SEARCH BLOG: EDUCATION
Warning... this is a long post.
There is little doubt that education failure remains a serious problem in many Michigan [and other states'] urban schools. Facilities are old, classes are often too large, teachers are given responsibility without authority, discipline among students has been outlawed as outdated thinking, and parents' (or parent's) involvement is generally missing.
Michigan's governor has an idea she is promoting: small high schools.
"The plan is based on the idea that smaller is better. High schools with about 400 students are more manageable, students can get more individual attention and the principal knows everybody in the building, Granholm administration officials said." [source]There may be merit to reducing a school from 2,000-3,000 students to 1,000-1,200. But one must consider that as schools get smaller, the cost per student will rise significantly... if the schools are to offer similar opportunities for the students.
Let's presume that a teacher has 4 classes a day plus some other administrative or extracurricular responsibilities. If the class size presently averages 30 students, then the school of 400 students would have about 14 classes of 25-30 students 4 times a day... in other words, the school would need 14 teachers to keep the proposed cost for teachers the same as educating those 400 students inside a larger school population. Just consider that such a small teaching corp does not provide a great deal of opportunity for an interesting variety of courses.
Where costs are not the same is for school administration, maintenance staff, and facilities costs. These would be increased by some percentage since you can't have 1/5 of a principal, for example.The next question is: what do you do with those large schools? Detroit has mothballed many of them, but they still require some maintenance and resources, even if they are not used for educating anyone.
Theoretically, students from the larger schools [many of which are now larger because there were insufficient students from schools that were closed] could be fractured into smaller groups and then sent to the mothballed schools. The problem with that idea is that many of those facilities were in need of significant, expensive restoration or renovation... which along with the small student populations were the reason they were closed.Another alternative is that the present schools could be sold off. The problem is that there are no buyers... scratch that idea. They would have to be bulldozed and the land sold or turned into parks [maybe not a bad idea].
But if the larger schools were simply shut down, then many new small schools would have to be built to replace them... a very costly effort for which the state would have to go deeply in debt... with shaky prospects for enough revenue to pay off that debt without significant tax increases.Another alternative is to use mothballed elementary or middle schools. Again, they would need restoration or renovation, but the costs might be manageable. There may not be enough of those facilities to meet the Governor's plan requirements... and the facilities might have to be modified for students who are simply physically bigger.
Perhaps what is needed is not a focus on school size, but rather school function. Think of the way education is organized from kindergarten through college.
- In kindergarten, students stay with one or two teachers all day. Those teachers provide all of the instruction.
- In elementary school, some small schools may have a single teacher teaching a single grade level all day while larger elementary schools and middle schools have students moving from classroom to classroom for the different subjects... but all students taking the same curriculum.
- In high schools, students go from classroom to classroom. Students are required to take some "compulsory" courses and then have limited choices for "electives."
- At universities, students may have a few general "requirements," but the "college" curriculum dictates the requirements and those may be fulfilled in a variety of ways... the curriculum is highly differentiated for each individual.
Rather than recognizing the opportunities available with larger schools, the educational system forces larger schools to conform to the small school model and wonders why it doesn't work.Let's get a little creative in our thinking. Instead of thinking of a large high school as a bloated version of a small high school, why not organize it into the university model? Take advantage of the large number of teachers with a variety of interests and skills.
Create small high school "colleges" within the large high school "university."The archaic way of thinking is that in order to learn to read well, a student must take English courses.
Does it really matter if a student learns to read from Shakespeare's plays or from an explanation of computer programing or the history of automobiles or analyses of various forms of music? And who is to say that disparate curriculum can't be creatively combined; for example, an analysis of history as reflected in period plays?The level of reading can be age-appropriate and challenging regardless of the subject... and allowing the student to focus on subjects of interest within a "college" may counteract the boredom that drives many students away from the "traditional" high school educational experience.
In four-year high schools, the organization could be changed so that incoming freshman receive the traditional compulsory courses. Then students can choose a "major" [that could be changed once at the end of their sophomore year] where more of their courses fall within the major curriculum... increasing each year until their senior year when all of the courses fall within that "major."
Oh, but that's too difficult! Besides, colleges and universities want "traditional" high school education for a student to be accepted. Do they?
For example, can art be related to history? Are mathematics used in art [ever hear of architecture, ratios, perspective] and is there an artistic element to physics [ever hear of sub-atomic particle tracking or visualizing higher dimensions]? Have there ever been difficult texts about art that require good reading skills? Are computer graphics a form of art?You can ask the same questions about engineering or computer science or even physical education ["kinesiology" at the University of Michigan] for those students who think that basketball is all that counts.
The present way asks students to learn the basics of physics... boring. The science curriculum alternative might also ask the students who was involved in various discoveries in physics and how they got to that point [history and transfer of knowledge] and what were the ramifications of those discoveries [societal studies, philosophy] and how they changed our ability to interact with our universe [art, medicine, exploration].
With some effort and cooperation from universities such as the University of Michigan or Michigan Tech or Michigan State University, suitable "major" curriculum could be established that would prepare high school students for their entrance exams and the rigors or advanced education in fields that actually interest them.
What is too difficult is breaking away from "traditional." Governor Granholm's proposal is just a wish for "the good old days" when schools were smaller and teaching was simpler. Perhaps it is time to try a different model.How about putting money into changes that might actually make a difference?
Let's model our high schools after universities... not middle schools.... or we could just have small schools... that's a lot easier and we don't have to think too hard.