• from The Columbus Dispatch - "These 12+1= Solutions for Schools."

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These 12+1= Solutions for Schools.

September 2000

By William L. Bainbridge

The "school reform" lessons of the last few years prove that simply providing more money to a system in need of help isnít going to make lasting improvements in student performance.

Parents, employers, government officials and civic leaders are becoming increasingly aware that well-targeted policy initiatives, implemented with appropriate staff training, create more student success than simply adding dollars or staff. In visits to hundreds of school systems and thousands of schools across the country, the same question arises frequently: "What can policy-makers do to improve our public education system?"

Since the problems vary greatly from setting to setting, there is certainly no easy boilerplate response. However, if our feet were held to the fire, we would suggest basic policy initiatives that could go a long way in improving our nationís public education system. We hope policy leaders will consider our "bakerís dozen."

  1. Increasing availability of well-planned early childhood education programs. Too many kindergartners struggle to meet the school readiness standards on individually administered assessments. Policy-makers need to take a serious look at universal full-day kindergarten programs and school-based pre-school opportunities. Many families in urban centers and rural areas, in particular, lack resources to provide enriching kindergarten readiness skills. For their children, a little extra time on the front end of their educational experience has been proven to be quite valuable.
  2. Strictly limiting the practice of conducting school night interscholastic contests in athletics, music, drama or other extracurriculars. Generally speaking, policies should emphasize learning by providing opportunities for students to be home on Sunday through Thursday evenings by 7 pm during the school year. Too many students are now sent the message that basketball, soccer, band competitions and other activities are more important than academic work.
  3. Increasing student time on task by lengthening the school year. School systems might follow the lead of the Mesa Unified School District, Arizonaís largest, which recently added five days to the school year.
  4. Monitoring the low expectations of teachers who provide high grades that reward inferior school work. Grade inflation is computed by establishing a correlation between achievement on standardized tests and grade point average. In recent years, teachers have been known to inflate report card grades to keep students and parents quiet and happy. It simply doesnít work, and in fact, has the opposite effect when students are unable to perform well in advanced courses and on college entrance exams.
  5. Eliminating social promotion. Simply stated, social promotion is the process of advancing students to the next grade level when they have not mastered the minimum academic content of their current grade. A symptom of this practice is the unacceptably high drop-out rate in many secondary schools as students become less and less able to compete as they get older. Some school systems have had a good deal of success with mandatory summer school for academically at risk students. Others have implemented in-school and after-school skill development programs.
  6. Continuing or reinstating the use of norm-referenced tests. The abandonment of such tests in favor of lowest common denominator state proficiency standards hurts children. State tests generally seek to measure effectiveness on a pass/fail basis. Nationally normed tests seek to examine the upper limits of a knowledge base at appropriate grade levels when student achievement is compared with that of other students throughout the nation.
  7. "Bench-marking" student achievement with similar demographic groups. Research indicates children with highly educated parents in high socio-economic homes have a huge advantage over those living in poverty. Expectations of high performance can best be achieved when fair comparisons are established and used to measure performance. Establishing attainable goals enables students and schools to experience and celebrate success, encouraging all students to work toward even higher levels of achievement.
  8. Instituting data-based decision-making. School systems are frequently operated with a heavy emphasis on current fads and personal agendas. Recently, many studies have shown that the process of effective data analysis and communication can result in the setting of appropriate performance baselines. Performance measurements then become more accurate. Experience shows school systems which "mine" data routinely have improved results.
  9. Providing access to technology for students. Recent studies show the great value of providing students with extensive access to learning technology. Students with computers in their homes, on average, develop better math comprehension and reading skills than those without that resource. "Check-out" loaned computers and/or software - - sometimes called "E.T. goes home" - - should be a priority.
  10. Expanding Advanced Placement programs. In order to stretch the capacity of the schoolís climate for those students who will be tomorrowís intellectual leaders, school systems need to do a better job of developing and funding Advanced Placement courses and testing. Local corporations supporting education are excellent sources for funding such programs.
  11. Initiating marketplace pay for teachers in areas of critical shortage. The human resource practices of school systems need to more closely resemble those of higher education and businesses. Schools currently have serious shortages of teachers in fields such as mathematics, physical sciences, foreign language and special education. Policy leaders and unions need to join in breaking the salary schedule mold through pay scales that are more sensitive to marketplace demands.
  12. Using technology to improve communication between parents and teachers. Modern technology can do much to increase the flow of information between parents and teachers. Classrooms should be equipped with outbound telephone lines for teachers to use during the school day. Voice mail systems and school related programming on cable television can be put to much greater use in monitoring student progress. Well-informed parents are in a better position to help students by assisting them with homework, advising them on course selection and partnering with educators in helping them set goals.
  13. Carefully examining school governance structures. Many large urban or county school systems are too large to operate effectively under one board of education. In many school systems, board members sometimes abuse their policy-making role through headline-seeking behavior focused on elections to other offices or carrying out vendettas against school leaders. Former school employees and teachersí unions have been known to "pack" school boards with groups of people whose motivation is unrelated to student achievement. In many school systems, the governance issue needs a thorough review.

If increasing student success is the agenda, then this "bakerís dozen" can be a good research-based starting point for school reform.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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