A plan for the Dayton Public Schools

Saying that Dayton Public Schools are second worst in the state is similar to saying that all Muslims are terrorists. It’s great for headlines, it’s great for political speeches, and putting the district “under review” isn’t going to help. What will help is real change.

The first thing to realize is that Stivers doesn’t need help. It’s a Dayton Public School that’s working. Is it a model for the rest of the district- yes and no. Is there a single silver bullet like “mo money” or “better teachers” that will solve the problems- no. There is no Walmart of educational solutions where you can shop and buy 100 new reading specialists to improve your third grade reading scores- they just aren’t available.

And, a warning – this post is sure to piss off a lot of union teachers. Not because I don’t think you work hard, or aren’t paid enough, but that I think it’s time your profession owns up to the reality that your work schedule was designed around an agricultural economy that is so far back in the history books that if it had a copyright it would have been in the public domain before the Internet and project Gutenberg came along.

To briefly summarize why our schools aren’t competitive, we have to look at what began the great slide to the bottom. “Busing for integration” might have worked if it had a fixed ecosystem and the students didn’t have the option of opting out either by moving or going to private schools (now compounded by the option of just as mediocre publicly funded charter schools). Racial segregation was replaced by economic segregation- and in every study known to man, there is a direct, incontrovertible relationship between poverty and poor school performance. We’re not going to get more wealthy smart kids moving back into the district anytime soon- even if we stop letting outsiders buy their way into Stivers (which is a dirty little secret).

So the question becomes how to change the system to work better for poor kids than for better well off kids? How do you nurture children better on a part time basis? First step, you move to a full time basis. This is the heretical statement that is the key to making a real change. It’s the realization that you can’t half ass anything and expect different results.

Here are the three changes that must be made, and there isn’t anyone with the balls to say or do it, but anything less, will not change outcomes:

–End the 180-day school year.

For comparison: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/politics/educatio/barr2f.htm

Japan 243 New Zealand 190
West Germany 266-240 Nigeria 190
South Korea 220 British Columbia 185
Israel 216 France 185
Luxembourg 216 Ontario 185
Soviet Union 211 Ireland 184
Netherlands 200 New Brunswick 182
Scotland 200 Quebec 180
Thailand 200 Spain 180
Hong Kong 195 Sweden 180
England/Wales 192 United States 180
Hungary 192 French Belgium 175
Switzerland 191 Flemish Belgium 160
Finland 190

What have all these other countries done? Made school more like what a real job is like. Prepared kids for a world where you don’t get three months off in the summer. Note, most of these countries also afford their people more than the two weeks of paid vacation which is becoming a pipedream to many Americans.

More days in school isn’t the only part of the equation, it’s about what they do in school, how they approach the educational process. Common-core skills are more like real-life skills- being able to synthesize answers and solutions- through collaboration, research and analysis. These real-life skills often are best learned in what we’ve called extra-curricular or arts and sports programs. Unfortunately with transportation schedules currently ruling and limiting our time with students outside of the normal school day- many of these enrichment programs were cut. And let’s face it- teachers are the only ones who have a 6-hour designated work day with a 180-day year qualifying as a “full time job.”

It’s time to reexamine why our school day doesn’t equal the parents’ work day- not just for adding extra-curriculars- but for the fact that child care for impoverished homes isn’t a luxury- it’s a necessity. Along with the longer year- comes the longer day. It’s time for a 9-5 minimum school day.

The schedule is also critical- year-round schools show much less drop off, the dreaded summer slide goes away. Why a district in “academic emergency” isn’t on a full-year schedule as the first step is beyond comprehension. So, a longer school year (on a year-round schedule), with longer school days and and the reintroduction of the arts- sports, the extracurricular activities that made school worth going to, are key to making positive change happen.

All this costs money of course, but so do drop-outs who will be a burden to society for the rest of their lives by being unable to compete, to earn, to stay out of trouble. The costs of unprepared graduates also costs in the form of remedial courses at the college level, where costs are the responsibility of the student and their families- or, through more money in government grants and assistance.

We already know the effects of poverty on education, we pay for it by supplying meals to all Dayton Public School students “free of charge” (paid for by the taxpayers) because these are often the only meals these kids get. By extending the school day, and the school year- we may see better chances for poor parents to shift child care expenses to being able to cut food insecurity out even more.

