23 September 2011

New York Leaps into the Middle School Trap : Education Next

New York Leaps into the Middle School Trap : Education Next

"In the specific year when students move to a middle school (or to a junior high), their academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, falls substantially in both math and English relative to that of their counterparts who continue to attend a K–8 elementary school. What’s more, their achievement continues to decline throughout middle school. This negative effect persists at least through 8th grade, the highest grade for which we could obtain test scores."

04 September 2011

Developing Responsible Citizens

Peter Levine makes the case in this article that smaller schools will do a better job of helping develop more responsible youth. He says, "If we hope to create effective, committed, and responsible citizens, huge schools have several marked disadvantages." He further says, "In a huge high school, there is little chance that any adult will try to steer a student who is on a mediocre track onto a more challenging one."

To increase "civics" in our youth, more civics classes are not the answer. We need smaller schools where the youth will find adults who are more likely to know and guide them. We also need smaller school districts and other local governments, where the youth are more likely to know someone who is an elected leader, someone who is actively participating in government. They are more likely to learn about government that way than attending many "civics" classes.

30 July 2011

7-12 Secondary schools instead of jr. highs

Jr. highs have proven to be the worst time of a student's public school experience. That's when kids are most likely to take a nose dive in either behavior or academics. Many people have just written it off to hormones! While that makes things harder, the configurations of middle schools and jr. highs play a big role too.

Elementary students typically have anywhere from 50-100 students per grade level, usually with one main teacher per class. They know their teacher and the other students well, usually of the whole grade. They can't hide in the mob. In a jr. high they typically have 200-300+ students per grade level. It takes those kind of numbers, when you only have 2-3 grades in a school, to be financially viable. In that setting students become part of the mob. Their behaviors deteriorate along with their grades.

Many districts are now experimenting with K-8 schools, which have shown much improvement. Still better, though not as prevalent, are 7-12 secondary schools. There are many advantages to this configuration, but few have really considered this option.

If you turn each jr. high and high school into a 7-12 school, they would house the same number of students, but would reduce the number of students per grade level.

By readjusting school boundaries, the schools would be closer to the homes of the students. This would lower the amount of traffic and travel times.

Students would be in the same school longer without having to transition to a new school, thus reducing the loss of learning and time of adjustment.

Students and teachers would get to know each other better. Parents would tend to be more connected with the school.

If the students had siblings near their age, they would be in the same school - family-friendly, one-stop schooling! They could look after each other better.

One study shows that students who attend 7-12 schools do better in college.

The more you look at 7-12 schools the better they look!

07 July 2011

Ropes and Rods

I've been considering how a rope compares to a rod. A rod is strong but not flexible at all. A rope is strong AND flexible, which makes it more versatile. A rope is made of many strands, each of which is made of many fibers. Together they provide strength along with a give and take that allows it to bend without breaking. If we could somehow melt all these fibers and strands into one rod, they would all be the same but without the ability to bend. There would be no flexibility, no give and take.

This is how I see the need to maintain the viability and strength of our different levels of governance, such as national, state, and local, rather than concentrating all the power to ever higher levels. Consolidating into ever bigger units undermines this flexibility. When a district grows too big, it operates more like a rod. The bureaucracy becomes inflexible. It cannot bend with needs of differing areas. Dividing into smaller, community-sized districts re-creates the right balance between teachers, schools, and districts (fibers, strands, rope).

05 May 2011

Vouchers: A Trojan Horse

My message at the legislature was that vouchers was a Trojan Horse for private schools. It would turn them into government schools when the regulations came. This article from the conservative CATO group backs that up. Vouchers aren't the answer. Smaller districts are.
"In reality, the voucher program is a tactical victory for highly constrained choice won at the price of a broad strategic defeat for educational freedom."
"The likely effect is a serious loss of education freedom and diversity of options in the medium-term and a near-total loss in the long term."
"The voucher law places private schools under the supervision of the state Department of Education, making them accountable to career bureaucrats and political appointees for performance on government standards and curriculum. It is an authorization and framework of accountability to the state, rather than to parents and taxpayers directly. This is a strategic victory for opponents of educational freedom; all that's required is a downhill push for tighter control."