Saturday, October 11, 2014

How to School a Republican

The solutions to Harrisburg’s education crisis are simple. Often we look at complex problems and analyze the multiple challenges the problems present and believe there is only a complex solution to a complicated problem. That is not necessarily true.

A main problem is too many Harrisburg students are leaving high school without the proper knowledge required to enter college or without adequate preparation for employment. This is because schools often pass along failing students until they either reach the age to drop out of school or they graduate them without providing them with the necessary education.

The solution can be achieved by administrative changes. Schools should schedule their basic courses, such as English, Mathematics, and Sciences at the same time for each grade. Each student attends the grade level of each course that is appropriate for each student’s level of achievement. No student is promoted to the next level until proficiency is achieved at the level in which the student is currently enrolled.

Most people excel in a subject and often find another subject more challenging. This system recognizes that. Students who are exceptionally bright in a subject should be promoted more quickly. Holding them back often makes them bored. They often perform worse in a subject where they already understand the material. They may become bored, pay less attention, fail to apply themselves. and thus underachieve.

The key to this system is to not promote students in each subject level before they are ready for the next level. If they can not achieve at a lower level, they are bound to fail at a higher level. Promoting students to levels that are beyond their grasp virtually guarantees they will never catch up. Yet this is what often happens. When a student is promoted to the next grade for all classes yet is deficient in a specific area, that deficiency generally become greater in higher grades.

Students should be assigned to their age appropriate home rooms. This lessens the stigma students face when they are failed a grade. Everyone of the same age is in their age appropriate grade level home room. For example, there might be well be a third grader, in third grade home room, who is in second grade English, third grade Science, and fourth grade Mathematics.

There could be high achievers in specific courses who are several levels ahead. There could be students troubled with some areas who will need extra time. The grade level assignments should be what is appropriate for that student. Every student is different.

In summary, what needs to happen is no student only reaches the next level in a subject before the student is ready for that level.

There are other ways to improve Harrisburg schools that are simple to implement yet more difficult to achieve. The schools need better funding, and those funds need to be spent on improving education. Teacher salaries should be increased. It is hard to attract the best teachers to the schools with the lowest salaries. It is especially hard to encourage our best college students to become teachers when other professions pay much better.

It is interesting to learn the views of others (including policy makers) who live in school districts with higher student achievements whose schools receive more per funds per student.  Some of them, incorrectly in my opinion, argue that the school districts receiving less funds per student who have lower student achievement levels do not deserve to have more funds “wasted” on them. Education seems to be just about the only issue where people look at the problems, see where the difficulties are, and then believe the problems will miraculously improve themselves by neglecting them.

It is true that many Harrisburg students may face more social problems than do many suburban students. Teachers and school administrators alone cannot resolve all these social problems. Yet this should tell us that those with more social problems require more assistance, not less. These are the schools that need more counselors, tutors, and after school programs to further encourage student achievements. If these things do not exist, the alternatives for many students are being on the streets or being home alone.

We need to identify students with learning or social problems and provide them assistance to overcome their troubles. If we do not reach out and help troubled students while they are young, these social problems are very apt to become more costly societal problems in terms of underemployment, crime, etc.

A few decades ago, courts across the nation ruled that the state school funding inequities between richer and poorer school districts were illegal. Pennsylvania found itself on the cutting edge as the courts ruled Pennsylvania’s inequities did not meet the criteria that the courts had found illegal. Since then, the inequities in school funding in Pennsylvania appear to have increased.

There is a current court case that once again is raising the funding inequities in Pennsylvania. It will not surprise me if the courts find Pennsylvania has slid into the realm of illegal inequities. While it may take the actions of courts rather than Pennsylvania citizens acting, this may bring some hope to Harrisburg schools.

A key then will be how that money is spent. Among things needed are improved counseling, nursing, and varied extra-curricular activities for students. Doing this will help address the social problems that face Harrisburg students. Students can learn to rise above their problems. We need teachers, administrators, and counselors who may direct students towards achieving these successes.


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