Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Why Florida Schools Suck, and How to Fix Them

I am completely incensed over the handling of public education in general, and politicos don’t seem to have their acts together on the subject. Constitutional amendments regarding voluntary free pre-school for 4-year-olds or reducing class sizes don’t solve the problems in any way. All are completely missing the point.

Florida public schools are ineffective, and are turning out graduates who are barely literate. If you ask a typical school child what he learned in school, he does not know and cannot explain it. The fact is that if a child cannot explain what he has learned, then he has not learned it, does not know it, and cannot use it, so his "education" was both faulty and wasted. The reasons for such an ineffective educational system are not class size or insufficient pre-school. They are partly the incompetence of teachers induced by principles of tenure, and the fact that students do not spend enough hours per day receiving instruction and studying, or enough months per year learning how to prepare for adult life in the outside world.

Florida public schools do, however, turn out millions of children every day at 2 PM to run the streets, go home unsupervised, and get involved in drugs, sex, and street crimes. Why? Because for the preponderant majority of students there are no parents waiting at home to greet them - those parents have to work for a living and simply cannot be home at 2 PM.

To make matters worse, parents of families in which all adults work must pay exorbitant fees to day care centers that send their kids to school for them, pick the kids up from school for them, and take care of them till parents get home. The fees are around $75 per week during school months, and $140 per week during non-school months. A parent can easily drop $4500 per year to keep a child in day care throughout the year. Most single parents cannot afford that hefty "working parent tax". And that is why there are so many derelict kids running the streets of Florida.

Let us assume that there are 1 million kids in Florida whose parents work, and each parent pays around $3000 year for child care during school months. That means $3,000,000,000 (3 billion) is being spent to take care of kids. That money should be going to the school system instead of to baby sitters, and those kids should be getting a better education for that money.

Am I claiming that schools are nothing more than a baby-sitting service? Yes, I am. Let's face it. If all parents could do a superlative job of educating their children at home, there would be no need for a public education system. And, it is necessary to observe and supervise children in the process, imposing discipline and ensuring the children do not cause or receive injuries. So, being a baby-sitting and education service go hand-in-glove - they are the warp and woof of our system of public education system, and the only real purpose and function of that system.

Therefore, I have a simple proposal for improving the education system that none of the candidates or school boards seem to have any inkling about -

Extend the school day to 11 hours - 7 AM to 6 PM, and do all homework, study, band, football, intramural activities, teaching, eating, rest, and play needed by healthy children during that time. This will abolish "home work". It will allow parents who work the opportunity to be home to send their kids to school, and receive them back from school. And, it is a GOOD idea because if the daily schedule is orchestrated correctly, children will not get bored or over-worked, and they will learn more. School administrators will work teachers 12 hours per day 3 days per week, and two shifts will teach the students. This will give teachers plenty of slack time during the week.

Extend the school week to 6 days, Monday through Saturday. Children do not need an extra day at home to goof off and be useless.

Extend the school year to 11 months, with all schools being closed during the month of August. This will allow parents and children a full month of vacation opportunity, and provide ample time for school renovations if needed. It will also keep the kids occupied gainfully during the months of June and July which are now wasted as far as education is concerned.

Require all teachers to take a sabbatical - a year off every 7 years to learn new techniques new facts about their subjects, tour the world, work some other kind of job, or just get a breather.

Require all teachers to teach students to teach other students, and require all students to pair up with and teach junior students the materials they have already mastered. This will dramatically reduce the work load on teachers, reduce the number of actual teachers needed, and get the kids used to the fact that it is their responsibility to help those younger or less able than themselves, a characteristic badly needed in our communities.

