Thursday, March 21, 2013

What is a Neighborhood School?

A foundational element of the Community-based Education Reform movement is the neighborhood public school. Most people know, intuitively, what a neighborhood school is. It's important, however, to have a clear written definition.

It should be noted that the scope of this article is only to define the terminology and nothing more.

Basis of the Definition: Neighborhood School

Neighborhood public schools are the school assigned to all nearby children of a certain grade level and are free. They are so named and so assigned because of geography, which in turn is rooted in practicality.

There are two essential drivers of the practicality of a local neighborhood public school.

First, schools tend to hover around a certain size range, and don't tend to grow either much larger or much smaller (i.e. plus or minus an order of magnitude). There has been a lot of research in the area of school size, and it seems to indicate an idea size of no less than two and no more then four classes per grade, assuming that it's possible to provide the necessary programs within those parameters.

However, without going into a long discussion about school size, here we stipulate that economies of scale will drive a school to not be too small, but that factor will wane after a certain level and other factors (e.g. geography, community) will take over as the decisive factor in determining school size.

Second, in the present state of human technology, the physical proximity of things largely drives their practicality. Hence we assign children to schools based in the place they live, and their physical proximity to a school. This is modulated by another purely practical factor, which is human governance: city and district boundaries. It might be further modulated by other practical factors such as roads and transportation and so forth.

Put these factors together, one after another, and you have the basis of a neighborhood school. It should first be sized appropriately, which in turn drives its geographical scope. If the local student population exceeds its appropriate attendance, a new school should be built based on the same two general factors above. If a school's attendance shrinks, it can be combined with another school according to the same principles.

What Neighborhood Schools Are and Are Not

Within the primary and secondary factors determining the attendance you will not find choice as a factor. Advocates of "choice" rightly consider the neighborhood school model the antithesis of what they support.

Thus a neighborhood school is by definition a reflection of it's local community. A charter school (or any form of "choice school") on the other hand, is a reflection of individual choices. Hence we community reformers believe that strengthening the community around a neighborhood school will strengthen the school, and weakening that community (by, for instance, introducing charter schools which strip neighborhood schools of funding and the most engaged students and parents) will weaken neighborhood public schools.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Education Reform: Corporate vs. Community

The phrase, "education reform" has been hijacked--temporarily anyhow--but a radical element seeking to end public education in the USA. With that, the "education reform movement" is splitting into two, with the "corporate reformers" ala Michelle Rhee on one side, and the "community reformers" ala Diane Ravitch on the other side.

For now I fully expect this to be a work in progress and I'd like all the feedback I can get...

Education Reform: Two Approaches
Corporate-based Reform Issue Community-based Reform
Teachers and Schools Are To Blame: Differently managed (privately managed) schools can overcome any and all of the negative effects of poverty. Our schools are failing because of bad teachers and bad schools. Fix them and we will fix our test scores and fix our society. Problem Statement Poverty Is the Problem: US school outcomes from the top-tiers are outstanding. The problem lies in the lower quartile where there is rampant child poverty and its negative effects. Children who come to school hungry, abused, come from broken homes, from parents (more commonly, a single parent) who care little about education will almost never succeed no matter how great the teacher or the school.
Schools Should Be Like Corporations: They should be privately run, and run by the numbers. We should find the best teachers who will work for the lowest pay and job security. Children must be tested more, and test scores should be the primary driver for everything, especially for firing teachers and closing schools. Citizens should be able to choose schools like they choose any other product from a corporation. Solution Summary Fight Poverty: Our lowest-scoring areas need community programs that give children the same kinds of benefits that higher-scoring students have, such as stable health care, early education, stable and caring adult role models, and a consistent focus on education. The profession of teaching should be elevated not denigrated.
Parents Choose: If parents wish to segregate themselves using taxpayer dollars, then that's their "choice". If they wish to excuse themselves and their family from the downsides of the system they themselves voted to burden with extra responsibilities, they may. It's everybody for themselves, and schools should no more be a central part of a community than a convenience store or a gas station. Segregation Separate is Unequal: Segregation in any form is wrong, and contrary to Brown v. BoE. This includes segregation that is driven by parents wishing to segregate themselves. School and/or program selection should be done using democratically agreed-upon objective factors, including practical factors like geography and school facilities, and individual factors such as a child's special needs. Everyone follows the same rules and everybody works together to improve their local neighborhood school, which is the permanent heart of the community.
Privatization and Profits: Schools should be privately run and parents should be "consumers" who shop around for schools like they shop for car insurance or a bank. Everybody for themselves and if a local school fails, parents simply move on to the next one. Parents care only about themselves and their own children. K-12 education in the USA is a "trillion dollar opportunity" and we should allow a new form of "entrepreneurs" (aka cronypreneurs) to chase after ever cent of it. Governance Democracy: Schools should be public and take all comers, and they should be pillars of the community. Everybody works together for the betterment of the community school and come together there. Parents work to better their school as they work to better their community. The profit motive does not belong in public education and serves only to provide a corrupting influence--it creates an "education-industrial complex" which is dangerous to democracy.
High-stakes Testing: Teachers are not professionals and they shouldn't be treated that way. Accountability is achieved through testing. Teachers whose tests scores fall are fired. Schools whose test scores are closed and replaced by private charter schools. Testing should be done extensively, and often. It should only test the basics and ignore "useless" subjects like history and literature. Accountability Contextual Management: Teachers should be managed like the professionals they are, not like piece workers at Foxconn. Real management is contextual, and involves judgement. Some teachers may have harder assignments and mitigating factors. Testing should be used only as the blunt diagnostic tool it is, and emphasis should be placed on overall quality as decided upon by community standards, parents and other professionals.
"Choice" and Segregation: Parents decide on schools for whatever reason they choose, regardless of motivations. Schools should have multiple "tiers" for rich, less rich, poorer, etc. Parents should be able to segregate themselves however they like. All students should receive exactly the same amount of funding regardless of need. Equality Objective Equality: Democratically decided rules and practical factors (such as geography) determine the placement of students in schools, which are all part of the same system and take all comers. Democratically-controlled schools establish objective rules for special programs. Funding should prioritized according to student needs.

Friday, March 8, 2013

New Blog, New Focus

Hello everybody,

Today I've finally completed what I've been meaning to do for a while: organizing my blog universe into two distinct galaxies, one for issues surrounding that of our local charter school (Bullis Charter School) and this one, covering education reform in the USA.

I think this new approach will make much more sense to my two distinct audiences, and my two distinct subjects. This blog will take over as my primary blog. Obviously the two will overlap somewhat, but hey, that's why they invented hyperlinks.


Joan J. Strong, pseudonym