With the advent of 2018, I thought I’d engage in a bit of a thought experiment. All dedicated teachers find teaching to be far more than a job; it’s a calling. Particularly during the school year, it must be one’s first consideration, their focus. So rather than inventing a personal new year’s resolution list (really, who wants to hear how many pounds I ought to lose?), I decided to come up with ten new year’s resolutions for education. However, to make it interesting, let’s assume, gentle readers, I have the power to make these resolutions come true. That’s right: I can do what Republicans in control of the Presidency, the House and the Senate, can’t. So hang on, and let’s see how I can fundamentally transform education, and it won’t cost a dime. In fact, it will save billions.
1) All state and federal laws and mandates will be abolished, effective January 1, 2018. This will eliminate 90%–perhaps more–of the paperwork school districts must keep and file. Not only will this single bit of magic greatly reduce administrative staff, it will free up money for more teachers, books, and supplies, as well as restoring teaching time formerly required to meet state and federal mandates. It will also greatly improve the mental health of all teachers.
2) All mandatory high stakes tests, of all kinds and descriptions, will also be abolished, and anyone trying to reinstitute them, under any new name or acronym, will be guilty of a felony. This will, for many schools, restore 1/3 or more of the school year for actual learning. It will save untold billions of dollars in state and local budgets, and also end the necessity for personnel hired specifically to coordinate testing and related paperwork. You didn’t know about those folks?
But how will we know if students are learning, and schools are competent? The same way we knew before the age of testing. We’ll pay attention! We don’t hire teachers because we think they’re too stupid to know if kids are learning. They can write and administer tests, just like they did before multi-national educational corporations, politicians and educrats made fortunes on testing. You know, back in the days when America led the world in virtually everything, when we built the most advanced, prosperous society in history? Before cell phones? Before vast, wasteful, arrogant educational bureaucracies?
3) Principals, rather than spending most of their time in meetings and doing paperwork, will have a new job: ensuring school is school. This means their primary focus is establishing and maintaining a professional, proper educational environment. Their job is to see that adults are in charge, kids behave properly, and anything and anyone trying to disrupt that educational environment will be reformed pronto, or permanently removed. Their second job is to see that teachers have everything they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible.
4) Kids will be expected to do their classwork, every day, on time. There will be no late work allowed (there are, of course, exceptions for genuine illness, etc.). It’s in on time or no credit. If kids don’t do their work, they go to school after school, that very day, where they remain until their work is properly done. We’ll pay willing teachers time and a half for that duty, and if necessary, provide busses for kids that deserve them. There will be no averaging of grades, no credit for warming a seat. Kids are responsible for doing what they should, each and every day. If kids decide they don’t want to do their work, they can try life in the real world.
5) There will be no cell phones or other electronic devices allowed in school. Period. If any are seen, they’re taken and kids must pay–an ever increasing amount–to get them back after school. This single act of enlightened adult responsibility will remove the greatest single distraction—other than the opposite sex–and means of cheating currently available and will leave kids little choice–gasp!–but to focus on learning.
6) Anyone caught cheating–in any way–will be suspended for two weeks. They will be responsible for catching up all work they missed before they’re allowed back in school. High school diplomas mean little these days. We’re either serious about teaching kids honesty and maintaining academic standards or we’re not.
7) Anyone caught using drugs or alcohol will be immediately suspended and put in off-campus alternative school, where they will be treated like criminals, for one year. Anyone assaulting a teacher or other staff member will be immediately suspended for a year and will be readmitted only upon convincing the principal they have truly learned their lesson.
8) All students will be required to display proper manners, and will be required to demonstrate mastery of American civics. They may eventually decide Venezuela or Iran represent the best forms of government, but they will be taught the value of American government, citizenship and its responsibilities.
9) Students enrolled in ROTC will earn significant points in class ranking.
10) No student failing any class, or that has any work out, will be allowed to participate in sports or any extracurricular activity, including field trips. Kids are up to date or they don’t leave their desks. Any student leaving a class for any reason that does not immediately make up any work missed will not leave the class again that year. All sports will be extracurricular activities, taking place after school only. There will be no “athletics” classes. Kids will be in academic classes the entire school day.
What do you think, gentle readers? I could easily have added another ten, but these changes alone would have the effect of putting the emphasis back on learning, where it has always belonged. I would also wave my magic wand and eliminate all political indoctrination. School must be for teaching kids how to think, not what to think. That would fit nicely under #3. I would also get rid of all educational fads and consultants, which also fits under #3. Give teachers what they need to do their jobs and leave them alone. If teachers are too stupid to do those jobs properly, hire better teachers. That’s a supervision issue.
Our biggest problem in American education is we don’t teach school anymore; we run social experimentation labs. School must be fun, and good teachers make learning fun. That’s a given, but adults must always be in charge, and we must keep in mind the purpose of education is not only cramming data into kid’s heads, it’s teaching them how to be functioning, responsible, patriotic Americans, people who don’t think it’s all about them. My modest proposals would go a long way toward that goal. But again, what do you think? Good teachers listen too, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.