What cannot be seen cannot be controlled. The general public has no idea how well students in classroom, school, or district lots, are doing. That is because their statistics are not broadly visible, and those that are visible are impossible for the typical parent to understand. Thus, the public cannot evaluate or correct teacher and student performance. To fix this, change teacher compensation so that base pay is barely enough for subsistence, and bonuses are earned by statistical results demonstrated by the kids they teach. Each child should be tested for knowledge BEFORE learning a subject, and AFTER learning it. The results should be charted and visible for all to see. If the kids show that they are learning and CAN USE the material in practical ways, then the teachers get a higher rating and earn their bonuses. This system will quickly weed out the incompetent teachers without bias, prejudice, or politics, and tenure will not protect a bad teacher. This educator's pay system will attract the more excellent teachers from other states, for bonuses should bring them $50,000 to $100,000 annual compensation for their skills. Let's be frank about this: schools exist for the students and the society, not to be a convenience for teachers. Public schools should challenge the best teachers to compete hard for the opportunity to teach, and the dregs should be summarily thrown out. With this system, the dregs will leave of their own accord because they simply cannot compete. The entire system will stimulate all teachers to give their jobs the best they have to offer.

Include free school breakfast and lunch for all students, and use only fresh, uncooked, organic nuts, fruit, berries, grains, and vegetables. Instead of paying for expensive cooking equipment, use natural uncooked preparation techniques, and dehydrators to make "unbaked" cookies. Such a diet will not be offensive to any religious or cultural group, for it is the common denominator of all human racial, religious, and cultural groups, and it is HEALTHY. Do not serve meat at schools, but provide vegetable protein sources. Schools can outfit their kitchens with large commercial juicers and feed the children rations of fresh raw organic fruit, berry, vegetable, and nut milk juices twice a day. Meals can included whole bulgar grains that have been soaked overnight to soften them suitably for eating, fresh sprouts, and nuts. The benefits of this kind of food are lowered expense of equipment, improved health, vitality, alertness, and mental acuity of children, and lowered medical bills. Once the system is well established, food costs will normalize to be a little higher than they presently are, but that cost will by far be offset by reduced preparation and healthcare costs. It is important for schools to feed the children and not to allow parents to send food to school with the kids, not to allow the kids to eat at outside places like MacDonald's, for any foods other than the above will be relatively deleterious to the child's health and ability to learn. Furthermore, unless a doctor's statement specifies otherwise, all children should be required to consume one ounce of pure water per two pounds of body weight during the school day. This will help children to remain alert, and it will make them healthier and less susceptible to disease while it improves alimentary functions.

Correct the unsightly appearance of school children by establishing and sticking to high standards of grooming and attire: no long hair, moustaches, or beards for boys, and no baggy pants, short shorts, untied shoes, low-cut or revealing blouses, unnatural hair colors, "weird" hairdos, or visible body piercing other than ear rings. I am not suggesting children be "uniform", but that they be "united" in looking and dressing attractively rather than like ghouls, skateboard bums, or people "on the make". They are being prepared for life "out in the world", and they should be expected to dress and look in school similar to what is acceptable in the business world, and pleasing to prospective employers. Their fashion should not be a source of distraction to other students. If students want to "stand out and be noticed", then they should do it with scholastic (academic, sport, etc) performance, not by acting or looking salacious, gothic, beachy, and so on. Aside from practical rules like these, teachers have iron-fisted control over whether a student is allowed in class with a particular "look", and the school should provide smocks and hair coverings that students who come to school with unacceptable clothing are required to wear. All unacceptable items of jewelry (nose, eyebrow, and other piercings) that are visible should be confiscated and destroyed, as a matter of both policy and practice. The state should supply standard uniforms and haircuts to any students whose parents cannot or will not send their children to school looking decent.

Allow all students to participate in ongoing school projects that are commercial enterprises geared toward raising money to defray school expenses. Examples are for-pay services that really do compete against similar services in the community that might cost more money. This allows the community itself to benefit from and inexpensive source of labor. It also allows the students to deploy their talents, education, and group skills in serving "customers", thereby preparing them for a "real" job outside of school. And, just as important, it actually will reduce taxes while it does good for the community. The schools should also involve students in similar, balanced group projects that provide charitable services for the needy in the community. This will teach students to have a life balance between self-maintenance, self-improvement, and helping others. School children should spend part of their educational time getting real-life work experience under school supervision in areas of manufacture (making their own computers and furniture), farming (producing the food served at school), and business arts. School factories, farms, and workshops will be an enormous boon to American society, economically and socially.

