Retired Atlanta Public Schools teacher Scott Stephens — he taught English for 15 years at Grady High School and taught for a decade in Fulton County — sent me a list of reforms. I thought it was a great list and have his permission to share it here:
Courtesy of Scott Stephens:
1. All certified personnel at a school, including academy leaders, graduation coaches, instructional coaches, assistant principals and principals, should teach at least one class during the school year. This would be of benefit in two ways. First, it would help reduce class size and, most important, it would provide administrators with continued input from the classroom. I believe that when a number of people are at school, but not teaching, morale is adversely affected.
2. All students (K-12) need daily physical activity, both recess and structured physical education. Many students need to get rid of excess energy. Others need to lose weight and get in shape. Further, many discipline problems result from making children sit all day in a classroom. Physical education should be a part of all students’ (k-12) daily schedule. It should be demanding and rigorous, resulting in an elevated heart rate and some sweating. Only athletes get that kind of physical education now.
3. Students need models for behavior. To that end, teachers need to be present, on time and prepared for each class. There are far too many teacher absences on Fridays and Mondays. Stricter guidelines for absences around a holiday or weekend should be implemented.
4. There is too much standardized testing, particularly at the elementary level. At the high school level, I applaud the elimination (finally) of the graduation test as it is replaced by End-Of-Course-Tests (EOCT). However, the EOCT should reflect the curriculum taught in the classroom. The present 9th grade English EOCT, for example, does not test students on any of the readings from the textbook that we have done. It is a generic reading comprehension test that is so easy that many of my students fail to take it seriously. Another issue is the system’s emphasis on PSAT, SAT and AP tests. In many instances, these tests are given during class time. Even more troubling is that many school systems pay the Educational Testing Service for these tests. The Educational Testing Service has been criticized for profit making and high administrative costs. These tests should be paid for by students’ families with a few exceptions made for pupils on free or reduced lunch. Let’s stop subsidizing an out-of- state company.
5. Transportation to and from school could be reformed in several ways. First, school buses should be eliminated for high school students. Instead, all students in Fulton and DeKalb counties eligible for transportation should be given a monthly MARTA pass. This is similar to the system in New York City where students take the subway or bus to school. The present system duplicates already existing MARTA routes. Even worse, many days the buses arrive late to school because they have been used earlier for elementary and middle school routes. Having ridden both school buses and MARTA buses with students, I know that most of the discipline problems on the school bus would be eliminated if the students rode with the general populace on MARTA. Teachers and staff who choose to ride MARTA to school should be given incentives for doing so, eliminating the growing parking problem for school staff. Finally, students who choose to drive to school should be required to pay for a parking pass and park in assigned spots. This would help with the problem of unwelcome visitors to the school and would generate some much needed revenue. Atlanta taxpayers should not be providing free parking to students, especially where there are public transportation alternatives.
6. Struggling students and low achieving schools need the best teachers. In order to provide the best teachers for those students who need extra help, teachers who work in low-performing schools should receive incentive pay and be given reduced class sizes. Also, teachers who teach below-grade-level students should be paid extra for the tutorials they often provide.
7. We are suffering from grade inflation. There are several reasons for this. One is that a passing grade has been raised from 60 to 70. A passing grade should be dropped to a 50 or 60, giving teachers more latitude in creating challenging tests and giving teachers a greater range of numbers for use in evaluating students. Many students are receiving a 70, not having mastered 70 percent of the work. Second, the HOPE Scholarship program has resulted in many more “B” averages. Some students that qualify for HOPE based on their GPA have not been able to pass a graduation test or get a decent score on the SAT. Many more lose their HOPE after their first year in college.
8. Eliminate the challenge and gifted programs. Too many parents are having their children privately tested, resulting in a huge increase in the “gifted.” Even worse, gifted classes are kept at 20 or fewer students. Without an increase in the number of teachers, that means that the students who really need the smaller class size are actually being placed in larger classes. Meanwhile, the gifted students, who can be effectively taught in larger classes, are now in classes that should be reserved for those needing academic help.
9. We need to provide better alternatives for the non-college bound students and provide more practical learning experiences for all students. Classes in keyboarding, wood and metal shop, auto shop, carpentry, cooking, fashion design, sewing, first aid, gardening and personal finance among many others should be expanded or introduced.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog