Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
I have posted numerous entries on FtM regarding the folly of the corporate education "reform" movement's proposed policies and the motives of their big money backers. In doing that some readers might be left with the impression that I think our public schools are perfect. This is not the case, I believe we need real reform that is experience and research based. Reform that will work, not policies designed to fail with the real intent of destroying public education all while cloaked in the lofty rhetoric of doing what's best for the kids (any time I hear that phrase a reform bullshit alarm goes off in my head).
So, here is a list of general reforms and some Michigan specific reforms that I would offer for serious consideration. Over the next few months, I will try to write on each idea in more in-depth and get into the research and reasoning behind each one. In the meantime, this list can serve as a discussion starter and food for thought as we encounter a seemingly endless barrage of corporate reform proposals in the popular press and echoing out of the halls of state legislative chambers across the country.
- Scrap No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top - standardized high stakes tests tell us very little about actual learning and even less about teacher and school effectiveness
- Replace these failed policies with federal funding to support lower class size (max 15 in P-3, max 20 in 4-7 and max 25 in 8-12), increased special education funding geared towards inclusion, funding to states to support professional development, and increased funding for Head Start and learning readiness programs.
- Re-open and re-purpose Common Core. I actually think having meaningful and clear standards is a good idea. However, the manner in which these standards are created and reviewed/updated is extremely important. Additionally, the standards should focus on outcomes and allow teachers and schools to determine the best path for reaching the goals with their students (standards should be the "what" not the "how"). The current iteration of Common Core was developed in a closed loop and often ties the hands of teachers and schools to teach as specified by the Common Core. I would open the development and updating process up to teachers, researchers, and content experts. In short, this would democratize the standards, improve the content of the standards, and empower teachers as professionals.
- Align a once every six years test to the new standards(tests taken in the 6th and 12th grades). The test would be criterion referenced and designed to show student mastery of the standards. The data generated from the test would be used for improvement of the standards and as useful pedagogical feedback to teachers (not a misaligned and punitive performance measure). This would, of course, supplement the assessment and learning evaluation already conducted by the teachers. In short, worry less about testing and more about learning.
- Support teaching innovation through research and learning opportunities for teachers - every state should support their teachers with resources to improve their practice and connect them with the latest research on learning, motivation, technology, and student development.
- Create a system of teacher evaluation that is based on improvement and peer feedback. Punitive evaluation leads to teacher burnout and poorer results. Evaluation should be a learning and mentoring process that is focused on skill development and mastery. It is vitally important that early career teachers receive support and constructive feedback. Despite what some might tell you, experience is a vitally important in teaching and help navigating the first few years in the profession creates quality experience. We can borrow concepts from the apprenticeship model of training to help improve teacher evaluation and support.
- Reform Teach for America. If it is to continue it must include full teacher education training for its participants. This means no more six week crash summer course, but a full year of pre-service teacher education. If you want to work in a profession - you must learn the skills and knowledge necessary to be in the profession. And if TFA is a great idea, it should be a great idea for all schools, not just poor urban schools. Therefore, TFA should be required to also place participants in schools that have free and reduced lunch rates of 0-25%.
- Properly fund music and art education so that every school has these programs
- Research and expertise should guide our education policy decisions. This means connecting experts in research with experts in practice. We must strengthen connections between research focused education faculty in our best universities and teachers and administrators in our schools and policy-makers in our government. For instance, things as simple as the school schedule and calendar are not aligned with what we know works best. There are mountains of research showing when the adolescent brain works best (from about 10am - 2pm) and yet most high schools still start at 7:30 or 8am. While research is always exploring new ideas, we have a pretty good idea of what works best to maximize learning, motivation, and development for most students. We need formal processes to connect the researchers and their data to the practitioners so that every school is utilizing the best methods and pedagogies possible.
Michigan Specific Reforms:
- Restore the cap on charters to 100 schools
- Limit for-profit charter and cyber school operators to no more than 25% of all charter and cyber schools and require full-disclosure of all financial records of the school and operating company
- Require chart authorizers to be located no more than 50 miles from any school they charter and require charter school board members to reside in the communities where the schools are located (and/or where the majority of their students reside)
- Create funding tiers for charters and cybers that are based on services provided but are less than minimum for regular school districts - - OR - - uncouple school funding from headcount by moving to a formula that is based on services provided, fixed cost structures, district demographics, and longitudinal enrollment averages.
- Fund all districts at the average hold harmless rate - - OR - - allow non-hold harmless districts to approve operational millage funding similar to the hold harmless districts
- Restore the Constitutional authority of the State Board of Education. This means all policy and curriculum decisions are the sole province of the SBE. The legislature appropriates funds (and authorizes the establishment of new districts or closing of existing districts) and the governor sees that those funds are properly distributed but everything else is the jurisdiction of the SBE - that's what is in the Constitution of 1963 and it's how we should operate.
These are a few broad-stroke ideas for education reform. If you have others please share them. I will do my best to write on each of these ideas (and others as they occur to me) in more depth in the coming months. At some point, I will also give a beginners guide view of what my ideal school would like (a place that Paolo Friere and Alfie Kohn would really like but even E.D. Hirsch Jr would be comfortable in).