CHAPTER 8 OF BOOK “HOW I WOULD RUN THE COUNTRY IF I WERE DICTATOR, by Argus C. Zall
Chapter 8 Public Education
In this chapter, I Federalize the public school system to have an American National System, uniform across the entire country, abolish the private school system, and introduce student-performance-based tracking, and build teacher and administrative accountability into the system
(Copyright July 31 2006)
The public school system of the country has gone from one of its brightest spots to a national disgrace in the space of a generation, especially in urban areas. I went to a public school in the South, a backward province, in the nineteen-thirties, and got a thorough grounding in English, history, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and foreign languages. A single urban public high school in New York City graduated in the 1930’s a half-dozen geniuses who went on to earn the Nobel Prize in Physics. The only reason kids in the South were sent to private school was to be indoctrinated with a particular religion, or to straighten them out. If their parents could afford it, the troublemakers, the dumbunnies who couldn’t cut the mustard in the public school system were sent to “military academies” to knock some discipline into them and force them to study so they could get into college. Those whose parents couldn’t afford it usually had run-ins with the law, and wound up in “reform schools”, basically schools inside of jails.
Today, the public school system, especially the urban public school system, is a disaster. Its curriculum has been watered down to nothing, and its graduates can neither read nor write nor reckon. The middle class in many areas is abandoning the public school system entirely. If Rip van Winkle had fallen asleep in 1950 and waked up in 1990, he absolutely would not believe his eyes or his ears. What has happened?
In a single word, DESEGREGATION. It has been a catastrophe beyond imagination for blacks and whites alike. Having said that, let me at the same time insist that the blacks had a totally valid objection to the monstrous unfairness of a segregated public school system funded by local taxes that left their schools impoverished, denying them opportunity for the education they earnestly craved and desperately needed. Their segregated schools were in poorer segregated communities, unable to generate the tax base to support the superior schools they needed.
The reasoning behind the desegregation fight was that if schools were desegregated, and blacks were admitted to white schools, they would get the benefit of the better schools created by the higher taxes that the wealthier communities could provide. At the same time, rubbing elbows with whitey would stimulate the brothers and sisters to higher achievement. The combination of better schools and teachers, more money per pupil, and friendly competition would accelerate intellectual development and finally permit this important minority to achieve full equality in the white-collar world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have worked out that way.
Perhaps the example of Boston may be instructive. In the sixties, when desegregation of the public schools systems of the South was proceeding amid howls of pain and establishment of “segregation academies”, the Boston newspapers were full of tut-tutting about the unreconstructed Southerners, attempting to subvert the “law of the land”. In the seventies, however, the blacks of Boston filed suit in Federal Court, pointing out that the Boston public schools were every bit as segregated as those in the South. The mantra of the School Committee at that time, the sacred “neighborhood school” concept, served to keep them that way, given the residential segregation of the city. In 1974, a Federal Judge agreed that segregation existed, and decreed full and immediate integration by school bus. It didn’t work any better than in the South. The only people that benefited were the contractors who provided the school buses.
In the early seventies, the Boston public school system was 2/3 white, one third black and minority. It had about 63,000 white pupils and 31,000 black and minority students, with most of the blacks in highly segregated schools. There was a great deal of resistance by the white community to the cross-town bussing, near-riots in fact. There was much exhortation on the part of the local media and the pols to the citizenry to obey the law, and love their brethren, and “make integration work”. After a while, the outright violence ended, and the city calmed down. Eventually, even, a black was appointed school superintendent, and the judge turned the school system back to the city. Success, right?
Not quite. In 1990, the whole school system was about as segregated as the worst schools were in 1974. It was three- quarters black and minority. There were only 14,000 whites in the entire school system, and 43,000 black and minority students. In 15 years of “integrated” schools, 49,000 out of 63,000 (78%) of the whites had abandoned the Boston public schools, while the black and minority school population increased from 31,000 to 43,000. The operation had been a success, but the patient died.
The Boston experience is by no means unique. Wherever desegregation has been forced, whites have left the public school system in droves. Where have they gone? They have gone to private schools; they have gone to parochial schools; they have moved to the suburbs, where the numbers of blacks and minorities in nominally-desegregated schools is smaller and less threatening. The response of the social engineers to this situation, repeated across the country, is to insist on “metropolitan-area- wide” integration. I can only shake my head in wonder. They have crippled the inner-city systems, and now want to extend the same medicine to ever-wider circles of destruction. As long as people can vote with their feet, you can’t force them into a situation they fundamentally oppose. They will move faster and further than you can send the school busses after them. And they will take their tax money with them, leaving the schools attended by the blacks even more impoverished that they were before desegregation.
