By Wes Rogers, TeachValuesNow.org
In light of our recent academic test results, a one-in three-dropout rate, and scarcity of funds for more teachers and schools, I’d say we could use some real education reform right about now. Not the work-harder-with-incremental-payback kinds of reform. Real reform of the quantum leap variety. Yes, we can “ride herd” on teachers and students to test better with more hours and resources dedicated to test results; and we can make it easier to identify and correct the problem of under-performing teachers and parents; but these kinds of incremental improvements are just a small part of a much bigger dilemma. State and federal budgets continue to point to concerns of how much we can actually afford for government services, including the $550 billion dollars we spend annually on primary and secondary public education in America. The path of public education is at a crossroads. Just as business was forced to adopt the mantra ‘do more with less’ in a globally competitive world, so must education learn to ‘do more with less.’ What we teach, how we teach it…and how we manage it. Real education reform.
‘What We Teach’
Welcome to the information age, where any thirteen year old with critical thinking capability and a smart phone can, in seconds, outperform a room full of computers from the year their parents were born. In the 21st century, it is less about knowing the answer and more about knowing where and how to get the answer. Instruction in concepts and critical thinking as replacement for redundant or repetitive course work is the foundation of real curriculum reform. Education curriculums must be adjusted to this reality. What is to gain? Finished students better prepared to meet life’s challenges with a broader scope, worldview, advanced problem solving capabilities…, and a ton of hours and dollars saved, ‘doing more with less.’
‘How We Teach’
Just one generation ago, the pocket calculator, the cell phone, the personal computer, CD/ DVD media, the Internet, Wi-Fi, e-books, I-Pads and video remote instruction did not exist, yet with all this glorious information age technology… we still take the same six periods each day to educate our middle and high school students. Information age technology has saved millions of person-hours, in thousands of ways. What once took hundreds of hours now takes the push of a button. Impossibly though, our education system has found no way to reduce this daily six period duration? Compared to the promise and power of current technology, in education, we are cave dwellers writing with a stick in the dirt.
It is not unrealistic to expect education to be accomplished in less time considering our knowledge of 21st century teaching methods, modern day understanding of the psychology of learning, and the informational power of computers and the Internet. How much less? Well, here is a goal. Reduce middle and high school education time by 25%, as soon as possible. Just take the hours away and assign educators the task of getting the job done in less time. How? Along with a redesigned curriculum, extend the school year by four weeks with students attending classes four hours per day instead of six. The net result? An annual class time reduction of 25%, leaving schools operating at half capacity (assuming eight hours of available teacher and classroom time each day.) How is this ‘doing more with less?’ Well, two campuses at half capacity can be merged into one campus at full capacity. Reducing middle and high school education hours by 25% reduces the need for 50% of the schools (less any logistical constraints.)
With a theoretical need for half the number of schools, let me be the first to say, “Welcome to Two Shift High School.” Doing more with less, Two Shift High sees morning shift students arrive for 7:30am class and depart at 11:30am. Second shift students arrive at 12:30pm, completing daily work @ 4:30pm. Two Shift High requires only one set of administers, councilors, nurses, librarians and maintenance workers. No cafeteria workers are required because first shift students lunch at home after 11:30 and second shift students lunch at home before their school day begins. One in two high schools running two shifts means the others become Closed Down High. All of Close Down High’s non-teaching staff is no longer required.
But what about all those teachers from Closed Down High? Why not double them up in the classrooms at Two Shift High? With the cost savings from Closed Down High, Two Shift High can afford to double down on teacher/student ratios, providing a super-charged learning environment… and still have plenty of district funds left over! Pair lesser-qualified or inexperienced teachers with the more experienced. First shift, one performs as teacher, the other as aid. Reverse roles for second shift classes.
Take funds now allocated to building new campuses and reallocate to upgrade the Two Shift High Schools with modern technology i.e. automated attendance, electronic school work/test assignment, real time grading and grade status with school provided student take-home notepad devices. Use technology to reduce the need for printed textbooks and implementation of more home- based study. Real education reform.
‘How We Manage’
The purpose of public education is to teach knowledge. The physical act of teaching this knowledge is the direct value-added service performed by public schools. All other non-teaching job functions, from the principle to the janitor, are non-value-added in the sense that these functions do not directly perform the service of teaching. Non-value-added job functions in the education system include principals, administrators, councilors, maintenance and cafeteria workers, district superintendants and offices, school boards, county offices, state boards, and the U.S. Department of Education. There are so many different departments and regulatory bodies that, for every teacher we employee, our education system now requires one more non-teacher to do the “other” things. The deeply layered, top-heavy organization chart of our public education system, from the U.S Secretary down to the school assistant-principal, is in need of some serious flattening and departmental consolidation… along with more authority to implement real education reforms.
The task ahead: define a better way. Not complaining and finger pointing; bold, innovative solutions designed to provide dramatic improvement in the ease and cost of educating our youth. And we need it now. Redefined curriculums, allocate more resources to value-added teaching, fully exploit technology, and empower leadership to enact real education reform.
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