So if Barak Obama called me Monday morning and asked me to be his Secretary of Education of course I would say yes. I would be on the next flight to Chicago to meet my new boss so we could brainstorm how to improve the public education system here in the United States.
The first thing I would do with the arrival of January 20, 2009 is throw out NCLB and start over. So now that I am starting over what would school look like. First I would assemble teachers, principals, and parents to meet with me and my staff for input.
I will not pretend to have the best ideas for elementary or middle school but I do have some that I think would be beneficial and then the experts would fill in the rest. Half-day preschool would be available for everyone starting at the age of four and your income would not figure into the equation. If you wanted your children to attend a private preschool they could but the expense would be yours. Kindergarten would be full day and all elementary classes would be limited in size to fifteen students. I would also suggest the restructuring of schools. Elementary would run from Pre-K through fourth grade. Fifth and sixth grade would be in a separate building as an intermediate school. Seventh and eighth would be middle school. Ninth grade could either be a separate campus, part of the middle school or in a separate wing of a high school building. Grading and testing needs to change for elementary and middle school while at the same time students need to reach academic success. Testing and grading for students from pre-k to eighth grade would then be turned over to people with experience in those grades. I envision a portfolio being utilized in some way.
High Schools would see a radical change under my direction. There would be a two tiered graduation system put into place. Not everyone would be forced into the college track mode. If a student was not interested in the college prep route or has disabilities that keeps them from progressing down that road they would still take academic course but they would also have the opportunity to receive vocational training in a variety of areas so that upon graduation from high school they would be prepared for work in a given area. This would look different from the vocational training of the 1980s because industry has changed and more doors would be open because of that. Of course there would be the standard cosmetology, auto mechanics and licensed vocation/practical nurse. But computer technician, CATIA design, hazardous waste handler, travel agent, auto detailing, restaurant management are just a few that would be made available. The disabled students could be placed in life skills classes if that is what there IEP determines is necessary. The academic classes that they take would have end-of-course-exams to be used as a gage to determine that they had mastered the subject. The vocational training would have licensing or exams at the end of the program as well and with those two things combined the student will have earned a high school diploma.
For those students that are college bound the rigor would be extensive with AP, IB and duel credit classes offered at every high school. These exams along with the ACT and SAT would be what are used to determine that a student is entitled to a high school diploma.
Classroom sizes would be small, no more than twenty-five students in a class. Science labs would be smaller. The school year would be extended to two hundred days in an academic year.
I would take a radical approach with parent involvement; instead of punishing the parents/guardians that have children that do not what they are supposed to I would instead reward the parents/guardians that have their children do what they are supposed to. This could be in the form of a tax credit or tax rebate it could also be in the form of monetary aid if the child decides to go to college. The parents/guardians could elect which option they would like to take.
High School staff would be assigned 10 children each that they would mentor and advise throughout their high school careers. This model allows for a relationship to develop between an adult and a student so that the adult can give advice about classes, work options, college options and any other advice that the student might need. The counselor’s job would be to counsel with regards to more serious issues.
A few things that I would not allow or I would regulate. Vouchers would not exist if someone wants their child to attend a private school they foot the bill themselves completely. Home schooling and charter schools would be closely monitored and if students were not making progress from year to year steps would be taken to shut down the charter school and the home schooled student would have to return to public school.
President-elect Obama is sure to pick someone with more experience than I have as his S of E but I can dream. If you have any educational dreams you would like to share please feel free to do so.