If desegregation of the public school system (as it has been practiced) doesn’t work in Boston, the cradle of abolitionism and justice for the black man, where can it work?
The architects of this master plan will argue that: a) the flight of whites is a figment of the imagination; b) even if some have left, it is a negligible percentage; c) when confronted with facts like the totally damning statistics above, blame an unregenerate racism lurking just beneath the surface of society; d) try to destroy the private automobile transportation system to prevent “voting with the feet”. If you can make people travel only by public transportation they can only move where the government will provide transportation to (which will not exceed the reach of the school buses!).
Perhaps it might be worth while investigating first some of the reasons why whites leave the public school system when it becomes desegregated. First and foremost is the perception that quality of education, in all its dimensions, goes down. Note that I said “perception”. It doesn’t matter whether it actually goes down, it is just whether it is perceived to go down. I have a number of cousins still living in the South whose children were in the public schools when they were desegregated. All of them stuck it out for a few years, either out of a desire to make it succeed, or because they were almost through it, or both. Uniformly, they have told me that their children in integrated schools were no longer challenged to achieve. Courses became less demanding, standards of classroom behavior were lowered, required courses became electives, etc., etc., etc. Eventually, they either graduated or left the public school systems for private ones. None of those children’s children (my cousins’ grandchildren) now attend desegregated public schools. And these were mainly suburban school systems that were for the most part at that time not infected with the drug and crime rot of the inner cities.
“Tracking” or “grouping” of academically-gifted students in honors courses, or more-demanding sections of regular courses, has been used to offset this problem, and retain the smarter kids in the public school system. My all-white public high school in the thirties had a three-track system, so that smart kids could learn at a rapid pace, average kids could enjoy mild competition from their peers, while dullards had the basics pounded into their thick skulls. I had little interaction with guys in the other tracks, until we were fellow draftees in the US Army. I am sure glad the numskulls didn’t clutter up my classes, because believe me, if brains were dynamite they wouldn’t have been able to blow their noses. For all that, though, the pound-in-with-a-sledgehammer education technique had worked. They could read and write and do arithmetic, speak grammatical English, and knew enough American History to realize why our country was worth dying for. They made good soldiers that I was proud to serve with and the majority of them, I am sure, became self-supporting taxpaying citizens after the war.
There are, after all, three dimensions to intellect: first, the ability to memorize, to get information from the transient or “quick” memory, into the long-term memory (from “RAM” into “DISK”, in computer parlance); second, the data-base of facts and rules with which the long-term memory must be filled; and finally, the set of mental algorithms used for processing and reprocessing the information in this data base to create new facts or ideas or rules (“reasoning ability”). Geniuses differ from the rest of us mere mortals primarily in the ease and rapidity with which they memorize. They don’t even have to think about it; it happens virtually automatically. Consequently, their data bases are filled with an enormous store of knowledge available to their reasoning engine. Less-gifted people have to have help learning to memorize and have to develop conscious devices or memnonics for tagging stored facts with directory information for retrieval. (“True Virgins Make Dull Companions”, the sexist phrase to remind the ordinary seaman of the steps in going from a charted “True” course through a “Variation” correction to “Magnetic” course plus a further “Deviation” correction to the desired “Compass” course to steer by is a good example). Dullards have no memory skills at all, and have to be forced to memorize by painstaking repetition and drill, with repeated reinforcing drills to repeat again what was memorized yesterday. Dullards can’t think clearly, because their data base is usually empty. The person who has no “twos” in his mental disk will never be able to deduce that “two plus two is four”, even if the addition algorithm is part of his software package.. He isn’t computing with a full disk.
It is the responsibility of the schools to deal with all three aspects of intellect: to train people how to memorize; to fill their data bases with a core group of important facts; and to teach them how to reason with those facts. And it is here that you have to separate the people by tracks. You don’t have to teach a genius how to memorize, nor do you have to fill his data base for him; all you have to do is hook him up to the fire hydrant of knowledge and get out of his way. Mere ordinary mortals need to be taught how to memorize and recollect, as well as need to have the data base doled out to them at a rate that they can absorb it and file it. Dullards need to be put into the heavy-lifting weight-room class of memorizing, with the mind treated as a muscle that withers away if its not used, but increases daily in strength with hard exercise.
The tracking system of education, properly applied, deals with these differences and uses them to full advantage, by using methods appropriate to the class of student being taught.
Unfortunately, wherever it has been used in desegregated schools, the tracking system is either under challenge in the courts, or it soon will be. And wherever the suit comes to trial, the tracking system will be thrown out by judges’ edicts. It is, unfortunately, in flagrant violation of one of the provisions of anti-discrimination law, which I paraphrase: If a policy has unequal (adverse) impact on any minority group to what it has on the society as a whole, it is de facto discriminatory and prohibited whether there is any intent to discriminate or not. Note that I added “(adverse)” although that is not in the law as it is written, just in the way the judges interpret it. Affirmative action has unequal impact on black minorities from society as a whole, but that doesn’t appear to be against the law.
