A bit of a departure from recent posts, but an important topic considering how our education system is being defunded and turned into a business enterprise rather than an institution of free learning. Our children, thank to NCLB are not being taught how to learn, but how to take tests. Finally, and one of the biggest problems, is our unfortunate tendency to group students regardless of ability and force them all into lesson plans and study patterns that don't recognize their abilities.
My wife explained her solution to this problem. To give a brief background, she has a BS in Early Childhood Education with a teaching certificate. She works in the public school systems and, largely because of that experience, is a passionate advocate for home-schooling (when people who work in our school system recommend home schooling children, you know there are concerns).
The first part of her solution is to screen children at a young age (during kindergarten, for example), and place them together based on their abilities. This allows the more advanced students to learn at their pace while those who struggle would be able to have more time. I should mention that this hinges on completely throwing out NCLB. the damage that this bill has done is hard to express. Anyway, dividing children by ability rather than by age would benefit all of them. They would be able to learn at their own pace, with peers at a similar level, and lessons would be more attuned to their needs rather than being a one-size-fits-all approach.
Second, achievement would be individually based using a portfolio system. There would be benchmarks levels in each area (social studies, science, literature, literacy, math, etc). Each student would be evaluated in these areas based on the work produced in their portfolio and would be measured by their gains. That does not mean that they must meet a specific level, but that they showed gains from where they started. Again, this is designed to make the standard achievable for every student according to their ability.
Finally, groups of students would work on a scaffolding principle, meaning slightly more advanced students would be placed with students slightly lower in order to encourage growth in the less advanced students. Each subject would evaluated separately, so a child that excels at math but struggles with writing is not forced to be in the same group for both subjects. They will be able to get the help they need in one area and be challenged to exceed in another.
The best thing about this idea is that is negates the need for the massive expansion in oversight and administration. Teachers should not be held accountable for their students as they are in the current system because those children may not be capable of meeting the standards. Under President Bush, and persisting today, is the goal of 100% literacy by next year, 2012. If that goal is not met schools will be closed, teachers laid off, and more students pushed into private and charter for-profit schools. This is, of course, the desired outcome of the legislation as it is the vision of the GOP to have every insititution except the military privatized.
This plan would free schools from excessive regulations (something to GOP often talks about in the business world, but never in education) and allow them to teach principles, procedures, and practices that are more effective at educating children than testing and accountability. This plan would not force out "low-performing" schools because no school would be compared to any other, nor would any student be compared to any other. It would be individualized education. It would likely save money since it cuts down on the size of adminstrations, and it would encourage smaller learning groups, even in the too-large classrooms we have today.
It's radical but doable, and necessary in many ways. Our education system is failing us, and will soon be in the hands of private companies who will provide fewer services at a higher rate. Remember, cutting education funding doesn't eliminate those costs, it just shifts them to the people. If people are forced to pay for the education of their children, and they can't afford it, or can't afford much, their children are at a significant disadvantage despite their intelligence. This system would correct that, and put all children in control of their own education