Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Arizona Educational Reform

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School reform is a popular subject during an election year. Arizona has applied for and been denied two lucrative federal grants intended to encourage school reform in the states. Perhaps the lack of desire for change in education in Arizona was obvious in the application. The recent spate of negative statistics concerning student achievement in Arizona has begun a dialogue among many concerning the need for school reform. Arizona educators have tried testing and teaching to the AIMS test, ESL instruction for teachers, making certification more expensive in terms of time and credits for teachers, career ladders, raising academic requirements for graduation and many other fruitless gimmicks. The dropout rates remain high and the average academic achievement test scores are mediocre to terrible.

What next? I suggest a real overhaul of this 1912 educational vehicle. Changes since 1912 are apparently endless but the stars of this show are the growth of population size and the change in material technology and innovation. Immigrants have changed the cultural makeup of Arizona and a service economy has emerged. Things are different now in 2010, almost a hundred years later.

I will now address one facet of school reform that would benefit academics and sports, without sublimating either. School reform can eliminate a social emphasis that creates a hierarchy other than academic, often centering on sports proficiencies.

Both academic and sports proficiencies are important but should they be competing against each other in the public schools? On a social level, if the sports proficiencies are deemed the most important by the staff, then the students will get the message that the sports proficiencies are most important and that these people must be pleased by performing sports, which also gives social prominence.

I taught a long time and I know teachers push the academics but the social rewards are for the stars of the sports. As a preliminary to reform, the costs of sports must be separated from the total school budget and analyzed as percent of total, donation level, cost to student, income from events, cost per student participation donated and requisitioned, cost per capita student participation, etcetera... After this analysis is completed, a discussion on the distribution of funds can proceed.

I propose to separate the academic job preparation proficiencies from the sports proficiencies in the public schools, in an attempt to elevate the social status of academic proficiencies to more of a realistic level as found in later life. Create two separate entities, the academic schools and the sports schools merged with the city parks and recreation department programs. Separate these entities, while requiring passing grades for students to participate in the new City Sports Plan. Of course this would require cooperation in facilities management as the city costs and facilities are merged with those of the public schools or in partnerships with charter schools. There would be no need for additional facilities or busing to the Sports Schools; bus passes for needy students would be available through a donation program or subsidy.

I think this plan would free up money for academics.

This separation plan would also have an added benefit in that the academic facilities would be more flexible, since large groups of students of similar age need not be amassed in order to field a better sports team. Smaller schools for all ages closer to homes of students would eliminate busing costs. The Internet and Distance Learning would make available any course requirement online plus any level academic electives. On duty teachers would monitor progress and offer assistance in the upper grades, plus traditional classrooms for basic learners of any age. The possibilities are endless in a local K-12 academic school. The elimination of busing would save money. As this plan takes effect, bait the school districts with money from the state that would be spent on busing would either be lost or diverted to distance learning equipment designated for local smaller schools. Bait the universities into establishing a curriculum for generalists who can run and teach in one of these new K-12 Internet and basic skills schools.

As for the Sports Schools, attendance would be voluntary with the exception of x number credits in 'Lifelong fitness and nutrition", which would be required of all students in the Academic Schools 8-12. This requirement would introduce the students to the sports schools and thus the staff could encourage participation in Sports Schools volunteer programs. These programs would be funded on a per capita daily student attendance basis, which would encourage the Sports Schools staff to encourage more students to participate. If attendance fell below a certain percentage in a month, an immediate review of the teacher and the class would be conducted. To encourage attendance, student would be offered bus passes at a small profit. A Sports School would allow for the development of local sports stars, parental donations, recruitment possibilities and sports games for people to attend for a small fee. A self supporting program would provide jobs for concessionaires and security. Regional games could be funded as the schools fund them now. Why not a hierarchy of leagues until the big leagues take notice? We have two facilities in town plus all the school fields to use to develop local talent and we have all winter to practice. I do believe that the mandatory schooling law dictates that academic eligibility requirements be met by all Sports School volunteer programs. Community spinoffs could include sports leagues for older players.

As for Vocational Education 8-12, vocational centers would be established and programs of apprenticeships in local businesses would be developed. These vocational centers would contain various shops and trades, sewing, art, theater, electronics repair, real estate, agriculture, home gardening, small business management, business finance etcetera. As with the Sports Schools, students 8-12 would be required to earn credits here, which would expose students to career choices and the actual physical facility. Attendance would be voluntary and funded on a per capita daily student attendance basis, which would reward the best most relevant teachers. After a month of low attendance, the class would be under mandatory review and possible immediate cancellation, which would save student funds for successful teachers. I have seen teachers in electives run the students off until just a few were left, which is quite a low class load while collecting similar money to the teacher teaching required courses, swamped with students. Vocational certification would be relaxed to include more life certified teachers and journeymen. Cooperation with specialized charter schools could cut presentation costs.

School reform has many facets and possibilities. The state of Arizona has a good basic curriculum, but the teaching of that curriculum is too loosely interpreted by principals, who prefer to cultivate a non confrontational attitude towards teacher management. Perhaps that is the easiest row to hoe, but the curriculum as it applies to the success of a child in the system must be presented to all children, who will understand at the level the teacher is able to impart to them. Some students will have the native intelligence to understand the material without instruction, but those are few. In this era of electronic instruction of factual material, the concept of mastery learning must be revisited, rather than strict adherence to the grade level system. In a K-12 school, the concept of students proceeding at their own pace would be much easier to implement and would free the students to proceed through the required curriculum at a reduced or accelerated pace. Given the various maturity levels of students in any age group, this system might be a relief to many.

To create liquidity, If the school facilities are too large, then divide up the facilities and rent them out to other government agencies first at a nominal rate, then to private enterprise: child care, clinics, therapy centers, and other health related businesses. Get some cash flows and use the money to fund academic competitions and travel. How about awards dinners and travel for academic stars? The Science Fair is an excellent example of how to run a creative competition and exposition.

I was gratified to hear that Mr. Huckleberry of Pima County is fielding a plan for a local sports complex, where traditional sports and sports not taught in the schools will have a venue. I support the idea of this complex and would suggest that the Sports Schools plan could cooperate with the county in use of these facilities, sharing in educational efforts, utilities and maintenance costs.

School reform is a complex issue that must be addressed with practicality and creativity plus realistic views of the academic and social needs of students. Today's job market is tough and students will become motivated to learn how to make a living and exercise voting rights. The job of the schools is to prepare students to earn a living and function lawfully within our society.