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How to Spend $100 Billion to Fix Schools (Cont.)

Readers, bless them, buried us in votes and comments when we asked them last week to rank 10 ideas for fixing America’s schools with the expected $100 billion in education stimulus funds, and offer their own suggestions. The top five ideas, ranked in the order of reader approval, were:

1. Help students at least two years behind.
2. Higher standards for most U.S. schools.
3. Better, more robust and useful test data.
4. Create a national teacher evaluation system.
5. More training and power for principals.

The list proves, among other things, that few readers are so weak-minded as to be influenced by anything I say. I openly derided the ideas that rose to 2nd and 4th place. Of the five ideas I contributed to the list, only one (No. 5) made the top five, and just barely.

Which is good, since the proposals readers made in e-mails to me and comments on the column were more imaginative, and often wiser, than mine. I personally sympathized with some of the wilder suggestions, such as the suggestion by josephkee to close all of the education schools and jbel48’s call for improvement in school boards since most members were “ignorant and incompetent.” Many ideas not only had that attractive edge, but had some chance of being enacted, such as these:

Dick Diamond, an experienced educator, recalled a somewhat longer day at one school that allowed teachers to meet formally once a week to go over every student’s progress. “Each teacher was able to give input, especially with the students having academic as well as social troubles,” he said. “It also enabled teachers to decide which one of them could best handle those students needing counseling.” Online poster rrap1 endorsed a similar initiative.

Tom DiFiglio, an experienced teacher and writer, suggested we “bring back the concept of truancy. You cannot learn when you are not in attendance.” He didn’t mean just asking the assistant principals to check the local pizza joints and street corners for missing students, but using every precious minute of the day for instruction. No more field trips or assemblies during class, he said. No more pulling students out for a few minutes to talk to a coach or counselor.

Bruce Brown wanted to kill off the prescribed, timed lesson: “It is like hiring me to coach the team, then giving me all the plays to run for the entire game.” Elaine Wiener extolled the power of getting every student in the habit of studying in the same quiet place at the same time every day.

Many readers wanted longer school days and smaller class sizes, but they were outnumbered by those who thought discipline had to be restored. I am in that group. More training, better rules, stronger principals -- anything necessary to turn each class into a place where students focus on learning. I will be looking for real-life examples of such fine ideas in action. Keep sending them to me.

By Washington Post editors  | May 19, 2009; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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Notice abuse in your system and make sure there are checkpoints for an individual to survive corruption. Every student in your system is a child, and every adult in your system benefits from cherry picking winners for their cause and dumping bad apples in horrific abuse. Every system will be judged by its ability to instill laws that truly enforce civil checks and balances. There is no place that needs this more than public education.

Posted by: TinMan2 | May 19, 2009 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Agree. Discipline (and the lack of it) is the key.

Or, to put it bluntly -- it's the system, stupid!

Any educational system that warehouses children (and especially adolescents) in (sometimes) deplorable structures/enclosures, demands! that only the minimum requirements be taught -- over and over, ad nauseum -- and, also dictates that, even if an individual is disrupting and/or dangerous to everyone else, that individual has the RIGHT(?) to remain in the classroom -- and the teacher(s) MUST overcome any and all obstacles (good luck with that!!) to educate the defiant student(s) -- ????? . . . that type of system is doomed to failure . . .

Which is exactly what we have in place now.

Change the system. Get the kids who don't want to be in it, out -- yes, it's that simple.

If you read your history, the 11th and 12th grades were added for only one reason: to remove idle youths from the streets -- not to necessarily raise educational standards -- it was to (primarily) eliminate younger (and cheaper!) competition from the wage-market, and to (supposedly) reduce criminal activity by a lot of bored young men.

Sound familiar?

Warehousing doesn't work (obviously). The goal should be to get students out of the classroom (if they don't want to be there) and into some kind of career-training curriculum, ideally, paired with a related biz/industry (for example).

Society needs to stop dumping all its problems on the schools -- they're not equipped to handle them.

