20 Winning Education Reform Ideas From a Retired Teacher

1) All children can learn at their unique rate and level. All children have the right to an “opportunity” to learn, the right to walk through the doors of learning. Once they are inside, though, learning becomes a privilege and a responsibility — not a right.

2) Protecting students who don’t want to be in school simply for the per-student funding and the administrative boast of low dropout rates is folly. I encouraged students who did not want to be in my class to leave, but if they stayed they could not steal learning from other students. That was non-negotiable.

3) I believe in “choice” — and dropping out of school is a choice. Career paths are not always straight and smooth. Schools should not be held hostage to crime rates linked to dropout rates.  Schools are responsible for ethics only to the extent that ethics are embedded in learning.  Schools are institutions of learning — not Panacea Marts for society’s ills.  

4) Natural fear works and failure is often times the only option. That’s how we advanced beyond amoebas. Administrators and education gurus want us to believe that students are fragile because it serves as a blanket excuse for enabling deviant behavior and inflating achievement for the benefit of administration. If students are so fragile, why was Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween so successful?

5) Schools should not be under oligarchic management structures but rather in-school administrative boards composed of equal representation among teachers, parents, students, and support personnel who voluntarily serve on rotation without stipend. These admin boards can be structured and managed to ensure fair play, transparency, and accountability in a way that regencies (superintendent, principal, vice principal et al) cannot. This change is absolutely vital. Without it, schools under current management schemes are business-as-usual and bust.

6) School logistics can be managed by a business manager and office staff who run the schools anyway. 

7) High schools should be divided into tracks: university, vocational, and general (Existing infrastructure can support this). Any student can elect the general track but must qualify for university and vocational tracks. Track prepping begins in middle school. Universities and colleges can admit students from any track as per their admission requirements. 

8) AP, IB, and other edu-business fare are redundant courses for both teacher and student.  Taxpayers pay for public schools to account for learning, not to export accounting to expensive and dubious franchises. I have taught both AP and IB and I like their syllabi but I did not need AP and IB corporate approval. I only required approval from the school that hired me. Teachers are paid to create syllabi that align with curriculum. Why pay twice for an acronym? Honors classes carry credential weight.

9) All extracurricular activity (sports et al) should come from the private sector, which eliminates coaches, etc (Here in Poland, both my girls are on private swim teams and both take private piano lessons which also go on school transcripts). Existing extracurricular infrastructure can be leased to the private sector. Communities can help students who can’t afford fees (Little League will not turn away kids who can’t pay).

10) By cutting “fluff” like study hall, work experience, etc., and shifting vocational and remedial classes to their respective tracks and by integrating 21st century learning methods (You can get a degree online), students could attend school half the time they do now, which, on a rotating schedule, would also significantly reduce class size. Work experience should be conducted out of school and on students’ own time.

11) No class should exceed 18students under any circumstances.    

12) Eliminate stand-alone PE teachers, coaches, and activity supervisors.

13) No tenure. Oregon banned teacher tenure and no one suffered.

14) Teachers should never teach outside their endorsements.

15) Collegiate teacher training programs are pathetic and need to be addressed accordingly.  Student teachers need to spend most of program time in practicum. Teacher training programs need to be conducted as seriously and as intensely as bomb disarming training. 

16) A new teacher is incompetent for three to five years and requires direct eyes-on supervision for a minimum of three years in order to ensure that students learn at optimum levels at all times.  This would also eliminate the current popular practice of hiring cheaper first-year teachers who cannot manage a class. Students lose valuable learning time in chaos.        

17) Individual public schools should vigorously endeavor to attract private funding in the spirit of competition and to offset public funding. When I was at university, the scholarships that I was awarded went to offset my grant. A school that is awarded funds/materials should be the sole recipient of those funds/materials — not some dubious district/state coffer that kills the competitive spirit and funnels money into dark petty cash places.

18) No creative effort should be spared to get parents involved in their sons’/daughters’ education. “Build it [right] and they will come.”

19) Call on retired teachers to volunteer as mentors, aids, admin board members, etc.

20) The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau was caught selling ratings. Someone needs to investigate the private agencies that accredit schools and consider whether their endorsements are authentic and really needed. I think not.

This ideas in this list stand as entry points towards reform and are by no means exhaustive.          

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Gary Sanford

I am a semi-retired international (Poland, Kuwait, China, Saudi Arabia) high school English teacher and a Vietnam veteran (1971, 51st Infantry). I have three daughters (36, 12, 8). I live in NE Poland where I can be close to my two youngest girls who are Polish-American and where I spend a lot of time reading and writing and watching my kids grow. I am domiciled in Oregon. Visit me at http://gbsanford.wix.com/gb-sanford

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