We also have to look at how we’re educating kids. More and more, it’s become a matter of teaching to the tests requiring huge expenditures on new course materials driven by a mega business in educational materials that lobbies for “standards” that are ever changing. It’s time to get off this merry-go-round and realize that the world has changed, and that anything you want to learn about is available for free, on the internet. The text book is dead, and the fancy solutions that they are offering as rentals is another educational fad- driven by dollars that are there to be sucked out of government by the industiral-educational machine.

It’s absolutely critical that we learn to teach using the age-old Socratic method.

Socratic method (also known as method of elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.

This is what the “common core” is- a branded and packaged version of education.

Give the kids access to a digital reader- and there are tens of thousands of free books available via Project Gutenberg and others, that are perfectly capable of being used as reading texts. Books were written before 1923 that were worth reading. We read The Scarlet Letter in High School and it’s just as appropriate today as it was then- but we had to buy our copy. That’s no longer necessary if you have the technology in place.

Part of the common-core skill set should include researching and writing your own textbooks. The skills of adding to Wikipedia, building websites and online communities is critical for future knowledge workers- but we’ve not incorporated these skills into the curriculum- because we’re too busy working on jumping though hoops- instead of creating our own challenges. In the extended school day, school year- part of it should include writing your own books, creating your own math tests, devising your own chemistry experiments, writing your own music- because these are the real world skills you were supposed to gain under ANY educational framework- and have been sorely missed by all industrialized educational systems.

There is one other realization that must be made- and that is that all of our kids aren’t in homes that are fit for living in. Either because of extreme poverty, violence, addiction, special needs, Dayton has a population that is under incredible duress, where school is the only sane place in their young lives. It’s time to have a residential/boarding school as one of the options in the educational process. Either for short-term, or long-term students, to remove them from toxic influences. I’d recommend converting the former Marine Reserve Station on Gettysburg into a campus for kids who need more love and protection than most. An attempt was made to open one in Cincinnati- and failed. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea or impossible. It just means we’d be innovators like the Wright Brothers- because everyone knew they were crazy and man couldn’t fly.

Because we’re still stuck with a charter school system that requires Dayton Public to breast feed- one of the things that makes all these things difficult is that kids aren’t connected to neighborhoods anymore. One option that should be investigated is to bus kids back to the closest neighborhood school for the extended after-school programming- the arts, sports, coding and homework time after the “conventional” school day is done. This also allows parents and community to get involved in their children’s programming for tutoring and coaching. something the random distributed system we have now isn’t allowing for. Research has proven that parental involvement is a critical step in improving schools- but with current distribution of kids randomly throughout the district- it’s hard to form hard community and neighborhood bonds. Ideally, we’d move away from spending so much on diesel fuel attempting to “balance” an unequal system- but, for now, we’re sort of stuck with the system we have. Emerson Academy in South Park, a charter school, has a high percentage of neighborhood kids- and still doesn’t have the community as involved in the programs as possible. I’m hoping to bridge that gap in the coming months by beginning a literacy and reading program at the school on Saturdays for all ages.

There are no easy silver bullets to turning around school districts- no number of consultants, no new dollars, no supply of super teachers exist using our current structures. Throw those constraints out and try a different systemic solution and see what happens. Because from where I’m observing- there is only one way for the district to go from second from the bottom- and that is up.

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There ain’t no “F” in Dayton: Time for DPS to get serious – EsratitruddickWhy not this year? – EsratiMallory BagwellJeff Wellbaum Recent comment authors
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With all due respect, David, you are not a trained educator. You have spent no time in the classroom teaching. I imagine many of the reactions you will get will be the same ones you have when someone with no experience tried to tell you how to do a marketing campaign.

JUST LIKE how the people who instituted common core didn’t bother to bring educators into the development process.


I certainly respect your work, but being an adjunct is Not the same as working with KIDS in establishing the fundamentals. I’ve been there. Is VERY different from college or specialty learning. Socrates wasn’t working in the same capacity either – and I’d rather keep education out of the Iron Age.

Also, a lot of individual school issues can be linked back directly to the administration. And in my opinion, most school boards need to be stopped. Now. Admin CAN get bad teachers out if they follow procedures -but most don’t because it is too time consuming for them and the busy-work lumped in them by School Boards.

THAT SAID – I am not necessarily disagreeing with everything you are suggesting. Additionally, I agree that the Dayton schools are failing. I am seeing it firsthand.

Thomas Ruddick
Thomas Ruddick

Well, David, have you heard of the “occupational bias” fallacy? That’s where a person who uses a hammer daily thinks a hammer solves all problems. Giving each student electronic stuff will not motivate learning; there has to be some expertise and guidance in its use.

