If we are really serious about fixing public schools, here is one way to do just that! It is the single, quickest, and most sure-fired way to improve our schools. It's common sense, really. But it probably won't happen.
A lot is on the line. Without radical change, we just tinker on the edges of reform, afraid to confront various realities and stakeholders. But education should be about providing necessary learning opportunities to the next generation, not about today's interest groups.
Ready for that one way?
Close all private schools.
Admittedly, a most radical step that is politically unfeasible. But hear me out on this one! This step will force all students (the very rich, the very poor, the smart, the average, the disabled, the at-risk, and everyone in between) into public schools, creating overwhelming pressure to fix them at last. Imagine CEOs, for example, in New York City, Silicon Valley, Detroit, and Houston and Senators, Representatives, and Presidents—all sending their children to public school! Parents, no longer able to vote with their feet and pull their own children out of the publics, will push for radical reform. Only in that way, schools will matter for everyone — not just for other people's children.
Here are several wonderful examples of the new vision:
- Education will focus on teaching all children where they are and taking them where they need to be. We will no longer focus solely on closing gaps for students without basic skills—but will focus on closing gaps for all students, including those at the top of their class who need challenges. We will bring back vocational programs, academically advanced programs—whatever all students need.
- Regarding school discipline, students who disrupt classes and violate school rules will be removed to alternative programs without costly litigation that ties the hands of schools, adds disrespect for educators, and damages opportunities for all students. We will become more savvy about drop out prevention and discipline policies. Everyone outside the chattering classes knows that these behavioral issues are the elephant in the public education room. Disruption and time away from learning are key reasons that parents opt out and choose home or private schooling. Parents want their children to learn—not to waste time. Parents want teachers to teach—not face endless distractions. We will get honest about this.
- Teachers will no longer be scorned. As a former teacher, I find the current climate painful. We will rebuild trust between schools and families. With basic respect and trust, reform efforts will no longer flounder. We will treat educators as the experts they are. In my experience, most of them are good enough. We will honor their profession, whether through higher pay, creative training and mentoring, quick and efficient removal of the few who are not up to par, paperwork burden relief, even apples for the teacher, or whatever.
- We will allow only bureaucratic requirements that directly improve teaching and learning, and will trash all others.
- We will demand that parents play their part. Schools cannot educate children alone. Parents must be positive partners to help their children and support the schools. We will change laws that do the opposite, that treat parents as consumers of services and passive participants in improving outcomes, and even require some to advocate for children against the schools! We will see that parents help children with schoolwork, feed and clothe children appropriately, and put them to bed at night. Common sense will return to center stage.
Enough said. You get the idea. Before long, policies for the good of all children will return to public education. Schools will again be not just for other people's children. I'd predict that within a year, our schools would be fixed, even in the inner cities–kids would learn, discipline would be in place, teachers would have time to teach, and the sun would shine upon us all.
Miriam Kurtzig Freedman is a lawyer, speaker, consultant, and author, and an expert in public education law. For more than 30 years, Miriam has worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to deal with the legal requirements which impact schools. Miriam translates complex legalese into plain English, and focuses on good preventive practices. For more information, visit her website, www.schoollawpro.com.