Democracy: A Solution for Off Track Educational Systems?

I saw the following Boston Globe article highlighted in the Public Education Network’s “Weekly NewsBlast”. The item, titled “English-only instruction rule doubles the dropout rate” with the synopsis given as follows…

A new report profiled in The Boston Globe has found that in the wake of a voter-approved law change six years ago that requires all students be taught in English, the high school dropout rate has nearly doubled for English language learners in Boston. The study, from the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts and analyzed data between 2003 and 2006, and portrays a school system ill-prepared to serve nonnative English speakers, about 38 percent of the Boston’s 56,000 students. In many cases, the district fails to evaluate properly and subsequently identify hundreds of students for special language instruction, and doesn’t give parents information on program options. Overall, the data show that the law, intended to accelerate English fluency, hasn’t helped English language learners to catch up with their English-speaking peers, in many cases leaving them further behind. Carol R. Johnson, superintendent of Boston schools, said the district will revamp the way it tests students for services, expand programs, and provide more comprehensive information to parents. “I think everybody recognizes we need to move with a sense of urgency,” she said. “Children need help and we need to help them now.”

Read more of the article

I see articles like this all the time highlighting statistical analysis after the fact that show that a particular school system has perhaps a structural problem that needs to be addressed. Wouldn’t it be great if our schools could detect these problems as they were beginning to occur rather than after so many kids have had a failed school experience? Must kids suffer while the bureaucracy of statistical analysis of aggregate metrics plays itself out?

I believe there is in fact a way to “retrofit” a school or an entire school system even with a mechanism to detect these sorts of problems when they start to occur rather than much later after they have taken their toll on kids’ lives and show up in statistical post mortems.

High tech listening devices installed in the classrooms and hallways? Nope. How about we end “education without representation” and institute the “D” word in our schools… democracy.

What better way to have schools monitor how well they are serving their students than to give those students a significant role in running their schools, including doing regular evaluations of and having the power to suggest and enact changes to their educational process. Wouldn’t such a mechanism detect and possibly correct these problems in their infancy, with the fringe benefit of empowering students to actually use the democratic process that is supposed to be the hallmark of our country?

When was the last time you have heard anecdotes of teachers, principals and other school staff getting “high-stakes” evaluations from their students, or any evaluation at all for that matter?

Want to know more? Check out this essay on “Democratic School Governance” by my friend and colleague Jerry Mintz, founder of the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *