Category Archives: Education Reform

What to Do

In discussions about gun violence on news sites and gun control blogs, I’m often asked what my solution to the problem is.

Police_at_Sandy_Hook

The incident at Newtown, Connecticut brings particular poignancy to this question.

First, let’s put this problem into perspective. The current U.S. population is somewhat over 318,000,000, according to the Census. Adding in non-resident visitors and uncounted aliens and rounding for ease of calculation, I’m calling it 320,000,000. Of that number, roughly 30,000 die per annum from gunshot, of which deaths two-thirds are suicides. That works out to 4.7 / 100,000, a rate that we hadn’t seen since the early 1960s.

800px-Ushomicidesbyweapon.svg

The chart here shows data from 1976 on.

This means that your chances of dying by gunfire in America in raw numbers are one in about 10,600. If you don’t shoot yourself, your chances improve to one in 32,000. The numbers vary from city to city, but in our centers of population, murder victims tend in large percentages to be people with criminal records themselves, so if you’re not a criminal, your odds get even better.

But certainly, 30,000 is too many. The answer to this problem in the eyes of some is gun control, but as regular readers know, that is something that I regard as a violation of the rights of good people. Is there another answer?

Submitted for your consideration are my suggestions for reducing violence of all types, including firearms violence, in this country:

1. End the War on Drugs.

508px-Cannabissativadior

We’ve had a number of efforts at prohibition of substances, going all the way back to attempts at drying up the nation in the nineteenth century, but our current efforts at banning classes of entertaining drugs other than tobacco and alcohol got going for serious in the 1970s. In the forty years since, we’ve wasted a trillion dollars, and half of all federal prisoners are in for drug crimes.

As we saw in the 1920s during the Prohibition of alcohol, we are seeing again: Banning a substance only encourages criminal smuggling, gang warfare, collateral damage, and the ruining of lives of many who merely possess the forbidden fruit. Addiction should be treated as an illness, not a crime, and all recreational substances should be regulated in the manner that our two legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol, are. All who were convicted for mere possession should be immediately released and pardoned to remove the stigma of a criminal record.

2. Incarcerate violent offenders for longer terms.

Alcatraz_Island_at_Sunset

Once drugs cease to be a criminal matter, we will solve the problem of overcrowded prisons. This will create room for violent offenders. Criminals who use a firearm in the commission of a crime can have extra time added to their sentences.

3. Improve schools.

800px-School-education-learning-1750587-h

As a teacher, I’ve gone on at length here about education reform. To sum up, we need to spend more money to pay teachers what they’re worth, to reduce class sizes, to repair and upgrade facilities, and to offer a wider selection of classes. The goal here is to provide all students with a chance to succeed. It seems obvious, but the more educated a population is, the less crime that population commits.

4. Improve access to mental health services–with the caveat that privacy must be protected.

Sigmund_Freud_LIFE

In these incidents of mass shootings, some shooters are seeking revenge against those whom they perceive as having wronged them, but the typical case is a young, white, male, loner with mental health problems. Unfortunately, such individuals don’t often see themselves as needing treatment. I suspect that part of their reluctance involves a fear of being reported, so making privacy a guarantee is important. Of course, young men who head down the road to becoming a mass shooter reach a point of no return. That leads me to the next two points.

5. Stop making these shooters stars.

Temple_of_Artemis

As author and space scientist, David Brin, argues, we should treat these mass shooters in the same manner as the Ephesians wished to treat the arsonist who burned down the Temple of Artemis. His name was to be erased and never recalled again. This, of course, will require the voluntary cooperation of news organizations, since we cannot do right by violating rights. But as long as America has a love affair with wacko killers, those nutcases will have motivation.

6. Address bullying.

Bullying_on_Instituto_Regional_Federico_Errázuriz_(IRFE)_in_March_5,_2007

Here in America, the intellectual loner is not a popular type. But a core value of our nation is that we all should be free to express our own individuality. That is one of the key messages that should be taught until the concept is absorbed. We can be ourselves without demeaning others. At the least, it should be clear that attacking others will not be tolerated.