Whatever the reason, be it the residual effects of hundreds of years of persecution, or lead paint, the absence of father-figures, mothers who are too tired from working all day to require kids to study, rampant black anti-intellectualism, culturally-biased teaching or testing, or whatever, black children on the average do not have the academic achievements of whites at any level in any educational system. They have a bell-shaped curve of their own, shifted to lower levels of achievement across the board than whites in the same school. If students are tracked by actual accomplishment, IQ, or any other measure, blacks will be found in the fast track in smaller proportions, and in the slow track in larger proportions, than they are in the population as a whole. I will be accused of unregenerate racism for saying so, which I deny absolutely. I am merely stating a fact that anyone with any connection to an educational system will recognize as true, but will not dare to admit in public. Be that as it may, according to the law, the resulting imbalance is de-facto discriminatory, and cannot be permitted.
So the thing that made the public school system acceptable to me and my family in the South in the thirties, and which permitted Nobel-prize geniuses to blossom within it in New York, is either out the window, or will be, as a violation of the law. And with it go all the smart kids in the school system who can afford to get out.
There is a more insidious effect of this de-facto discrimination law in the individual desegregated classroom. The individual teacher, faced with different distributions of academic skills, who honestly tries to teach and grade in a truly color-blind fashion is in for a peck of trouble. The proportion of failing students who are black will be greater than the proportion of blacks in the class as a whole. The teacher will be called on the carpet by the Administration, because those statistics are dynamite. Improvement will be demanded in the proportion of failing blacks, or the teacher will be demoted, possibly be fired..
The teacher has two choices: abandon color-blind teaching, and devote much greater attention to the more laggard blacks to the detriment of the more gifted pupils; or grade only on a pass-fail basis, and fail nobody. If nobody fails, blacks will not be over- represented in the failing group. The classroom presentation then can be at a much more difficult level, suitable for the better half of the class; if it is beyond the grasp of the slower ones, it doesn’t matter. They will get something out of it, however little, and will pass anyway. Thus we get high-school graduates who have progressed all the way through twelve years of school who cannot read, write, speak correct English, or do simple mathematics. They have been more poorly served by the public school system than were the dullard rednecks in the third track in my high school. Where they needed to have knowledge pounded into them with a two-by-four, and could have gotten it in a well-managed tracking system, they got passed automatically because everybody at the policy level pretended that everything was color-blind and equal. The troops on the firing line, the teachers in the classroom, knew that it wasn’t so and defended themselves against the unreasonable expectations of the Administration and the lawyers and judges in the only way they could.
Do you still wonder why the product of the public school system today is so much worse than it was a generation ago? The result is designed into the system as if it were a blueprint. It would be a miracle if there were any other result. Until we acknowledge and admit the real facts, and design a public school able to deal with the real facts, there will be no other outcome.
This is the reason that the teacher’s union, the NEA, has fought so vigorously against the requirement of achievement testing, such as the Massachusetts MCAS, being required for graduation from high school. Such tests are graded on an absolute basis, with a minimum score required to pass and receive a high school diploma. The initial years of testing revealed that half the students flunked, with a large disparity between blacks and everybody else. Such tests revealed starkly the massive fraud that had been perpetrated against the students, their parents, and the public. These results have forced teachers to “teach to the test”, which in fact means teach a curriculum that encompasses all those things that a high school graduate should know. Test scores have dramatically improved in the years since, to the extent that, in Massachusetts anyway, the vast majority of seniors are passing the test. This does not mean the problem is solved; those students who figured they were going to fail the tests anyway have simply dropped out of school along the way. This is hardly an ideal solution.
A few chapters ago, I identified the public school system as one of the central resources in the war against the drug culture. Clearly, the school system we have now cannot be; only drastic restructuring and redirecting will permit it to be of any value at all in that struggle. Fortunately, the same restructuring is what is needed to have it do the job it is supposed to do in the first place: educate the citizenry, first into their responsibilities as citizens, and second to acquire the skills they will need to be effective participants in the economic world. Here is how I would change it.
First, I would decree that the private school system be abolished. The bright kids have to be kept in the public school system. The tax monies of the middle and wealthier classes have to be made more generously available to the public school system. The interest and enthusiasm of well-educated parents have to be more fully brought to bear in the public school system. These necessities cannot be achieved if those people are outside the system. They cannot be allowed to vote with their feet.
