Thursday, January 29, 2009

President Obama, if you're out there...

I was visiting with a mommy friend today, and between the two of us we solved all the problems of public schools. Of course, neither of us currently work in the public school system (although I used to), or even have children in it. Obviously.

Here are my fixes. Now, I'm not saying this would fix all the problems - uninspired teachers and uninvolved parents will still be out there. But here's a good place to start:

1) Uniforms in all public schools, all grade levels. Uniforms help remove the stigma of socio-economic levels that can distract kids from learning and cause behavior issues. I say help because kids who are interested will still be able to identify whether your white button-down shirt is from Gap or Walmart. But, in addition to making labels a little less important, uniforms also eliminate one of the non-educational roles of teachers: policing the dress code. Gone are the distractions of too-short skirts and shorts (one reason teachers LOVE winter) or whether or not a T-shirt slogan is appropriate.

Uniforms also help make back-to-school shopping easier on parents' wallets. Finally, you have a good reason why you shouldn't buy the latest trend or the fashionable brand. And uniforms could be as basic as a solid shirt and unadorned khakis. White and navy are not the only options.

2) Nine weeks on, two weeks off all year long. Schools that already have this schedule say that kids retain information better, so that the first month of school isn't wasted in reviewing. Also, it's easier for parents to schedule family vacations around the school breaks, meaning that kids are missing less school time. Teachers should love it, since it would be fairly easy to plan a 9 week unit, or two 4 or 5 week units. It's a fairly natural break for lesson planning.

This change, of course, would affect innumerable aspects of American culture. But if kids got a better education, wouldn't it be worth it? "Because it's always been this way," isn't a good enough reason anymore, when the current school calendar is based on the primarily agrarian society that is no longer in existence - at least not the way it used to be.

3) Single sex classrooms. This idea makes some folks go completely nuts. They act as though if boys and girls don't see each other in the classroom, they will totally forget how to talk to each other.

And maybe that's a good thing.
But seriously. Single sex education has been around for a LONG time, and the human race has continued to proliferate. And I'm not proposing separate buildings - or even separate classes for all grade levels.

Let's say you start with 6th grade, when the hormones are starting to flow. And in the experimental phase (to convince parents their kids won't turn into social morons), there is one section of all-girl and one section of all-boy English (or science, or math, where there is a proven disparity between achievement of the sexes). See how things go.

I'm willing to bet that if teachers are excited about the idea, both boys and girls will benefit.

But how will they learn to interact appropriately, you ask? Hmm. Is THAT what kids are going to school to learn? Or maybe, possibly, you could learn that on your own in the hallways and in all those extra-curriculars kids are participating in these days. Or after school. Or weekends. PEOPLE! Kids will seek each other out!

It is totally reasonable that not all classes would be single-sex. But why should they be at all?

Research has proven that in general, boys and girls learn best in different ways. Girls tend to excel in an interactive group setting (which is the general trend in education right now) and boys tend to do better in a more lecture-type setting (which is how education was in the 50's - when boys were at the head of the class). Boys are also motivated by competition and achievement. If a classroom teacher were to take these different learning styles into consideration in a single-sex classroom, I believe that both boys and girls (but especially boys) would show improvement.

Girls will benefit by gaining confidence in subjects like math and science, where they typically let boys take charge.

I am not the first person to think of these changes - if only I were! There is research to support these proposals, and some charter schools have already explored them.

If you know someone with some influence (ahem, that would be you, Mr. President) pass these on! And give me full (yet undeserved) credit. Thankyouverymuch.


Ruth said...

just sayin.

Lyz said...

As I said, charter schools have been doing one or even all three of my suggestions for a while - what I would like to see is ALL schools become as innovative and committed to students' well-being as charters are.

UEI can really benefit other urban schools - what an exciting project with which to be involved!

Anonymous said...

I agree entirely with having a school uniform. However having taught in a school with uniforms, you wouldn't believe how many ways kids go out of their way to violate the dress code. The biggest problem was having their pants down way too far. That said, it sure did beat seeing girls with their thongs showing at Mayo HS.


mama.nichols4 said...

I agree as well, to all points. The educational system should be focused on education, ensuring that all kids receive or are subject to learning the same information. Having large, expensive schools catered to learning does no good if the students that fill them are more concerned about the current trends in printed t-shirts or the rise/cut in jeans.

Teachers are great at altering their lesson plans to meet the needs of their students but they can only do so much. Gender segregation in classes has the potential to give everyone the equal opportunity to learn that every school seems to strive for, not to mention remove a huge amount of distraction. I think 6th grade might even be a bit too late to start, I'd say 3rd or 4th before the intensity of math and language arts kicks in.

Pres. Obama, please help to fix the current education system.