There is a crisis in American Public Education. Students are now being tested to the point of adult level stress as early as 3rd grade, and there is no end in sight. It does not matter to the schools whether the students have special needs or lack English skills because they just arrived in the country. If you want to read both sides of the argument click here.
There has been a sea change since the passage of No Child Left behind. Not testing by teachers but high stakes testing that determine whether a student will graduate with a degree or whether a school will be taken over by the state. All the fun has been sucked out of reading and writing. Gone are the teachable moments arrived is rigidity in curriculum. It is not just the big end of the year test that our education system is burdened by. In addition to the teacher quizzes and tests that are used to determine grades there is benchmarking, pre-tests and post-tests. Then comes the inevitable classes on how to take a test.
The traditional whipping boy for this crisis is the teachers. But can you expect a teacher with 25 students in a class with diverse learning styles and needs to prepare everyone for these high stakes tests. Instead of demonizing teachers let’s help them. There are two simple answers to this crisis. When I mean simple I mean common sense. It will not be a one year turn around but there is potential for a steady turnaround throughout the country in the short term and tremendous turnaround in five to seven years.
We all know the old saying about education. It is the three R’s. Reading writing and arithmetic. That old saying held up for a long time. I remember my 7th grade math teacher saying, “you will be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions whole numbers and decimals.” You know arithmetic. I would like to propose a fourth R: Ratio. Simply stated the number of adults to children in a classroom. Click here to see the trends in US classroom ratio. That is right. We need more adults in the classroom. Whether this adult is a para professional, assistant teacher or local volunteer the difference would be tangible. I do not have to make much of an argument here it is simple if we drop ratio from 25:1 to say 12:1 there would be measurable progress in both the classroom and the results of high stakes testing. More qualified adults in the class means students get more of the attention they need.
The second solution is to provide our children with free full day programs for three and four year olds. The results would be fantastic. I can tell you that my children attended full time pre-school at a private school and the results are fantastic. They are way ahead of students who either only get half days or do not attend school until kindergarten.
These proposals would cost money. Simply stated there is money it is just being allocated to different programs, mostly defense. A budget is a moral document that reflects the values of a society, or at least the government. Again the number one expenditure in the US is defense. By moving money to simple educational initiatives it would lift the country out of its’ educational crisis. This money could be used to train people at community colleges to fill the void of assistants in classrooms. Further universal preschool for our kids would lead to more teachers on the payroll. Combining the assistants and new teachers there would be increased tax revenue.
These are serious reforms. These are not wishful thinking or pie in the sky thoughts. Increasing ratio and providing three and four year olds with full time classes will increase student achievement.
This article was written by Daniel Mahan, a writer for dusk magazine.