Second, to make this possible, a fair and objective tracking system in the public school system would be mandated. This would be based not on IQ tests or personal likes or dislikes, but on actual accomplishments in the classroom. Those who score highest on objective tests of accomplishment will be moved into the faster tracks where they will have opportunity to learn still faster. Those who are slow learners will score lower on these objective tests and will be moved into slower tracks where they will be taught by the repetition, drill, and rote methods appropriate to slow learners and totally inappropriate to the quick-study population. It’s simple: you can’t run Shinkansen “bullet trains” on the same single track as slow freights.
It will be the unavoidable fact that the blacks and some other minorities will be under-represented in the fast track and over-represented in the slow track, at least at first. This does not represent an unfair discrimination, but is the actual state of academic accomplishment of these communities. As long as the testing is color-blind and measures actual rate of learning in the classroom, and not some hypothetical measure of “intelligence” whatever that is, there is no unfair discrimination. Moreover, the slow learners will be much better served by teaching appropriate to their rate of learning than simply ignored in the back of the room.
The color-blindness of the system will be achieved by using only computerized testing. Students will at frequent intervals take computer based tests in every subject. They will be assigned identifying numbers for each test totally at random. They will identify themselves to the computer only by this number in taking the test, and the computer will report their scores to the administrative office identified only by this number. The computer will have no knowledge of students names, or of what numbers have been assigned to whom. The computer is color-blind, and objectively measures the knowledge of the test-taker. Scores will be matched against names in the administrative office after the fact.
On a major qualifying test, for example, students achieving more than a certain score will be invited by the computer to take a more difficult supplementary test. Achieving greater than a critical score would qualify the student for the fast track in that subject. Students who passed the first test but not the second would be in the second track. Students who failed the first test would be given a repeat test; those who passed it would be assigned the third track. Students who failed both the first and repeat tests would be assigned to the slowest track.
Note that assignment to any particular track would be for that subject and that term only. It would be perfectly possible for the same student to be in the fast track in mathematics and the slowest track in foreign languages. It will be perfectly possible for a student to be in a faster track during one term and slower track in the same subject the next term. The result depends totally on the student’s grasp of the material at the particular point in time, as revealed by his score on the computerized test.
The excuse will be made by some minority groups that the tests are “culturally-biased” and therefore not color blind. It will be argued that minorities outside the mainstream culture will be unable to score well enough on such a test, therefore it is ipso-facto discriminatory. My reply is that the entire education system is going to be “culturally-biased”. That is after all one of its primary objectives: to bring a polyglot mixture of people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds into a common mainstream American culture, sharing the knowledge and heritage that made this country what it is, and acquiring the skills and knowledge that it takes to succeed in that milieu. If vocabulary and reading skills are inadequate to learn as fast as the average, then the student will be in the slow track until vocabulary and reading skills can be developed. If inadequate command of English prevents learning, then the student will remain in the slow track in most subjects until English is thoroughly learned.
Such a system is based on the premise that everybody can learn. Some people learn more slowly than others, require more help in learning, and take longer to learn than others. They cannot expect to be allowed to slow down the learning of the quicker students, and they cannot be simply ignored and passed automatically from grade to grade. Placing them in the track appropriate to their measured ability to learn will allow them to receive the kind of instruction best suited to their needs. I note that the student-teacher ratio will be much lower in the slow track than the fast. The slow student needs much more help. The brighter student needs only to be directed to appropriate study materials and be given goals to achieve.
The curriculum of this school system will be aimed at producing citizens who: can read and write and speak English expertly; have mastered mathematical and computer skills; are thoroughly familiar with the history of the world in general and of America in particular; are knowledgeable about the geography and ecology of the globe; have sufficient scientific and technical knowledge to understand the basics of how technology affects every aspect of our lives; have a thorough grounding in economics, and of the operation of the capitalist system; and are able to speak, read and write at least one foreign language. The level of accomplishment in each of these areas which will be required of all graduates, slow or fast, will be sufficient for a person to function without further formal education as a fully knowledgeable participating citizen of the United States. Additional higher education will be needed only to acquire specialized job skills, or to further particular interests of the student. The fastest track students will, in addition, have taken enough advanced courses in mathematics, the natural sciences, economics, etc., to be able to enter undergraduate universities having completed all of the general curriculum, and be prepared to proceed directly to the courses in their desired major field of study. Thus, they should be able to complete their undergraduate studies in two years, and then proceed to post-graduate study.