If you want to cite other nations, good idea. Generally, they have a national education system instead of local control, they pay teachers more while making them teach less, and they exclude parents from classrooms and give parents zero choice in the public classroom. Sell that one to the entitled parents and students of America if you can.

Aaron Glett

I’ve already explained my idea for how I think the Department of Education should enable the next generation of schools. However, so everyone knows what I’ve previously said, I will explain it here: Every child a tablet, every school a cloud supported mainframe, a national infrastructure with built in social teaching and student support tools, as well as a collection of digital curricula and virtual book resources. Optimized to help teachers help each other teach better, and students to learn cooperatively, even when their not in the classroom.

That said, how this plays out at the local level is what is the game changer. The average textbook costs about $120 bucks, the average tablet costs about $199-299 (if you get hardware that’s worth teaching with). If they learn just the core subjects, you’re already spending more than 1,000 per student. With my digitial infrastructure idea, you’ve already cut that down to at most $299 per student. $500 if you include support of the cloud node the school would have that would connect into the national education grid.

jerrilyn scott
jerrilyn scott

David. You are absolutely positively right. Schools need teachers who teach and the last in first out has to go. And its not just DPS. I’ve seen teachers in the suburbs that were horrible. Of course I am still bitter about having lost my job. Full time teachers, year round school. Uniforms in high school. And please can someone address the appealing conduct of administrators. The business end is so full of malfeasance. Kids deserve better. So sad. Thought I could make a difference. Most of us teachers as second career are gone.

Thomas Ruddick
Thomas Ruddick

Talk tablets all you want, but preliminary research suggests that people learn better from paper. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

Note that the key factor is a student who wants to learn; a self-motivated student will learn with outmoded resources in an overcrowded classroom with a mediocre teacher. Unfortunately, far too many of our students are not only unmotivated, but actually hostile to learning.

Aaron Glett

What started me thinking this way was the introduction of android and in some ways the mobile enabled versions of Ubuntu. They’re strong platforms with which to build a completely inexpensive and secure ecosystem with. If you build out the whole national system I proposed, you add redundancy to the system, which enables you to replace a node with minimal to no data loss.

Give them Open Office or Libre Office, and they don’t have any cost for office software. Eliminate Microsoft licenses, and you’ve just saved a high school or even a city probably hundreds of thousands of dollars just in software seat licensing.

Aaron Glett

Also, if you don’t think kids learn well with technology, you haven’t seen the studies on children self teaching themselves in India with nothing but a teacher and a classroom computer. Mind-blowing what kids can do with wikipedia (even if it’s in a foreign tongue).

Dave C.
Dave C.

Suggestion: Before forming any hard and fast ideas about education reform, please spend some time (like a few years) gaining proficiency as a teacher.

Bill Rain
Bill Rain

David- one ofyour most thoughtful post yet. I identified early that to be successful developing downtown, we had to have a school option that would appeal to the Middle class. We saw for years the trend of a young couples moving downtown or the inner ring historic districts, have children and move when the kids were school age. In 1995, at the beginning of the charter school movement, put a group of OUR friends togther who were all starting to have kids and wanted to create a downtown charter school. At the time, we were still under the de-seg order but downtown/inner ring neighborboods spanned all 3 attendance zones. The ideas was to have a K-8 school at the old St Joes school on Second St with a priority attendance “ring” for downtown/ innner ring neighborhoods first, then open enrollment to all based on capacity. I was amazed that we could not come to any agreement as many said they ” did not want to take away from the public schools”. The ironry was that all these people ” got into” Franklin middle school and stivers and did not attend our zone schools. We made the choice for Holy Angels. I have never faulted any parents for making living choices based on needs for their children. For Dayton to ever have sustainable population growth, schools must be addressed. DPS sold the shool build plan as a path to neighborhood schools but when the planning took place ( I was on the committee), were told we could not look at that since we were still under the de-seg order. Just think if we could have made Colonel White into a neigborhood K-8 school what that would have done for dayton view and five oaks. most of the people reading your blog have “choices”. David- I have always been impressed that you look out for the people that do not have choices. You need to run for School Board not city commission


“I imagine many of the reactions you will get will be the same ones you have when someone with no experience tried to tell you how to do a marketing campaign.” – Thomas

David has people that don’t have experience telling him what to do in his marketing campaigns all the time. They are his customers. And he listens to them more than anyone….otherwise they are no longer his customers anymore. The public education establishment does not have to worry about that so much.

