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.