The final curriculum reform I will institute is to abolish forever the stupidity of “bi-lingual education”. The only thing that binds this country together and makes it different from Canada is one language. All classroom education in my schools will be in English, and I mean grammatically correct, with proper diction and in conformity with the rules of politeness and courtesy. Anybody who can’t speak, read, and write English well enough to be able to get along in class will spend whatever time it takes in remedial classes to learn English. If the Polacks, Wops, Swedes and other squareheads, Frogs, Micks, Kikes, Portugees, and Gooks of all persuasions can learn English, the Spics can learn English. Again I steadfastly reject the criticism that I am running a “culturally-biased ” school establishment. As I have said before, of course I am. That is the purpose of the schools, to bring a polyglot nation to a common mainstream culture, and to give its members the tools to function in that culture. If they want to retain their ethnicity and culture in their home lives, and in the communities where they live, no problem. But our public discourse will be in English, and our heritage in law and human rights is Anglo-Saxon. That’s what all the immigrants came here to get, and they are going to get the culture that goes with it. The Latinos are no exception.
The objection will be made that some students “choke” in taking tests, and therefore tests cannot be the sole measure of their academic achievement. I say “nonsense”. The present generation of students have grown up with computers, excel at the challenge of computer games. Tests can be structured like computer games. The student zaps a Klingon, and gains access to the treasure room, where answering the next question is required as an “open Sesame” to proceed to another level of the inner sanctum. There will be no time limit on completing the test, and it does not have to be finished in one sitting. The teacher will be involved in advising the student whether it is time to take the achievement test, or whether further study is needed first.
Discipline will be rigorous. All students will wear uniforms, to eliminate clothing snobbery. Orderly behavior, respect for each other and for teachers and staff will be mandated. There will be sufficient adult supervision in all social and classroom settings to prevent absolutely any bullying, physical or otherwise. Bullying or other anti-social or disorderly conduct will earn demerits. Exceeding a specified number of demerits in a term will result in a student’s being sent to spend “penalty time” in solitary confinement instead of participating in after-hours activities. and will require attendance at “re-education” classes. The concept that these regulations infringe on a student’s “right of free speech” is ludicrous. Teen-agers are not yet citizens. They are apprentice citizens whose job it is to learn the rules: how to be productive members of society, fully-observant of the rights of their fellows, so that when they reach their majority they can become full-fledged citizens with all the constitutional rights pertaining thereto.
A further level of segregation will be employed. Boys and girls will be taught in separate classrooms. They learn in different ways, and at different rates. Appropriate methods of teaching one are totally inappropriate for the other. Each inhibits the other in classroom discussions. But note: they will be taught the same subjects, that are the basis of the core curriculum. There will be no relegating of girls to “home economics” because science is too difficult or not relevant to their future “station in life”. Moreover, although they will be segregated in the classroom, they will not be segregated socially, in study halls, or cafeteria, or after-hours activities. Supervised socialization of the two sexes is an essential part of their education. Similarly, the tracks will not be segregated socially, but encouraged to interact in all other than classroom settings. Sufficient adult supervision will be provided to insure that social interactions between all students are wholesome and not hurtful to any student.
Needless to say, teaching this curriculum is not going to be accomplished in twelve years at 180 days a year between eight and two PM with no homework. But I have already said I was going to keep the kids in school all day to keep them out of contact with the drug pushers. I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.
Beyond the curriculum reform and the establishment of a color-blind, objective, tracking program, the next major bombshell I’m going to throw into the system is in the assignment of the responsibility for running it, and the funding to keep it afloat. The oldest shibboleth about the schools is “local control” and “local funding”. Humbug! Local control and funding really means local screwing of the groups out of favor in the locality, and sweetheart arrangements for the in-groups. It was the consequences of local control and funding, the “separate but (vastly un-)equal” result that was the root issue in Brown vs. the Board of Education, which started the whole uproar. Further, local control gives undue opportunity for local special-interest groups to pack the school committee, and skew the curriculum toward their particular agenda.
It is also what’s behind the 1990 decision by a Federal Judge that he was empowered to direct the State of Texas to levy taxes to fund the schools on a state-wide basis, because local funding gave vastly unequal results, given the inequality of community wealth between richest and poorest school districts. His logic is impeccable, but I believe we fought a revolution over the principle of “No Taxation Without Representation”, and nobody elected him.
I’m going to go him one further, and Federalize the whole public school system: Federal responsibility, Federal authority, and Federal funding. Initially, the money will simply come by funneling the school taxes of every locality and state to the Federal Department of Education, which will disburse them to operate the whole shebang on a national basis. Later on, after I get a few more of these immediate problems straightened out, I’ll attend to getting the tax system reformed and rationalized, and this temporary expedient will no longer be necessary. Certain advantages will immediately follow from this arrangement. There will be one set of standards over the whole Nation; A diploma from the high schools in Yalobusha County, Mississippi will mean the same as one from Scarsdale, New York. A hidebound religious group in Missouri won’t be able to dictate that the local schools use textbooks teaching creationism or its present-day surrogate “Intelligent Design”. There will be no more local school boards to meddle and perpetuate their own prejudices for generation after generation. Students will be educated as Americans first, and as some subset thereof later.