“If you want to cite other nations, good idea. Generally, they have a national education system instead of local control, they pay teachers more while making them teach less, and they exclude parents from classrooms and give parents zero choice in the public classroom. Sell that one to the entitled parents and students of America if you can.” – TR

Wanting choices/input into how your kids are educated in a system that you are forced to pay for is not acting entitled. It’s holding the education system accountable. Referring to your customers as entitled kind of makes you come off sounding…well…entitled.

“Note that the key factor is a student who wants to learn; a self-motivated student will learn with outmoded resources in an overcrowded classroom with a mediocre teacher. Unfortunately, far too many of our students are not only unmotivated, but actually hostile to learning.” – TR

Exactamundo. Which makes choice even more important.

“Suggestion: Before forming any hard and fast ideas about education reform, please spend some time (like a few years) gaining proficiency as a teacher.” – Dave C.

Bull crap. Fantasy world. It doesn’t work that way. We pay a lot of money to the education system to teach our kids. They work for us. Parental and community feedback is essential. Otherwise the education system has zero accountability.


Saying that Dayton Public Schools are second worst in the state is similar to saying that all Muslims are terrorists.

This is absurd. The latter is an abject and risable falsehood. The latter is a statement based on a flawed (but not completely useless) metric.

As for your idea, it’s a pretty good one all things considered, but very unpopular and unlikely to catch on–not to mention expensive (please don’t pretend it won’t require paying teachers more.). But it’s not an idea to fix Dayton public schools, but improve our K-12 educational system more generally. It won’t make DPS any better comparatively, which is what parents care about. It won’t prevent the city from being abandoned by parents with choices and means by their first kid’s 5th birthday.

Jeff Wellbaum
Jeff Wellbaum

See my DDN article from last week. More to follow.

Mallory Bagwell
Mallory Bagwell

Re: “With all due respect, David, you are not a trained educator. You have spent no time in the classroom teaching. I imagine many of the reactions you will get will be the same ones you have when someone with no experience tried to tell you how to do a marketing campaign.” …………… I was born and raised in Dayton. Had the opportunity to see most of the beautiful schools before they were all torn down. We are talking the early 1950s. My father was hired by the DPS in 1952 as the Assistant Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. His degree was a B.S. in Civil Engineering. Dayton was in a post war building boom and needed someone to oversee the eventual construction of 34 new schools built from 1952-1967 as well as upgrade and maintain the integrity of existing schools, some of them wood frame. 12 high schools and 50 some elementary schools. He was not a certified teacher but an educator beyond his time. He understood the relationships between infrastructure and the behavior of occupants occupying those structures. Learning behaviors in particular. (think open classrooms, carpeting, environment, natural lighting, landscaping, etc.) He once taught teachers how to monitoring / teach student hand washing….one towel per visit. The savings paid for the media center (50,000 students x 4 bathroom trips x 5 towels per visit x 180 days adds up). Immaculate record keeping. BIG on preventive maintenance. (Could track the loss of 23 mm BTUS to a coal truck operator skimming deliveries.) During most years of his tenure energy prices edged up while amount of energy decreased. UD hired him when he said he would work for free and buy the materials to upgrade their energy profile if they would give him 50% of the next 5 year’s energy savings. (He could teach people to do math really quickly). Was eventually asked to oversee SCC campus construction, West Side Y, Barney’s Children’s, etc. I think he was part of the zeitgeist that assumed everything was connected. People, purpose, position, pride, products, resources, and so on. The inspiring architecture of… Read more »


[…] control from the local board- and frankly, there won’t be much we can do. I’ve given my advice on how to fix Dayton Public on this blog- and got very little support or discussion about totally revamping the calendar- and […]


A belated hello to this thread:

Recent research at Princeton U has shown that students who take notes in class by handwriting learn significantly more than those who use computers to take notes.

This reinforces what I suggested earlier. You, David, are a guy who lives in cyberspace and who markets and promotes using internet tech. No shame in that. But when you say we need to give each student a computer, you are off the mark. The computer will not help the learning-resistent, and the learning-ready ones don’t benefit from it so much either.

To fix education, we need to address America’s fond anti-intellectual ethos. Anything else is just spitting into the ocean.


[…] got bigger problems than pre-school in Dayton. Back on Valentines day 2015, I posted A plan for the Dayton Public Schools and it garnered a whole 21 comments (most from the regulars). It had many of the same ideas that […]