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Looking For Answers

In every issue of Edutopia, published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, the Sage Advice column offers responses from teachers and others to a specific education-related question. For their next issue, the editors are asking the question "What five things would you do to save public education?".

If you’d like to send them your thoughts, the address is on the column’s page. However, I would like to challenge all of those bloggers who write their own columns on educational issues to post an entry with your answer to that question. If enough people respond to the idea, I’ll post all the links here. Or maybe The Education Wonks could make that a theme for their Carnival of Education one week.

Accepting my own challenge, here are my five ideas to save public education.

  1. Throw Out The Cookie Cutter. The structure and curriculum of today’s schools is largely in the same mold as those of fifty years ago. We need different approaches to running schools which address the needs of different groups of kids. This includes publicly-funded, independently-run (but still accountable) charter schools, small secondary schools, vocational alternatives to college-prep, and more. As to the curriculum, in an age of instant communication and access to incredible amounts of information, warehousing of facts is not the best use of the few hours students spend in school. Nor does it produce adults who are capable of finding what they need to know for themselves and making the best use of it.
  2. Change the calendar. Speaking of changing the structure, it’s time to kill the concept that education is a part-time affair, either for students or teachers. Extended vacation time could be built into the schedule to allow for family vacations and other outside experiences kids need, but going year-round adds badly needed continuity to replace what is now a very choppy, start-stop approach to learning.
  3. Embed Professional Development. If schools ran all year and teachers were paid as full-time employees, we would have the opportunity to make learning for them a fundamental part of the job. Name another essential profession that requires its members to learn new, job-related skills on their own time, at their own expense, and almost completely independent of the work place. It’s time to think of teacher professional development as a basic part of the job, not something you do just for a raise or to renew your certification.
  4. Involve Students In The Reform Process. Now, for those of you who have an allergy to "progressive" education, don’t panic. I’m not suggesting that we should let the kids decide for themselves what they should learn. However, any attempt to reform public education will not work (and I would argue, has not worked) without the serious participation of the people at its core: the students. They benefit most if we succeed and suffer the most if we fail.
  5. Require Politicians to Volunteer in Public Schools. I know, it’s probably not legal or practical. However, if the people who vote on the fate of public education actually saw what was going on – good and bad – on a regular basis (and without reporters in tow) maybe they would offer more intelligence when proposing laws affecting teaching and learning. I can dream can’t I?

I can think of many more than five but I expect that the education blogging community as a whole will come up with some great ideas not included here. And some that I’ll most certainly disagree with. But the collection should make very interesting reading.


  1. Jonlongstrider

    1) School systems must not be allowed to judge themselves.
    Jimmy and Janey’s parents determine what test decides if they are reading at grade level. Grade level is defined by age.
    2) School failure must make money flow out of the system.
    If Jimmy doesn’t read at 2nd grade level after 2nd grade, the school system pays most of Jimmy’s summer school, selected by his parents, Bob and Mary.
    3) Student failure must create extra work for the student.
    Jimmy has to go to summer school or afterschool when he gets behind.
    4) Continual improvement must be the modest goal.
    Beating schools with a stick isn’t the answer.
    5) All changes must be piloted and monitored.
    Janey doesn’t get the new new math unless and until somebody shows it works better.

  2. Jonathan

    1)Have core subjects taught by teams of teachers rather than individuals. Each team should be led by a master teacher who is responsible for his or her subordinates. Other team members can have specialties (ESL, technology, special ed) and varying seniority, and also take part in training each other.
    2)Put the instructional decision-making in the hands of teachers. By doing #1, teachers become professionals and have promotion opportunities. They are also able to transmit a body of knowledge within the ranks. Put team leaders in charge of curriculum development instead of non-teaching district personnel.
    3)Let teacher unions disappear. When teachers become professionals and acquire supervisory responsibilities, unions become obsolete.
    4)Let ed schools die. When teaching becomes a team responsibility, the veterans can pass menial burdens onto their subordinates so they have time to train the novices and do research. This makes university-based teacher training programs and researchers also obsolete.
    5)Eliminate substitute teaching. When teachers work in teams, the absence of a team member can usually be accomodated without a replacement. A small corps of well-trained “on-call” team members can replace a large group of unqualified babysitters.

  3. quadrupole

    I don’t believe the public education system is savable. I’m all in favor of public finance of education, but as long as we try to have government provide that service we will continue to fail.

    The only way to save education in America is to kill off public education and let the private sector provide it.

  4. John McMahon

    1)End school as a day care service. If a student is unprepared socially to be in a public school (at any age) they need to be sent home until they are ready.
    2)Track students based on ability. REALITY ALERT- Not everyone is going to Harvard. In heterogenous classes, smarter students are held back and slower students are left clueless. The real smart kids get AP and the real slow ones get SPED. As always, the people hurt most are in the middle.
    3) Get rid of Ed schools. The people that are running them and working in them are contributing NOTHING to education in this country, and absorbing a huge amount of education money. If you do not deal with students under 18 at least once a week, you are not a flippin’ “educator”. Ed schools are a scam that rank up there with aluminum siding salesmen and three card monty artists.
    4)Increase vocational education. Most of the millionaires I now know personally are plumbers. Some folks just aren’t very good with the whole word, book, paper, pencil thing. OK?
    5)Put the brakes on technology. A computer is of little use to someone that is barely literate. Lets get back to basics except in one area: WHY ISN’T EVERY STUDENT CARRYING A ONE POUND E-BOOK INSTEAD OF THIRTY POUNDS OF TEXTBBOKS? HOW HAVE THE TEXTBOOK PUBLISHERS COLLUDED TO KEEP IT FROM HAPPENING?

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