There will be great danger as well, and that is the lack of competition. No more private schools means that everybody has to attend the same public schools. The public school system will be a monopoly. It will be necessary to take great care that we don’t re-create a monopoly like the Post Office, which doesn’t work, or one like AT&T which worked beautifully but treated its customers with arrogance and high prices.
It will be necessary to build an accountability into the system to take care of the perfectly normal human tendency to coast when you know the customer has no alternative. This of course will have several dimensions: first, the performance of the individual teachers in the system; second, the provision of adequate facilities, supplies, training, and support organization; and third, the provision of adequate courses and curriculum offerings. Let’s look at the teacher dimension first.
It is generally believed that teachers do a better job in the private school system than the public one. It certainly isn’t because they are smarter, and probably not because they are better trained. If they were smarter, they would probably be teaching in the public schools, where salaries are up to fifty percent higher. Aside from the fact that they have better student material to work with, a major factor in the performance gap is that private school teachers work on one-year contracts, while public school teachers have tenure. A private school teacher knows that without performance, there will be no contract renewal. This is the ultimate accountability, and I propose to bring these benefits to the public school system.
This proposal is, of course, anathema to the teachers professional society (read “union”), the National Education Association. They believe in tenure, and seniority, and all those other good things for teachers that are lousy for students, and which I can’t permit in my monopoly public school system. But they do make a very valid point about the “accountability” question. There is no objective way presently known to anybody to evaluate a teacher’s performance that takes into account all the other variables that influence academic performance by students: how good the students are; how supportive the community is; how difficult the course is; how adequate are the materials, supplies and facilities provided; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And they point out that all too often in the private school system, the non-renewal of contracts results from personal conflict between teacher and administration, not any objective measure of teaching performance.
To counter this absolutely correct criticism, therefore, I have had to invent a system of measuring teacher performance which corrects for all these other variables, and measures the performance of each teacher in comparison with all other teachers nationwide doing the same job. This takes advantage of the fact that I am running a national public school system, the same all over the country, and have thousands of teachers in every category to compare against. It goes like this.
In every subject which students take at different levels year by year, some students will do better in the same subject this year than they did last year; some students will do worse. These differences are readily measured, because we are using computerized standard tests to measure progress for advanced placement, high middle and low middle and slow tracks. Comparisons of test scores this year vs. last year at the same stage of the school year gives an objective measure of whether accomplishment of an individual student is improving or deteriorating.
Students may do better because: the subject is easier this year; the student is more mature and better able to grasp the content; the student is more motivated; the course material is better designed; the teacher is doing a better job than last years’. Students may do worse because: the subject is more difficult this year; the student is spending too much time on extracurricular activities and neglecting schoolwork; the student is less motivated; the course material is not as well designed; the teacher is not doing as good a job as last years’.
A measure of teacher performance is to obtain the net number of students who improved from one year to the next, less the number who fell back, divided by the total number of students taught, expressed as percentage. We note that the same student population and the same community are involved; and that there is no element of absolute student accomplishment involved, nor of the amount of improvement involved. Good teachers will be able to make poor students improve in performance; poor teachers will not. Good teachers will also be able to make good students improve; poor teachers will not. Thus we have an objective measure of teacher performance, the net percentage of students whose academic performance in the same subject improved while in the teacher’s class and care. This measure is independent of the caliber of students taught, or of the actual level of accomplishment in either year.
To control for difficulty of subject and caliber of design of the course being taught, I take advantage of the fact that many thousand different teachers around the country are teaching the same course to the same grade with the same materials. If the course is difficult or of poor design, these teachers as a group will have lower percentage-of-students-improved scores than others. Therefore, rank-order all teachers in this group according to their percentage-improved scores. An individual teacher’s standing in this rank-order list is a measure of only one factor: the performance of the teacher, relative to all others in the nationwide school system.
Therefore, rank teachers by their percentile standing in comparison with all other teachers in the nation teaching the same course in the same school year, and then combine these percentile rankings into one master list. Teachers in the lowest tenth-percentile ranking on this list will not be offered contract renewals.
This percentile ranking will also be the basis for salary administration. The top rank will get top dollar; the low ranks will be paid much less, even if they have forty years’ seniority. Removing the present artificially low limits on maximum teachers salaries will also remove the greatest incentive that now exists for excellent teachers who love classroom teaching to become lousy administrators who hate what they are doing: to earn more money. One reason the public schools are so overburdened with administrators is to make higher-paying jobs for all those teachers who can’t afford to stay in public education at their plateaued salaries. My system won’t need these jobs, because the top rate for top-ranking teachers can be $100,000 a year or more; that’s what these stars are worth (at least as much as an entry-level trainee in a Wall Street law firm or brokerage firm).
