to cover the same material twice rarely does anything other than reinforce the lesson. It's possible that a student will sit in a TLC and be utterly lost. Hopefully, this could be managed by advisers who know what the student is and is not ready for, but in any case, it is still ok, in that it could lead to the student deciding the subject is still interesting and worth learning more about, or decide for sure that they are not interested.

What if a teacher is just so bad that students rarely want to take any of their TLCs?
Ultimately, teachers should be able to teach what they are enthusiastic about, with the caveat that students should also be at least somewhat interested to at least choose the class. With this system it should be incredibly unlikely that teachers are unable to get any students at all for their blocks. With a fixed number of slots for each TLC, students have to pick the open ones once the popular ones fill up. This mirrors college registration and would be good experience for the students. Ultimately though, much like the students go through evaluations, the teachers would naturally be evaluated and advised on what to teach as well, when they have participation issues. Again, the teacher's job and salary should not be dependent on their performance. However, if the teacher is unwilling to work with what the students want, that's different.


I know this system is not perfect. I'm not even saying this system is better than all the other alternatives out there. I'm just trying to put it out there as my preference now, based on my beliefs on what would work best. I'd like to see more people put their proposals out there as well, to see how mine differs, and how it can be improved.

It'll probably be decades before the damage done to our public education program is reversed, if it's not torn down completely before then. Before that happens, we should do what we can to find out what could really work, and acknowledge what doesn't so we can move on and make real progress.

This is not about just reversing the damage done by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and charters and all that other crap. We can't go back to the way things were; that's what made people think things like NCLB was a good idea in the first place. No, we need to aim for new, more improved systems, if we really want to move forward. Part of it is identifying past mistakes, but it should just as much be about identifying what could possibly work better.

Because the way things are now, the students in this country are being dragged down. And when our students are being dragged down, we all are.

So, who's got some money and kids to throw at an experimental school?

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