But there’s more. We’ve created a culture in schools where someone who acts in self-defense is treated the same way as the person who started the fight. One solution to this is to teach martial arts–Krav Maga, for example, since it’s free of the religious overtones of Eastern systems–and make it clear that human beings, even students, have the right to stop physical violence used against them.

These are my answers to the problem, realistically assessed, of violence in our society. We will not eliminate all of it. Violence is in human nature, and Americans are more violent as a culture than other societies, but we can go a long way along reducing it. And we can do so without violating our rights.

Book Larnin’

I’ve had plenty of things to say about education on this weblog. Since I’ve spent the last fifteen years teaching, the subject comes naturally to me. And it’s not just out of self-interest that I support universal and public education. But a recent article on The Huffington Post about Common Core standards that are spreading a layer of varnish over our failing schools reminds me of the need to be clear about what exactly we’re trying to do in education in the first place.

1. Critical thinking

Plato's_Academy_mosaic_from_Pompeii

Another way to put this is logic. Knowing how to think correctly and how to spot erroneous thinking–in others and in one’s own thoughts. That is the one essential skill that students and indeed citizens must have. That skill alone, what the ancients would have called philosophy, makes everything else accessible and useful.

2. Other skills

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These certainly include literacy and numeracy, civics, history, and science, among many other things. Students should have opportunities to find careers that suit them and to learn the skills necessary for those fields.

3. Exposure

Pannini,_Giovanni_Paolo_-_Musical_Fête_-_1747

Schools should show students things that they might not otherwise encounter. Not everyone gets to see great paintings, listen to music beyond what’s immediately popular, or hear about the many claims of science and religions at home. To make an informed choice, we have to have some notion of the broad world that we have yet to explore personally.

4. Exercise

Palestra,_Pompeii

My advisor in college told me that I needed to take a P.E. class–to knock a ball around or something similar. I objected until I saw sailing as one of the options. But in the fine tradition of the Greeks, an educated person improved the body as well as the mind, and given our health concerns in the modern age, that old idea remains valid.

What is the purpose of all of this? For one thing, a wealthy nation should have excellent citizens. But a nation in which citizens participate in their own governance requires an educated population to function. Another article on The Huffington Post decries the influence of money in politics, but with educated voters, money becomes irrelevant.

And that is the point. Citizens make a society in their own image, and I want our image to be an educated one.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.

My writing for sale.

Reducing Gun Violence

Regular readers of this weblog will know that I am a believer in the basic right of all human beings to own and carry firearms. I have as much right to be armed as I do to have my tongue and my opinions with me wherever I go. I may be justifiably asked to keep my mouth shut and other matters concealed, but no one has the right to require more than that.

That being said, I do recognize that we have a problem of gun violence in America. Every year, around 30,000 of us die by gunfire. More than half of those deaths are due to suicide, but regardless of the cause, the number is too high. So what do we do?

Some propose restrictions on ownership and carry, while wanting to ban some types of firearms altogether. This approach makes no sense, given the more than 300,000,000 guns in private hands in this country and our long and porous borders. But there are things that we can do:

1. Create a functioning and available mental healthcare system. This ideally would be a part of general healthcare reform for everyone. I don’t have much faith in Obamacare, given its lack of a public option and the weak and mealy-mouthed manner of its passage and implementation, but that’s a step in the right direction. More–specifically the public option–needs to be done. Note that I don’t mean involuntary commitments or the violations of privacy. What I’m suggesting here is healthcare available to all who need it.

2. Reduce poverty. In my previous article on Alexandria, I named an educational system as a necessary element of any working democracy. I add to this the idea that education, such as I discussed here is a way out of poverty. Other intelligently run programs would have the same effect. We can debate at length whether poverty causes crime, but certainly living in poverty puts a person at greater risk–both for being a victim and an offender of violent crime. (Being wealthy brings a whole different class of crimes to commit, but that’s not generally related to guns.)