This pay-for-performance system will use one-year bonuses instead of merit increases that add to base salary, by the way. That is to say, a teacher in the top rank will get the appropriate bonus in the year that top rank is achieved. It won’t be permanently built into the salary. A lesser rank achievement in a following year will result in a lesser bonus. Similarly, a teacher in a lower rank (above the cut-off, however) will suffer a salary penalty for that year only. This way, every teacher will have every incentive to maintain and improve performance every year; failure to do so will be immediately reflected in earnings.
A few further comments about teachers: training and their teaching assignments. All teachers would be required to have a minimum number of University credits in the subject matter which they teach. These need not have been gotten in college. In fact, teachers would be encouraged to take continuing classes, both in their specialties and in new areas they might wish to change to. They would periodically be given a semester off with pay to attend University classes, with the system paying the tuition.
Teaching assignments would be based on the principles that no teacher teaches the same student in two successive years, and that no teacher teaches the same course for more than five years. The first year is a learning experience for the teacher; the second year gets rid of the rough edges. In the third, fourth, and fifth year, the students benefit from an expert teacher who knows what works in the particular school environment, and is still fresh and challenged. Beyond the fifth year, the teacher is coasting, recycling old stuff without much mental effort or concentration. Therefore, after the fifth year, the teacher will be re-assigned to teach a different course. If change of subject is desirable, this is an opportune time for a semester off for additional study. Necessarily, a five-year assignment schedule means that the comparison with all other teachers teaching the same course for ranking purposes must be with those who are in the same year of the five-year cycle as well.
The accountability of teachers, and the rank-ordering system to give them incentive to improve, is only one dimension of the accountability of the system. We have also to provide means of evaluation and motivation of individual school administrations, local school system administrations, and national administrations.
The national school administration will be responsible for curriculum and teaching materials development, including the computer systems and programming, developing the budget and getting it funded. The local school system administration will be responsible for the operation of the local system, expending the budgeted and appropriated funds for capital expenditures, maintenance, scheduling, salaries, teaching materials, supplies, etc. The local school principals will be responsible for the smooth functioning of the local school, insuring that supplies and materials are on hand. All classroom materials will be provided; in no case will the teachers be expected to provide materials out of their own pockets. One of the principal’s major functions will also be effective integration of the local school into the community; involving the adults in the community, non-parents as well as parents, into giving time as volunteers, providing feedback of the effectiveness of school programs, and other myriad ways that the community can help.
Principals will work on a three-year contract basis. They will be evaluated on the level of achievement of the students in their school in comparison to all other schools in the nation. Determine the average student accomplishment level on a scale of one to four, four being fast group, three and two upper and lower middle respectively, and one the slowest group. Determine the position of the school in a rank order of all schools having the same environment and demographics. Compute this rank order for the local school system as well. Principals whose schools are simultaneously in the lowest ten percent in the nation and below the average for their systems will not have their contracts renewed. Principals whose schools are in the lowest tenth percentile but are above the average of their school systems will have their contracts renewed for two years. If they continue to outperform their local system, but are unable to reach the ten percent goal, it is clear that they are being held back by a poor system. Transfer to a better system would be appropriate.
Superintendents, working on a five-year contract, will similarly be evaluated on the basis of the rank-order position of their school systems. Ranking in the lowest tenth percentile without year-by-year improvement in the last three of the five years will result in no renewal of contract. School system administrative staff will serve at the pleasure of the superintendent. If a superintendent’s contract is not renewed, the incoming superintendent may wish to replace some, many, or all staff members. Thus, these worthies will have every incentive to insure the success of their school systems and their superintendents.
The performance of the national school system, and of the Federal Secretary of Education, can be evaluated against those of other nations. The Secretary will work on a ten-year contract; for contract renewal, the system must achieve an increase in ranking of educational achievement against other nations in six out of the ten years of the term. Again, the staff will serve at the pleasure of the Secretary, and will therefore have a great interest in insuring contract renewal. Although the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) program of Educational Testing Services will no longer be needed for college placement information, it will be used to provide a comprehensive objective independent measure of the educational accomplishments of the school system to form the basis of policy and contract renewal decisions.
