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Guest MINDSETTER ™ Berwick: A Blueprint to Improve Public School Education

Sunday, November 22, 2015


To improve public school education, teacher productivity and student productivity have to be increased. In addition, schools have to be restructured to meet the needs of teachers and students, alternative pathways to learning have to be provided to all needy students and dropout rates have to be reduced. It is important to remember, “All students, especially students with special needs, have the ability to learn, they just have to be given the opportunity to learn on a day to day basis”.

In order to achieve the above goals, public schools have to become more like charter schools. Charter schools are successful because they are small and administrators can monitor the daily lessons that are taught. In addition, charter schools can innovate whenever necessary, can control curriculum content, can have a longer school day and a longer school year, can pay their teachers more and can provide better working conditions for teachers and students. Parental and community involvement is high and charter school teachers and students are highly motivated. The following blueprint to improve public school education describes a series of educational strategies that will allow public schools to become as successful as well run charter schools.

Blueprint For Teachers

To improve teacher productivity, educators have to start using 21st century computer technology to store the daily lessons to be taught during the school year. Teachers do not have the time to create, write and implement detailed daily lesson s.  Teachers would be more productive if the weekly daily lessons in each subject and at each grade level were created, written or revised during the summer by the Rhode Island Department of Education in conjunction with the professional staffs in each school system and computerized. Using this team approach to create and write each daily lesson would allow input based on the experience of every grade level subject teacher and every school administrator.    

Each daily lesson would match the curriculum and each print out of the lesson would include the lesson plan, the materials needed for the lesson and suggestions on how to teach each lesson. Print outs would also include student reading material.   Computer technology would allow this reading material to be tailored to meet the individual needs of each student. Because most text material would be computerized, student text books would no longer be needed. Supplementary materials and homework assignments would be provided online with many opportunities for individualized after school teacher/parent/student interactions. A blend of face to face and online teaching strategies would be achieved. If the curriculum changes, these computerized lessons could be easily updated. The daily lessons being taught in the classroom would be based on the latest information available. Parents, teachers, business leaders, labor leaders, elected public officials and the media would have computer access to the daily lessons being taught in each school system. This would guarantee local control of curriculum content and educational policy.

Teaching lessons in this manner would also ensure that all students cover the required curriculum material during the school year. If a teacher is absent, the substitute would be able to teach the required lesson. If a student is out sick for a period of time, these computer lessons would allow for successful home schooling that would exactly match the lessons being taught in school. In addition, parents who home school their children would have computer access to all curriculum materials and school administrators would have computer access to all drill, quiz and test material of home schooled children. When all teachers have access to the same detailed, well written daily lessons, all students would receive instruction in all the required skills. Teachers would be evaluated on how well they teach these computerized lessons and not on how well their students perform on standardized end of the year tests. In a short period of time, new teachers and weak teachers would gain confidence in their abilities to teach these well written daily lessons. Students not mastering the required skills would quickly receive remediation at the end of the school day or after school online.                                                                                                                                        

Student productivity could also be improved by increasing the length of the school day by one hour and the length of the school year by 20 days.The school year would consist of 8 cycles of five weeks of school followed by a week of vacation.There would be a four week vacation period during the summer. Students would be spending the equivalent of 60 extra days per year in the classroom. Time would be available at the end of each day for enrichment programs, remedial programs and alternative pathways to learning programs. Make up days for school closing due to weather problems would no longer be needed. Study halls could be eliminated and replaced with large group instruction in civics, music, art, health and United States history using computer technology and audience response systems.    

 During the summer, organized instruction would take place in camp settings, (Day and Away), in partnerships with local Parks and Recreation Departments, YMCA’s, YWCA’s, Boys & Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Time would be available, during day camp and away camp sessions, for three 40 minute classes each week in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  However, students would be spending most of their time having fun and enjoying camp activities. Every student would have an opportunity to go to summer camp and every needy student would be available to take part in alternative pathways to learning. Summer learning losses would become summer learning gains.     

Blueprint to Improve School Performance                                       

To improve school performance, the “School-Within-a-School-Concept” should be employed in each school with more than 350 students. If a school has 600 students, it would be divided up into two separate schools with 300 students each.  In each school, administrators, faculty members, parents, non-instructional staff and students would have an opportunity get to know and trust one another.  In a short period of time, almost everyone would begin acting like a family where most members care about and want to help each other. A social commitment would develop where most members would begin working together to make the school a successful community. Because these schools would be small, curriculums designed to meet the cultural diverse needs of at risk student populations could be developed. Administrators, teachers and students, in these small schools, could use the team approach to implement curriculum goals and create group portfolios to represent their achievements.   These small schools would be the equivalent of well run charter schools. The need for additional innovative charter schools in Rhode Island would be ended and the remaining charter schools could be phased out over time. The problems caused by charter schools drawing students from more than one school system would be solved.

To provide alternative pathways to leaning, partnerships between school systems and parks & recreation departments, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and local colleges/universities should be established. Elementary school students would be serviced by local parks & recreation departments, middle school students by local YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs and high school students by local colleges and universities. Parental and community involvement in the educational process would be improved using this approach to provide needy students with alternative pathways to learning. 

The Result

As a result of the longer school day and year, the number of teachers needed at the high school level would be reduced. Almost all students would be able to complete all graduation requirements by the end of the 11th grade. No senior classroom teachers would be needed. The savings in salaries and benefits for these teachers and the savings produced by not having to buy text books for each student would provide the funds to implement this plan for education reform.  

High school seniors would attend local state colleges and universities for three hours of specially designed work/study programs or prep-school programs three days per week. These post secondary, college level programs would be a great incentive for high school juniors and seniors to stay in school and make plans to continue their education at a technical school or a 2 year or 4 year institution of higher learning. Seniors would return to their local high schools for club, graduation and sports activities and to allow those students who have not completed their graduation requirements, to complete them.

Because many teachers would be working the equivalent of 60 extra days per year, their salaries would increase proportionately. In addition, to attract high quality math and science teachers, a five step salary schedule should be established. In today’s world, there are numerous professions pursuing a finite number of highly qualified college graduates. In order to attract the highest qualified college students to the teaching profession, teacher working conditions have to be improved and teacher salaries have to be increased.  The implementation of the above mentioned education strategies would provide the means to these ends.    

Kenneth Berwick of Smithfield, RI Served three years in the United States Marine Corps from 1954-1957. Berwick is a retired teacher with a BA from RIC in 1960 and a Masters from Syracuse in 1969.


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