3. End our foolish drug laws. Much of our violence is related to illegal drugs. Treat drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem, and that motivating factor goes away. Al Capone didn’t sell beer nuts, after all.

We often hear from the gun control freaks that Europe is a model for good gun laws. Most countries in Europe have strict gun control–the Czech Republic being a shining exception for the moment–and those countries have lower gun violence than America. The difference is not actually that great, especially compared to other parts of the world, but the fact remains that Europe has fewer acts of gun violence than we do. But let’s note that Europe also has the three items that I just proposed. Certainly, it’s in doubt whether the Europeans will be able to afford the first two much longer, but in many cases, the problematic countries have chosen the California approach to government–lots of goodies, paid for by borrowing. Effective work for the first two can be done without requiring deficit spending–provided we are willing to pay for it. The third item would in fact save us money, both in prison and court costs and in expendatures for public health.

My three solutions have the advantage of not infringing on the rights of those who did nothing wrong in the vain hope of restraining those who make a life of doing bad acts. My answers also would show benefits in a variety of areas unrelated to gun violence. They are measured responses to a problem that has been getting better over the last two decades.

Perhaps they lack the quality of breathless bloviating, but I see that as a feature, not a bug.

La Classe È Mobile?

University of California, Davis, Professor Gregory Clark has released a study of social mobility, focusing on class in England, with some reference to other countries, including the United States. He looks in particular at English surnames over a period of the last thousand years. His conclusion is that there is a tendency to regress to the mean, no matter how high or low in social rank a family starts out. That means that the poor tend to float upward over generations to the middle class, while the rich sink into the same.

This should come as no surprise to those of us who read old books. Plato discusses this idea in his dialogues. We’ve also heard the old line about how the first generation builds wealth, the second spends it, and the third returns to mediocrity. It’s interesting to see that the poor tend toward the middle, as well.

The study is detailed, while its conclusions are tentative, but for social policy, we can draw our own:

1. The middle class is not a bad place to be. We’ve told ourselves that being on top is the only prize worth winning, and the truth of that is a matter of debate, but life in the middle can be lived. Population studies tell us that most people are in the middle, anyway, with regard to ability.

2. The study suggests that the efforts of the wealthy to provide opportunities to their children often do no good. The implication is that the children aren’t necessarily born with their parents’ abilities. That latter statement would seem to be true about children born to lower than average parents–often they are born with more potential. This suggests that we should give up on forcing every child to be equal in academic performance. There are basic skills and areas of knowledge that every citizen needs, but when it comes to more advanced levels, children will sort themselves out, and schools should let them. Trade schools after high school would be of much greater advantage to many students, and universities could return to academic pursuits. Schools should provide the opportunity for students to rise to their level of ability and be satisfied with that.

3. Another set of social policies supported here is the combination of a safety net and inheritance taxes. The poor need time to rise to the middle, while the rich will benefit little in useful ways from having wealth passed on to them. (In the latter case, it would be simple to make an exception for family farms or small businesses.)

There is one final point to make. We should know this, but the tail ends of the bell curve are tiny in terms of the number of people in them. Social policy for decades has been aimed at creating a Lake Wobegon world in which all children are above average, but that’s unrealistic. Instead, we end up with something more like Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” a world that weighs down people of ability in the name of equality. We should celebrate ability where we find it–and go looking for it everywhere.

My Fellow Americans. . .

We have heard and are going to hear a lot about money in elections. The Citizens United decision declared that a corporation has the same free speech rights as an individual, a really rich individual. So be it. Money has flooded the political system for a long time. But all the proposals to restrain the influence of wealth on government come from an old view of the world. In the past, a candidate needed money to gain support. Campaign staff had to be paid. Air time had to be bought. Ballots for stuffing boxes had be purchased, and some people had to be bribed.

But no more. These days, anyone who can afford an Internet connection or who is near a public library can be an informed voter, and any candidate with the same access can be effective. The names of candidates can be written on ballots at the day of the election. The campaign can be done entirely on-line.