I have already mentioned that the students will attend school six days a week from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, three sixteen week terms, forty-eight total weeks a year. From morning through lunch until about 2:00 PM, the day will be devoted to the educational curriculum I have already outlined. The remainder of the afternoon will be devoted to enrichment programs, in the arts, music, drama, dance, and in the high schools to vocational training: drafting, shop, auto repair, appliance repair, TV repair, computer repair, etc. Several times a week, all students will also participate in intramural sports. On those days in which there is no intramural sports participation, the final period of the day will be a half-hour of physical training, Parris-Island style. All students will be fed lunch in the cafeteria, where only healthy foods in appropriately-sized portions will be served. No snacks from home will be allowed, and there will be no vending machines.
Recent educational research suggests that the first few years in a child’s life are absolutely crucial to intellectual development, and that the starvation-diet intellectual atmosphere in urban black children’s homes is a major determinant of their subsequent poor academic performance. For this reason, all children will attend nursery school, within the public school compound from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM, beginning at age two. Within this environment, they will be provided with mentally-challenging play and learning opportunities. Reading of stories to them, to inculcate a love of reading, will be an especially important activity. From nursery school they progress to pre-kindergartem at age three, kindergarten at age four, and pre-elementary at five, and first grade at six. Many of them will already be reading, writing and able to add and subtract by the time they get to first grade, and will necessarily be in a fast-track from the beginning. This situation now applies to many children of upper-middle- and upper-class parents. In my system, the same opportunity will be available to all, regardless of parental income level.
There will be opportunity during the afternoon periods for private classes within the public school environment. If the Serbs or Croatians, for example, wish to hire a teacher to inoculate the children of their ethnic group with the glories of their history and culture, they may do so. The school system will make classrooms available for this kind of private instruction. This will, by the way, include religious instruction if various sects so desire, without any blather about “violating separation of church and state”. The religious group, not the state, will pay for the instructor. The state provides classrooms on an equal basis to all without favoritism to any religious group; there is therefore no “religious establishment” promoted by the state, and no violation of any constitutional provision preventing such promotion. Parents will no doubt complain that their children are being “indoctrinated” with values and mores to which they do not subscribe, “brainwashed” in fact. I will say to them, if that is their concern, that they must take advantage of evenings and one day each weekend to spend time with their children to impart their own cultural and moral values, counterbalancing the influence of the school system.
Only those students who finish in the upper middle or fast tracks will be admitted to universities. The upper middle track will first attend two-year general-curriculum colleges, to get caught up to the level of the fast-track students, before proceeding to universities for concentration on major and minor fields of in-depth study. The fast-track students will proceed directly to the universities for major and minor specialization. Lower middle and slow track students will proceed after graduation either to vocational studies, apprenticeship training in trades, or directly to the job market. If they wish, students in the lower middle track will be allowed an extra year before graduation to catch up to the level of the upper middle, in order to be able to attend college. Students who finish in the lowest track are not college material, and cannot be permitted to burden the college community.
Despite the intensive study program leading to the high-school diploma, graduates will probably not have sufficient experience or maturity to select wisely major fields of university study. Nor will lower-track students have enough experience to select appropriate vocational or apprenticeship training. The three-year mandatory universal military service, to be undertaken after graduation from secondary school, that I have already referred to will help fill these gaps. In addition to the additional training and discipline that universal service will provide, exposure to a wider range of geographical environments and a wider cross-section of the US population will help broaden the outlook of these young people. Fast-track students, who will enter universities at the junior level, will not be delayed significantly by three years universal service in starting their careers beyond the ages at which they do now.
Finally, the colleges and universities will not have to devote any resources to remedial education, as they now do, to complete the job that elementary and secondary education is supposed to do and does not. The cost savings achieved here will partly offset the vastly increased cost of the school system.
The greatly increased time of attendance at school will remove a large number of children and teen-agers from the job market. This will open employment opportunities for many adults who are presently unemployed and are on public welfare programs. Even single mothers will be able to hold these jobs, because their children will be in school all day. They will be particularly valuable in providing the teaching assistants, hall monitors, nursery-class aides, and other positions in the expanded school systems. They will be encouraged to take additional classes leading eventually to full-fledged teaching jobs. Again, the savings in welfare costs will help offset the increased costs of the school system. Of course, teen-agers will be deprived of pocket money; however, they won’t have much time to spend money anyway. Their relative shortage of funds may help give them a better perspective on the value of money. There is no more profligate consumer than a teen-ager with a job bringing in a hundred or so a week whose basic shelter, clothing, and food requirements are already being met by his family.
Finally, there will be no latchkey children at home alone with idle time on their hands to get into mischief or be inoculated into the drug culture.
Although there are cost offsets such as mentioned above which will reduce the total cost of this vastly expanded school system, they won’t be enough. It will cost us more by a substantial amount to have an educational system adequate for the 21st century. Again, however, this is one of those areas that would be cheap at double the price, regardless of what it costs. I will have no compunction against raising taxes to meet these costs.