Sunday, March 6, 2011

Untying the Equity Knot

The school system in America is a swiss-cheese model.  For areas of high-poverty there are gaping holes in both physical and human resources.  The reasons for this are myriad, but a large part is due to the pervasive (though not exclusive) model of basing school funding on property taxes.

So, just thinking out loud, here's an idea that came to me on a walk:

What if the 'hardware' of schools were under the purview of the Federal Government.  That is, all school buildings and their resources were audited and brought up to the same high standards as the most fully funded school facilities, being held to a Federal standard that would be kept current from year to year. (We build schools in Iraq....)

This would expedite, among other things, the acquisition of the technology that is constantly changing but that is also a necessary component if the nation is to deliver 21st century learning.  Access to the best is very much a hit or a miss--mostly a miss if you are poor--in the current system.  (Hey, Bill Gates, here's where your donations would be most appreciated:  Make sure every kid has a laptop and wireless access.)

For those who are fond of the corporate model, think McDonald's.  McDonald's is the largest holder of real estate in the United States.  They maintain quality from sea to sea by owning the buildings in every burg.  A steady stream of income for corporate headquarters comes from the rent that franchisees pay.  I haven't thought about that aspect--whether there would be rent--or if there was rent what criteria that would be based on.  Go ahead and toy with that on your own.  :-)  I'm leaning towards no rent.

Then we could leave the 'software' to the localities: tying curriculum and the hiring of high-quality teachers (with 'high-quality' being a measure left to the accreditation board of a yet-to-be established professional governance system) to the community.

Schools need to be both standardized and flexible because of the highly contextual nature of teaching and learning, and its multiple variables.  Some things must be standard (like access); some things must be specific to the kids and the community (like what we prepare a population to know and be able to do in terms of where they live and what the local needs are.)

For years the state of Virginia has had the Standards of Quality - which was the state's commitment to providing equal access--while the teachers were held to the Standards of Learning.
Though the teachers are still contractually obligated to the Standards of Learning (SOLs), the state has repeatedly reneged on their part of the deal, consistently underfunding the Standards of Quality.

If we want to repair the education system and make sure that our students are ready to compete globally--rather than continue to win top honors as the industrialized nation with the highest population of working-age men behind bars (gosh, we're always building up-to-date prisons....)--then we need to make equal access a pillar of that education system.

You may now talk among yourselves and find the holes in my vision.

Just sayin'.