It’s time for voters to take control of their democracy. With that in mind, I propose a new party, provisionally to be named the Union Party with the motto, E Pluribus Unam. I’ll entertain better names, though.

The guiding principle of this party will be liberty in the small and cooperation in the large. With that in mind, let’s go through the typical list of political matters in this country today, as given by OnTheIssues.org:

Abortion:

Abortions in the first two trimesters will be solely the choice of the pregnant woman without irrelevant tests or burdens. During the third trimester, abortions will only be allowed if the health of the woman is in jeopardy. That determination will be made between her and her doctor. The government health program (see below) will pay for abortions. Other plans may choose to do so or not at their discretion.

Budget and the Economy:

1. Debt is dangerous. Getting out of debt must be a goal of every administration until the debt is gone.

2. Tax rates will be 30% on the highest bracket, 20% on the upper middle, 10% on the lower middle, and 0% on the poor, income levels to be added later as needed. Some variation will be permitted in the upper brackets to achieve debt reduction or other goals.

3. The tax code must be written in English, not Ligature Rouge. Deductions must be eliminated.

Civil Rights:

1. Race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other such categories are part of a person’s nature and are not legitimate for consideration in hiring, in acceptance into schools, in legal matters, or in other similar areas of public concern. That goes both ways, of course.

2. Marriage is a matter for religious institutions to decide. Governments should issue civil unions only that will cover taxes, insurance, finances, and similar.

3. Voting districts should be based on geography and population, not on race or political party affiliation.

Corporations:

1. Corporations will be free to operate, provided that they are honest about the products that they sell and that they can show that their effect on the environment is acceptable.

2. Unions have the right to organize if the workers agree to join and to bargain with employers.

3. Any corporation that gets a bailout from the government will be required to operate according to the best interests of the workers and the community.

Crime and Drugs:

1. Usage of drugs will be legalized, and dealers will be required to label their products honestly.

2. Financial criminals will have to spend their sentences paying back their victims, rather than enjoying a state-funded vacation.

3. Violent criminals will be put away for a long time.

Education:

See my previous articles on this subject. To summarize, class sizes will be reduced, total school size will as well. Add to that a rational funding system–in other words, not property taxes. In addition, children will be required to attend only half a day in public schools. They will be taught civics, mathematics, reading, and critical thinking. Their parents may then choose to educate them for the rest of the day at home, at private schools, or in public schools.

State colleges and universities will provide quality education at a price that everyone can afford. Private schools and for-profit schools may do as they wish, so long as all terms are made clear from the beginning.

This will require funding. That’s life.

Energy and the Environment:

America has large reserves of natural gas, and we grow a lot of corn that can be made into fuel. Those two will be temporary sources until wind, solar, and other types of clean energy are in place. Getting from the former to the latter will be a constant goal and action.

Foreign Policy and Free Trade:

1. Europe must learn to defend itself. America will maintain only such bases as are needed to conduct surveillance of the region.

2. There must be a solution to the Israel-Palestine question–likely a three-state solution. If any party in this dispute is unwilling to negotiate, the United States will withdraw support.

3. Iran and China are primary threats to our security for various reasons. Our policy will be one of containment and reduction.

4. North Korea is a pissant little adolescent state. Anything that they throw at us will be paid for twentyfold. No more aid will go to them unless they promise total obedience.

5. Worker rights and the enviroment will be a part of all trade deals, but free trade is the ultimate goal.

Gun Control:

I’ve also written about this, but in principle, in small arms, it’s not the device that matters; it’s the action. The only restrictions will be on those deemed a danger to others after due process of the courts. Cities may also require that weapons remain concealed within their borders and may restrict discharges to self defense shootings. Property owners may do as they wish on their own land, but businesses are public accomodations, as are colleges. Children may use firearms under the supervision of an adult.

