Friday, June 22, 2007

The perfect public high school

I have written a lot of posts about public education and how I think it can be improved. Here is my vision of the perfect public high school.

Every student has the opportunity to be successful. To me that means that any student who works diligently in a class should be able to earn at least a B. That doesn't mean that classes should be made easier. It does mean that expectations should be clear, teachers should make clear to students what they will be expected to learn, they should teach that, and then they should test that. It also means that if a student can't earn at least a B by working diligently, he or she doesn't belong in that class. And that means that classes have to be set up for kids with different abilities. If a student can't possibly earn a B in my regular American History class, then that student belongs in my basic class.

To me, every student having the opportunity to be successful also means having a good extracurricular program which enables students to excel in something that they're really good at. It might be football or hockey, it might be in music, or it might be in speech or drama.

Every teacher in my perfect school is constantly working to be the best he or she can be and to improve. The teachers know that if they are one of the best teachers in their departments, that they will be a valued member of that faculty, and they will have job security, regardless of how long they've been at that school. They know that if they get lazy and decide to coast, they will be in danger of losing their jobs. They also get paid a reasonable salary because they have a union negotiating for them.

The teachers are using the most effective methods for teaching their students because colleges of education and workshops present only those methods that have been shown to be the best by research. They have not been taught methods based purely on theory that are based on somebody's ideological agenda.

The administrators in my school are administrators because because they were the best teachers in their schools. They are NOT administrators because they didn't like it in the classroom, or because they simply wanted to make more money. They are the best of the best, and each one of them teaches one class so they can keep in touch with what is really going on in their school.

Every student makes a reasonable effort to be successful. I'm not talking about doing hour after hour of homework like that expected in places like KIPP schools. But I am talking about students doing those basic simple assignments that are expected in so many classes. There are students who sluff off now and then, and once in awhile a student gets an F in a class. But they know that if it becomes clear that they won't do what is necessary to pass a class, they will be taken out of that class. And they know that if they do this in more than one class, they will be out of that school. Because of that knowledge, it rarely happens.

Every student is also under control when it comes to behavior. That doesn't mean that the students are all a bunch of little angels. That doesn't mean that there are no students who cut up in class or who talk too much from time to time. It does mean that students know that if they don't at least try to control their behavior, the teacher has the power to kick them out of class and the principal has the power to kick them out of school. Once again, because they know that--in other words because they know there are limits--drastic measures by teachers and principals are rarely necessary.

You might notice that I don't have anything about parents in my vision of the perfect public high school. There is no doubt that parents are important, but parents cannot be controlled by public policy. Everything in my perfect public school can be.


Anonymous Betty said...

Your perfect school sounds awesome. Part of your plan reminds me of private school. Students know that they have to do their best or they are asked to leave the school. This includes their behavior. It is amazing what students can do with clear expectations.

6/23/2007 9:14 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

I love the part about administrators having to teach at least one class and the fact that they were "the best of the best", and not just someone who got tired of the classroom.

I also like the idea of removing kids who don't perform or who are disruptive. That's one of the things I loved the most about your book.

6/23/2007 11:52 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Betty, you're right about it sounding like a private school. If people want public schools to compete with private schools, it seems to me that we should have an even playing field.

And Mrs. Bluebird, thank you for reading my book! I hope you enjoyed it.

6/24/2007 7:44 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"The administrators in my school are administrators because because they were the best teachers in their schools. "

Slight comment here. I'm sure at least some of the administrators would maintain that adminstration is a separate skill. I might be inclined to agree, after all, the best players don't necessarily make the best coaches or front office managers. I could see where it would be worthwhile that they do teach, but not that they be the best. Actually, they might be more difficult if they're the best, and can't understand why everyone doesn't teach as well as them.

But, nice vision. Having a vision is an important part of achieving it.

6/25/2007 8:29 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

It's Liz from I Speak of Dreams.

I want to draw your attention to two blog posts.

One is by Michael DC Bowen, who blogs as Cobb, reflecting on NCLB and education.

The other is by TMAO, who writes Teaching in the 408. TMAO's blog motto is
We must reject the ideology of the "achievement gap" that absolves adults of their responsibility and implies student culpability in continued under-performance. The student achievement gap is merely the effect of a much larger and more debilitating chasm: The Educator Achievement Gap. We must erase the distance between the type of teachers we are, and the type of teachers they need us to be.

The post I'd like to draw your attention to is this one in which he comments on KIPP schools--particularly KIPP schools' attrition rates.

What do you think about these two posts?

6/25/2007 8:53 AM  
Anonymous denever said...

"To me that means that any student who works diligently in a class should be able to earn at least a B."

Is this part of grade inflation? A C used to be average or satisfactory. A B indicated good work, i.e., better than average. An A indicated excellent work. Expecting everyone who works diligently to be capable of better-than-average work strikes me as somewhat Lake Woebegone-ish, and booting anyone who does merely average work out of a regular history class seems unnecessarily punitive.

6/25/2007 9:46 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, thanks for your support! You certainly have a point about administrating and teaching involving different skills, but I would still argue that generally speaking, the best teachers would make good administrators.

Denever, if setting up classes so that students who work diligently are able to earn at least a B is grade inflation, then I plead guilty. But from what I've seen, going all the way back to when I was in school, there have been very few C students who work diligently. Generally, they make some effort, but they're inconsistent. In other words, I don't think diligence = average. And I would definitely not kick someone out of my regular American History class if they were working hard and earning a C, but I would give them the option of moving to my basic class where they could be more successful. I have had kids in that situation who wanted to remain in my regular class, and I respected them for that. But I also believe they would have learned more in basic.

And Liz, dogonnit, it looks like you just gave me a homework assignment. I will try to be diligent about it!

6/25/2007 12:31 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Liz, I want to say a little bit about TMAO. I think that TMAO is probably worth his weight in gold as a teacher. He exudes passion for his job, and I'll bet he works his backside off. But as I'm sure you can tell, our philosophies differ. In fact, my first introduction to TMAO was calling him an idiot; something I later regretted and apologized for.

I see the student as being the most important person in his or her own learning. I see my role as doing everything I can to help that student learn, but I don't see myself as being powerful enough to make that happen unless it is something that the student wants. In the end, the student will have to do the learning. I can certainly try to do things to motivate the student to want to learn, but every student has free will. I can't MAKE them do anything, and I have no desire to force something on them that they don't want.

It seems to me that TMAO puts nearly all of the onus of student learning on the teacher. Despite my respect and admiration for him, I completely disagree with that. I believe that for me to say that the student's learning is all up to me would be a little arrogant and show a lack of respect for the student as an independent human being. I firmly believe that learning has to be a cooperative effort between student and teacher, but it has to be mostly student.

Regarding what KIPP does, that is not what I am proposing for public high schools. I have no desire to humiliate kids, and I'm not looking for kids to have to do hour after hour of homework or risk being forced out. All I am asking is that kids make a reasonable effort, and that they make an effort to behave appropriately.

6/25/2007 6:19 PM  
Anonymous denever said...

"But from what I've seen, going all the way back to when I was in school, there have been very few C students who work diligently."

Maybe this is a difference in our personal experiences, but in every classroom I've ever been in, there were students who worked to the best of their ability but they simply weren't as bright as the B and A students, so they earned C's (i.e., did average work).

Just out of curiosity, Dennis, does your grading system reflect (at least in part) your view of the amount of effort the student has expended? I ask because that may be the other difference. I know that some teachers take into account how much the student has improved, for instance.

In most of the schools I've attended, the standards for what constituted A, B, and C work were fairly objective. Students who frequently earned A's sometimes got lazy and turned in C work, but C students rarely showed the level of insight and originality in their work that was expected of an A paper or exam.

6/25/2007 8:46 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Denever, I think you've just given me an idea for my next post. I'll lay my whole system out there, and then you can hit me with your best shot. I'll try to get it up here in a day or two.

6/26/2007 3:16 AM  
Blogger Lorne said...

Regarding your comments about administrators, it would indeed be ideal if they were prompted by vision rather than ambition and fear of the classroom.
Unfortunately in my experience as a teacher, their inability to inspire the staff and students lay largely in their blighted motivations for moving into administration.

7/06/2007 10:10 AM  
Anonymous joe said...

nice post and i like it

by hasanjoe182

12/06/2016 12:41 AM  

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