Posted by: thesuperclasssux | May 19, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I have to respectfully disagree with the suggestion that counselors should not pull students during class. We do have a curriculum that we are supposed to follow. When do you suggest we meet with students to select courses for the following school year? When should we meet with seniors to discuss college plans and graduation? When should we meet with the student who is struggling with their parents' divorce? When should we provide our required lessons? These are but a few examples of why we meet with students during the day.

I don't know how other schools handle this, but at the school I work at, it is always at the teacher's discretion whether to release the student or not.

Posted by: debs125751 | May 19, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

I didn't vote for the top ideas earlier, but would like to see one hour of physical activity per day per child. In the long term, this would save a great deal of money on health care and might even boost academics by sending more blood to student's brains. Many parents would object that this is "cruel and unusual punishment" which gives us a clue as to how our country got to a point where obesity is epidemic.

Posted by: marxmyth | May 19, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, the "top 5" are pretty lame. The pie in the sky doesn't address "keds on the ground" matters of el-hi instruction and services.

For something operational, with cost SAVINGS and transparent benefits, try "A Game Plan for Dramatically Improving the Productivity of the El-Hi Schooling Enterprise" at

I happened to draft the paper, but none of the ideas originated with me. The paper's "novelty" is that it renders the present unaccountables in the enterprise transparently responsible. The game plan takes the pie of the "top 5" out of the sky and puts it on ground for viewing.

More game plans are needed!

Posted by: DickSchutz | May 20, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Everybody's an expert in education. Throw out a list of fixes and vote on them. Madness. Look at the RESEARCH. Though in the distant past most of it was not very scientific and thus unreliable, today's educational research is robust and conducted by serious scientists.

We know how to prevent failure! The research and practice have been proving this for decades, but educators continue to cling to "philosophies" of education as though philosophy trumps science. It does not. We might as well use religion or witchcraft as instructional methods.

Interesting that so many chose "help students two years behind." The way to "help" is to prevent this from happening and we know how to do it!

Posted by: robertoonly | May 20, 2009 11:09 PM | Report abuse

"The way to "help" is to prevent this from happening and we know how to do it!"

Hmm. You're reading different research than I'm reading Robert.

The Haan Foundation Study showed that the "best" remedial reading programs don't remediate 3rd and 5th graders.

The IES Reading First Impact Study showed no impact.

The IES Study of the best methods for teaching Comprehension were worse than no particular attention to the matter.

The documentation compiled at

supports your contention that failure can reliably be prevented.

What research can you cite to support your contention?

Posted by: DickSchutz | May 21, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Dick Schutz:

We have over 40 years of excellent research telling us how to educate a child. In fact this research is so well established that (I believe) the findings have entered the zone of "common knowledge," at least for educated people. Here are some of the most commonly replicated and accepted findings:

Academic achievement in a child is positively influenced by:

good health

regular pre-natal care

a two parent home

high socio-economic status of the parents

advanced education of the parents, especially the mother

large number of books in the home

significant amount of time the child is read to

significant amount of time the child reads to himself

large vocabulary by the time child enters kindergarten

access to Reading Recovery

high achievement of peers

the quality of the classroom teacher

high-quality preschool

and so forth.

So if you want to raise a high-achieving child you will guard his health carefully, monitor his development, talk to him frequently, read to him every day, send him to a good preschool, become educated yourself and work on a stable marriage and home life, choose a school that has many high achieving students in it, choose a teacher who is very successful and so forth. How do we do all this for the very disadvantaged child? Well, first we have to have citizens who are willing to pay for health care, preschool and good teachers for other people's children. That's the real problem as I see it. It's a lot easier and cheaper to say "No excuses" than to say "Let's get that child a pair of eyeglasses."

If you doubt any of the above, I'll try to find the sources for you.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | May 25, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

The only thing is, Linda, most of these variables are not under the control of public schools. ECLS-K indicates that "amount of time the child is read to" is not associated with test scores, nor is preschool attendance. "Quality of classroom teacher" cannot be determined independently of student achievement test performance.

The very fact that so many children are said to have "specific learning disabilities" (a euphemism for saying "we don't know how to teach these kids; must be the kids' or parents' fault) is proof that kids are not being reliably taught to read and do math.

Posted by: DickSchutz | May 26, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

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