Healthcare:

The government will create a national system for anyone who wants to participate–call it Medicare, since we already have that in place. Medicare will be able to negotiate payments the way that any other health company can. Fees will be determined on the basis of a person’s income. Private companies may continue to operate, and people may choose them as desired.

Immigration:

Anyone who wishes to become an American and who will adopt our values of responsibility and freedom is welcome.

Social Security:

Social Security taxes will be assessed on all income, not capped as they currently are.

Technology:

One valid use of public funds is to promote the development of new technologies. This applies particularly to energy and to space. We must have active programs of research, development, and exploration. Corporations, schools, and private individuals may also do their own work, since competition is healthy in this field.

Welfare:

The goal of welfare must be to make the recipient self sufficent. Programs that create dependency will be eliminated. We must be willing to help, but we must also require growth on the part of those who are helped.

That’s the list, more or less. I’ll gladly consider any other items that my readers wish to offer. Of course, one elected official alone won’t be able to accomplish all of this, but much can be done even so. A president, for example, could get cooperation from Democrats for some of this and Republicans for other parts. A president could speak to the people regularly, creating a lot of pressure on Congress. So can anyone else elected on this platform.

With all of this in mind, if nominated, I will run. If elected, I will serve. I will continue to write in any case. Who’s with me?

Class Action

The other day, I heard an interview with Eva Moskowitz, an educator in New York City who runs and avocates for charter schools. She was defending the article that she wrote for the Washington Post. Have a look at what she wrote:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cost-of-small-class-size/2011/03/03/AFPGSkkB_story.html

Her argument, as far as I can understand it, is that when we limit class sizes, we also limit the number of gadgets that we can give to each child.

Let’s run the numbers. She wants each student to have a laptop and a Kindle. The cheapest laptops run around $250, and a Kindle, without the 3-G option, goes for $140. It’s difficult to figure out how much Smart Boards cost, largely because there are the typical profusion of needless features and associated accessories to factor in, but $2,000 looks like a reasonable estimate for the low end.

This makes a minimum cost of around $400 per student, plus the costs for the classroom devices. We’re not taking into account the upgrades. Inevitably, once we become addicted to some new product of technology, the dealer comes around with the latest thrill that we must have. And what about the prices of the books that will be loaded on the Kindles? E-books run anywhere from free to fuggetaboutit, just like physical books, but not all books are equal. The good ones are the spendy ones.

Compare those costs to teacher salaries. According to the New York City Department of Education (http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/EDDB658C-BE7F-4314-85C0-03F5A00B8A0B/0/salary.pdf), the base annual salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $45,000. The maximum that a teacher can earn by gaining degrees and years of teaching, is $100,000 a year. That means that an individual teacher is worth between 112 and 250 laptop-Kindle combinations.

Moskowitz doesn’t let us know one embarassing fact: her own salary. Juan Gonzalez, reporter for the New York Daily News, tells us that she receives more than $300,000 per annum (http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-02-26/local/17916998_1_charter-schools-salaries-eva-moskowitz). It’s good to be an administrator.

But so much for the numbers. We can tweak the balance sheet in a variety of ways to argue that one solution is more economically effective than another. The real question here is what we mean by education.

Did you notice in Moskowtiz’s argument that increasing class size will allow “access to a catalogue of lesson plans and videotaped lessons”? This looks a lot like outsourcing teaching. Think of how much money we could save by buying lessons from a “master teacher” in Freedonia (who gets paid the exorbitant figure of a dollar a day) and then showing them to all the students of a city who will be gathered together in a warehouse. My objection to this is that we are taking the humanity out of school. Certainly, we have to afford buildings and supplies and teachers. What are our priorities?

What we need in our school system is teachers. A teacher is someone who has the skill of imparting knowledge and (more importantly) wisdom to students. That’s not something that can be measured on a scale. Education is a human process: the human interactions that happen in a classroom that isn’t crowded. My priority in this age of technological inflation is to preserve what makes us human. Moskowitz obviously has other goals.

Is Our College Students Learning?