Stop putting stupid or misbehaving students in the same schools and programs as the smart students. Take a hint from the highly successful classical education system in Germany, and direct stupid students into vocational schools rather than academic schools. When children misbehave incorrigibly and cannot be corrected early, they should be sent to schools for misfits so they won’t sap the supervisory and teaching resources the better students so desperately need and will more prodigiously and beneficially use. City schools should not have “honors” classes. The entire school should be devoted to “honors” or advanced academics, and the students who don’t qualify for honors classes should be sent to completely different school intended for the lower achievers. This will allow the brighter, better-behaved students to get a better education, and the relatively stupid or miscreant students to get an adequate education.

It does not take a genius to see the benefits of the above plan. Children will be healthier, smarter, better balanced, more presentable to the community, and better prepared to enter the work force. Because they will learn so much more in less calendar time, they will be able to graduate from what we consider to be "high" school by the age of 14. This will chop 3 years of expenses off the state-sponsored "free" public school education students now get, a savings of about 25% of the present cost Furthermore, it will let the students become adept at training their juniors, a skill much needed in industry.

Personally, I think students should graduate at 14 and then be forced to choose either an apprenticeship program (if academically inept) or an academic program of 2 to 4 years to prepare them for university or a school of special skills like computer programming, lab technician, and so on, and that these also should be state-sponsored, but allowed to earn money in competition against normal commercial businesses. This will drive up the levels of expertise employers have reason to expect from graduate job applicants, and it will lower the cost of lower skill activities. It will demand that the work force in the state be elevated in skill level and make them far more competitive and effective at their jobs.

After all, isn't that what school is all about?


Unknown said...

This sounds ridiculous. By calling some students stupid you are just reinforcing how they already feel inside and stopping their development right there. These kids don't need more adults or society looking down on them and telling them they can't do it so just settle for less.And how do you measure intelligence anyways? What needs to stop it's the requirement of knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life at 18. It's too young, hormones are crazy and most probably elementary and middle school screwed them up somehow. They need a big break before embarking in such big decision.

Bob Hurt said...

Any Len, 25% of the population is too stupid to graduate from high school. But the law mandates that they go to school, doesn't it. Stupidity is a GENETIC CONDITION (though I admit a few bourbons will make any smart person stupid for a while). No amount of education will cure it. Stupid children don't evaluate relative importances accurately, so they cannot help acting stupid or making stupid decisions, followed by stupid actions. Educating them takes a monumental amount of resources, so the only practical way to deal with them lies in vocational training commensurate with their intelligence, and programs of eugenics to discourage stupid parents from procreating.

FYI, you measure intelligence with any number of standardized IQ tests.

All people need to become broadly exposed to people and situations and tested and coached in a proper direction by wise parents and educators. They need to pick something gainful to do when they graduate, master it, and move on or up to another challenge. In due course they should settle on some challenging career as a life work.

I believe the states can educate children through a bachelor degree by age 17 and a PhD by age 21. THEN they can take a year or so to line up the right job.

The key to doing this right lies in EARLY discipline (and practical, responsible supervision) at home to apply themselves diligently to learning and applying what they learn, and developing a devotion to some art form or mental exercise.

I believe parents should not have children till their late 20's to early 30's because young parents lack the education and experience to rear children properly. I believe society should allow procreation only by married couples.

Bob Hurt said...

By the way, please tell me how calling people stupid arrests their development. The stupid gravitate to crime and welfare abuse naturally because they cannot compete academically against average and bright students. Even if identifying them as stupid discourages them, that does not change their stupidity. Society has developed institutions for those so feckless they cannot or will not run their lives sensibly.

This is not an issue to treat with "political correctness." Society should not hide the stupidity or high intelligence of students. All school grades should become public knowledge immediately. That motivates students to do their best.