Thursday, November 12, 2009

Top 20%: Race You to the Top

A commenter asked if I would share my thoughts about what we should be advocating for up in Lansing. I will, but it will probably come out in bits and pieces over the next couple of weeks. I can't seem to muster the time to put it in one coherent package, and anyway it might get too long then.

So--first up:  Top 20%

In general, as an educator, I think that everybody should be getting a B or better. I don't mean this in a grade inflation sort of way. If you are getting a C, D, or F, you are probably not mastering the material. In fact, when my son came home with a C in math last year, I was extremely unhappy. Call me an overachiever if you like (he did--also a nerd), but the only classes I got Cs in were classes where I either didn't study, or really didn't understand the material. In fact, Skyline High School has adopted a form of mastery learning which actually sets the cutoff for mastery at 80%--in other words, a B-.

So, when we talk about what to advocate for in Lansing, let's start with the premise that this is not a race to the bottom. I don't understand why we would want to race to the bottom--on student results, on likelihood of going to college, on teacher salaries, on health outcomes like childhood obesity or smoking rates, and not even on taxes. Yes, I am saying that I want to be more like Massachusetts than Mississippi when it comes to education.

I want a race to the top, on student outcomes, on educators' pay, on numbers of kids going to college, and--if necessary--taxes too. In the race to the top, I think that the Top 20% has a catchy ring. If you are still paying attention, that means the state would be getting a B or better relative to other states. It means mastery learning. 

My first premise is that we should be driven by what will put our outcomes in the top 20% of states. Yes, that means being in the Top Ten. Why settle for mediocrity or, worse, failure? We can talk about how we measure outcomes (of course you can "manipulate" that, but it is also a matter of identifying what you value). We can talk about funding methodology.

But let's start with the idea that, if we could get a consensus goal of being in the top 20%, it would drive a lot of decision-making. 

One more thing: of course education is expensive. Kids are not robots, and neither are teachers. Which is why, next up:  School Funding--how, what, and why (or: tax structure, funding stability, what could equity/fairness mean)

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