A few weeks ago, a friend passed along this piece of disturbing information:

http://chronicle.com/article/Are-Undergraduates-Actually/125979/

The study that is the subject of the article claims that 45% of American college students show no demonstrable learning in standardized assessments after two years of “study.” As a college English instructor and aspiring professional writer, this hits me in my wallet and my soul.

Part of the problem may be that college is simply not for everyone. As shocking as it is to say it, neither, perhaps, is literacy. Throughout the time of human writing, only a small portion of the population could read. Of course, most had no time to read, even had they the skill, while our society gives us some measure of leisure time. In my own classes, it’s been my impression that only about a quarter of my students are fully engaged in the process and another quarter are at least willingly doing the work. The rest are only there to get a piece of paper that will declare them to be graduates.

Many see this as deplorable and likely my fault–college adminstrators, for example–but I can’t agree. College is a self-selective experience. Broadly speaking, college students get out of their classes exactly however much they want to get, usually depending on how much they’re willing to put into the class.

And the material that we study is not comprehensible to everyone. I can often teach anyone who is willing to learn, but there are limits. Some students just can’t get it. I’m not addressing the general population, but I suspect that I would find the same results outside of academe: Some would understand and some would not. What would the numbers be? I guess about half and half, but that may just be because I’m aware of the bell curve of I.Q. distributions.

Raising that point brings along with it one of my complaints about the study. It’s statistics about a standardized test. While it may be possible to analyze human beings with statistical methods, I find most such studies to be excessively reductive. We’re too complex to play games of twenty (or seventy) questions with our minds. (See the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory for an example of such dubious tools of analysis.) I reject standardized tests as means of evaluating learning. A standardized test only tells me how well the taker can take standardized tests.

If it were up to me, there would be no grading at all in college, with the possible exception of giving an assessment of honors, pass, or fail whenever the student decides to leave the experience. The humanities are not subjects that lend themselves to quantitative analysis, and as a teacher of writing and literature, I have no idea how to give percentage grades for the work of my students. If I’m assigning points out of a hundred on an essay, that forces me to attend only to things that are quantifiable–errors in commas, spellings, etc. Such details are important, but they are the lowest level of writing skills. I grade essays based on the Trivium of the classical Liberal Arts: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Only grammar (or an artificially mechanical form of the others) can be assessed numerically, and even then, that method is a blunt instrument. It took me a few years of teaching to come to this position. I had been mostly to schools that grade by points, and just about all of my colleagues have followed the same system. The method that I use now comes in part from what I saw in use at my graduate alma mater, St. John’s College.

All of this leads me to the question of what ought to be taught in college. What we need to do is divide college into the two parts that it actually has at the moment. The popular impression of any level of education seems to be that its purpose is to be a trade school. Most go to school to learn skills that will be useful in their future careers. We do need to impart job skills to students, but that’s training, not education. I’d like to see trade schools separated from colleges, where the focus would be exclusively on training. The skills required to perform most jobs could be learned in two years, if that long.

But what about college? The purpose of a college is to provide an education, in other words, the experience that makes us good citizens and developed human beings.

Yes, I’m making something of an elitist statement here, but look at what an education gives. An educated person learns the liberal arts, the subjects that free people (the nobility, through most of human history) were expected to know. Today, this means world history, composition, the best of literature, the basics of the sciences and mathematics, a general understanding of world cultures and religions, at least two modern languages and one classical language, and political theory and government. It is for the best also to gain an appreciation of music, philosophy, painting, architecture, sculpture, and other such subjects. Ideally, such a person will also gain physical skills, what the Greeks called gymnastic. (You knew that I’d bring in shooting somewhere, didn’t you?)

All of what I just described is at best tangential to one’s ability to perform most jobs. In my experience, such learning actually makes many jobs more difficult. If we can agree that the portion that covers American government ought to be taught at the trade schools as well, I see no reason for most jobs to have a college degree (understood properly) as a prerequisite. In fact, we could teach basic good citizenship in high school, if such schools can be run effectively.

