Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Some of My Education Reform Ideas (Part Two)

This continues my ideas for education reform.

Ages of Students

The ideas I shared yesterday were geared toward middle school and high school.

I also support the mixing of ages and less grouping by grade levels. A reason to stop using grade levels as such a hard and fast determinator of what classes are taken is:

1. development varies among girls and boys, research shows girls are a bit ahead

2. The trend of holding boys back a grade is getting more and more common, called "red shirting", this is unfair as one boy in a class may enter Kindergarten in Connecticut at age 4 years 9 months (with a December birthday) while his peer who was red shirted may be aged 5 years 8 months (January birthday). I know of few girls who were red shirted but there are some I know of. It would be even worse to have a boy aged 4 years 8 months sitting next to a girl aged 5 years 8 months! Birthday cut-off dates vary by state but they seem to be flexible, if the parent wants the child kept out, they are, and that even puts some kids at an advantage developmentally.

3. Development is asynchronous even in labeled gifted kids. A child can be so called ahead in math and on grade level with reading and behind in writing composition. If we look at this from the perspective of the student's level of being challenged, it's uneven. Why shouldn't a student be able to move faster in some areas rather than continue to be bored in some subjects, half-way bored in others and still struggle in the rest. Even the area of natural talent for the student is not nurtured, it winds up being a boring class for them.

4. If the goal is to teach a skill such as arithmetic and writing composition the goal should be to focus on the skill being taught as the determinator of who's in that class, not based on the age of the child.

5. Some subjects are foundational and build upon mastered skills. My idea to chop a subject into three or four segments would help students who stumbled in segment 1. They could retake segment 1 the next term and when they got it, move on to segment 2 the next quarter term.

6. We all know we learn better from some teachers than others. Even a teacher who is "great" may not be a good fit for the next student. I hear this from parents all the time, they are surprised that their two children reacted differently to the same teacher. They loved the teacher with the first child but realized the second child was just not clicking with that same "great" teacher. Therefore if classes are taken in 4 segments instead of as 1 course for a whole grade the student could change teachers and find a better fit, perhaps.

If the idea of mixing ages, think about college. Except for colleges with a special courseload for freshman, students mix based on their skill level and prerequisites. A sophomore may be in the same class as a senior. If English 100 was not done well, a student retakes it. This really is not that foreign of an idea after all.

I would also argue that too many kids in the same exact developmental social stage together is less healthy than mixing up the ages. Younger kids can stand to have more role models in their life, starting with being in the same class as a kid one or two years older than them but with whom they can converse the same with on the topic being studied in the class.

The only barrier I see to all these ideas, is it would be a new system to plan and manage on the administrative end. It would mean a big change. Too bad for the administrators that would have to learn a new way.

The Financial Cost

When a superintendent is making a quarter of a million dollars a year why not make them really work for it? I have no problem saying "the creative thinkers who can take on a challenge to do something new are the ones who deserve to make more than our country's President".

Principals making six figures, how about thinking outside the box and initiating some real change?

How much do you have to pay a leader to be innovative and to do the right and best things to affect change? Is there some special number that switches a person from being more of a supervisor light-manager of people and changes them into a more courageous and able to institute change type of organization leader? Maybe the problem is people with the right skills are not being hired for those roles?

Some citizens complain that for profit corporations of multi-million or multi-billion dollar companies make big money, even when the truth is that nearly all of it is made from selling shares of stock (not paid out as cash from the company's pocketbook and therefore doesn't impact the company's budget). Well how much money should a government worker who is not a for-profit business make? How much should a principal and superintendent? Is $100K too much, $150K, $200K, or $250K enough? How much is enough to get some real change in the way things are done?

Public schools cost more than parochial schools but often the student outcome, measured by test scores on paper and by what colleges the students are admitted to is the same or better for the parochial schools.

There is research showing that money spent does not correlate with learning achieved. Thus I am not going to spend much time saying we can't afford changes. If you don't believe me, entire books have been read about the analysis of data. I recall watching a BookTV author lecture on this a few years ago, those lectures are like the Cliff Notes version of a book.

In my former town the cost of public high school was $21,500 per student. That is more than multiple local private schools. How much is enough to spend? How much is enough that someone is allowed to say "with this much money we can afford try try something different"?

How is it logical to increase the education budget 8-9-10% a year when residents paying taxes working for the private sector are not making a raise to equal that additional payout? When will the spending slow down? This increase of spending year after year comes with doing the same old-same old thing. Why would it be wrong to say "this year with the 9% increase we are making some changes"?

The cost of public education is complicated but you won't find me saying "we can't afford to change things". I would say that perhaps changing things may make it less expensive.

At this point I have some things to say about people, psychology and change. I think I'll stop here and continue tomorrow.

I realize this may seem rambling to you but this is a huge topic so it's hard to not have a long discussion when one is trying to touch upon the many issues.


Xa Lynn said...

Hi Christine!

If you want a wider range of ages together, why is that a problem in kindergarten with the redshirted kids who aren't mature enough for first grade in with the 4 year olds who just barely made the cutoff? I've missed something in the rationale?

I agree kids should be grouped by performance/ability more than by age. Having been a public school teacher, I am all too familiar with having to "teach to the average" knowing that my quick students were bored and my slower students were lost, but with 36 kids in a 55 minute class, there is not time to cater to everyone's learning styles and abilities simultaneously. A much better arrangement would have been to group by learning style and by ability (and to have classes with 12 students!!!). But grouping by ability... well it's apparently more important in this society to preserve the "equality of abilities" illusion so no one's feelings are hurt, and just bore the academically inclined students into underachieving, than to admit what we all know - that some kids do better than others at some activities, and we have just as much of a duty to enable them perform to the best of their abilities as we do to help the struggling student master the material. We don't let everyone play on the Varsity basketball team, after all. It seems to be only academics that suffers this way.

I would much prefer a mastery orientation, rather than a grade-level one. Here is what you must master in order to move on to the next class in this subject... that is another thing that works better in classes taught in a shorter timeframe, with repeated sessions throughout the year for those who need to go through the material more than one in order to learn it.

I taught one of those subjects that has to be done everyday - foreign languages, and the hour long class works fine for that, even in college none of my foreign language classes exceeded 75 minutes. But I agree other classes like English and History at the high school level could greatly benefit from longer class periods on fewer days, or daily for a quarter/trimester/semester instead of a full year.

When it is all said and done, I think class size of 12 max students would go far in solving a lot of issues... that would require about 3x as many teachers, though. I propose we get rid of most of the admin to pay for it, lol.

Xa Lynn

ChristineMM said...

Hi Xa Lynn,
We are in agreement, I think.

I think some of what I said was not clear.
I was speaking of middle school & high school where base skills like how to read are past.
(I have a blog post in draft about some specific ideas for elementary.)

The issue with red shirting now is that some of the red shirted kids are not developmentally behind, the parents do it on purpose so theirs is the oldest in the class and therefore AHEAD. I am for abilities based learning just like you.

I have a problem with the young normal aged kids in Kindergarten being portrayed as BEHIND when they are compared to kids a year plus older than them. In fact the older kids may be bored from not getting enough stimulation (God forbid they are actually gifted too.)

The next post in draft also discusses learning styles. I actually think it would be harder to teach specifically to multiple learning styles in a class than to somehow split by ability.

Or maybe the BEHIND kids are just the ones with a different learning style that never gets taught to by teachers? HMMM something to ponder.

Trying to make one big thing to satisfy so many unique people using one size fits all plans is surely doomed to fail. I can't imagine anyone actually doing what it takes to reform the education system, it's just too big to tackle on a large scale. Maybe why the magnets work is it is just targeted toward a segment, a fraction of the general population, the schools are smaller and allowed to do things differently, so they work. I can't imagine rehauling every school everywhere at the same time. Maybe magnets should just be allowed to expand and start that way?

We could also have a special magnet for strong visual spatial learners etc. That's on my list of what to talk about in the future.