The problem with my idea here is that no one who cares only about money can find a way of assessing the value of my kind of college. To that person, I say that money is like grammar. It’s a necessary, but not sufficient condition for the good life, and I refuse to reduce humanity to merely that order of existence.

Education Reform

I come to this subject after having spent the last twelve years of my life as a teacher, both in high school and college.  American elementary and secondary education is failing.  Surely I don’t have to convince my readers of this.  What I do hope to do here is to offer a way of making schools work.

But first, I must explain why someone like me with libertarian leanings supports the massive government program of public education.  The fundamental reason is simple:  I like my television.  Think about that for a moment.  My television is worth some money, probably several hundred dollars.  It’s something that a robber would like to steal.  I support public education in part because educated people tend not to commit the kind of property crimes that would put my house and my family at risk.  (Yes, to commit really grand crimes, one needs an MBA or a law degree, but that’s another matter.)

Beyond that, I love my country and my liberties.  A representative democracy cannot function without educated citizens.  I hear far too many yahoos either running for office or discussing their voting plans for me to believe that our system of government is safe.  In 2004, I worked for the Department of Human Services, assessing the eligibility of clients for food stamps, Medicaid, and welfare.  We were obliged to offer the clients the opportunity to register to vote.  One woman took the card and then said, “What, is there an election this year?”  Another client said that he needed to register so that he could vote for George W. Bush, this despite the fact that he was there to apply for food stamps.  Democracy cannot work with voters like that.

Now I have to make a claim that will shock or annoy some.  Desegregation is one of the causes of our failing school system.  Stay with me for my explanation.  The goal was laudable, but what happened was that white families with means left urban schools for the suburbs, taking their taxes with them.  According to reports that I have heard recently, many schools in this country have de facto segregation, despite years of efforts to integrate.  Students travel by bus far from their homes, making it difficult for low-income parents to attend meetings at the school, and the schools have well over a thousand students.

So what is the answer? Here’s my educational reform program:

1. Funding

Funding currently comes primarily from property taxes. This means that areas with wealth have good schools, while those who live in poor communities don’t. The money for education in a state needs to be pooled into one fund, then distributed on the basis of student population only. Each student is worth X dollars; multiply by the number of students to get the amount of money given to that school.

2. Student Numbers

I have seen too many schools that are simply warehouses for children, and I’ve taught classes with close to forty students. Effective teaching cannot happen generally with that many people crowded together. The change that I propose is that elementary classes will have no more than fifteen students; secondary classes no more than twenty. No school will have more than four hundred students.

3. Grade Levels

Continuing the previous reform, schools will have only four grades. Primary schools will be first through fourth; middle will be fifth through eighth, and high will be ninth through twelfth.

4. School Location

While diversity is interesting, effective schools require community. In addition, too many schools bring together groups that are in conflict outside the school, and that conflict isn’t left at the door. To create a functioning community around the school, no child will go to one that is farther than two miles from the child’s home.

5. Teacher Salaries

Teachers spend years earning undergraduate and often graduate degrees and go through continual training after that. They deserve to be paid according to their level of education and experience. This means that teacher pay will be in line with other professionals of equivalent education.

6. Curriculum

No Child Left Behind is an abomination for many reasons, but the worst is that it claims education to be the kind of thing that can be tested by multiple choice. Schools must teach reading, writing, and mathematics, but above all, critical thinking is the main subject that all have to learn. Any other subject is secondary and would be meaningless without that one skill. If we must have tests, they will be of the kind that can assess critical thinking, namely essay examinations.

Will all of this cost money? Of course it will. But this is not merely throwing money at the problem, as so many critics of public education claim. It’s spending money intelligently. These reforms would attract good teachers to the classroom, give students more individual attention, and focus on what good citizens need to know and be able to do. I didn’t discuss music, PE, foreign languages, art, and other such subjects, and while I see those as important, I think that they can be added while and when the reforms work.

School boards and education departments seem to like something new, so here’s my proposal for reform. It can’t be worse than what is being done currently.