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educational reform blueprint

Perhaps I don’t have the experience or the training needed to write up a blueprint on how to reform the educational process in this country. However, I do have some experience and I do have some training so I feel like I’m qualified to say something about blueprinting education reform.
I found a section of the blueprint as posted on reformk12.com:

Lack of Choice: Why is it that in any other area of our lives we don’t tolerate the government telling us what to do or what to choose, yet when people propose giving parents real choice (for example in the form of vouchers, or even permitting parents to homeschool), the response is, “Nooooo, that will destroy public education!”

First, I do not believe that private school vouchers would destroy public education. Equally so, I do not believe that private school vouchers would improve public education. Even though I’m Catholic, I can not support school vouchers. There is nothing wrong with public education that would be solved by diverting money and students elsewhere. You want your child to have a good Catholic education? That’s completely your option. Go for it. You can’t afford it? Talk to your pastor, apply for scholarships, ask for sponsorship. If I ever make millions, I’ll donate a chunk to help pay for scholarships to Catholic schools. I don’t believe that tax dollars should go towards that purpose. They’re called public schools because they are operated by the state. They’re called private schools because they are operated by private individuals. They’re called parochial schools because they are operated by a church parish.
Public schools need improvement and competition does help spur that in many cases.
Does that limit the method of competition to public/private? No. Create choice programs within districts. Allows parents and students to choose what junior high and high schools they attend. Many will choose based on old traditions but many will choose on what would be the best school. Keep elementary schools, for the most part, as neighborhood schools. What about raising low-performing schools? Keep an open flow of teachers. Move underperforming teachers out; move proven teachers in. Not only that, move proven teachers in and put them in a position to help mentor young, fresh teachers on what works and what doesn’t. Make low-performing schools into magnet programs. Create programs with specialized function and purpose to help draw in students interested in certain fields. Create programs that are unique and will draw the interest of the general public. Create programs in all schools that would invite, welcome and encourage input, interaction and support from local businesses and industry.
I am the product of public education done right, in my opinion. I went to one of the poorest elementary schools in the city. Looking at the latest campus accountability data table (2002), the school is still 85.1% economically disadvantaged. At the time, I wasn’t one of the economically disadvantaged students; I didn’t know the difference though. I made real connections with students of every race and socioeconomic bracket. My kindergarten teacher, a Ms. Georgie Walton, noticed early that I had a high ability for learning and had already, thanks to my mother, been taught how to read. She did something- now I assume she talked to the principal, Mrs. Diane Taylor and whomever else. The school decided to place me half of the day in Mrs. Rose Partridge’s 1st grade classroom (when they conducted reading assignments) and I would spend the rest of the day with my kindergarten classmates- after all, socially, I wasn’t ready to leave kindergarten. Later in the year, we had a transfer student, a girl, who was advanced as well. The school noticed it and did pretty much the same thing with her except she was down in the 1st grade class longer.
My first grade teacher, Mrs. Gail Anderson, who is now the school’s principal, read my file and noticed my advanced ability as well. She kept me in the classroom; however, she gave me assignments much beyond the scope of the class. I ended up completely the first-grade, the second-grade and about a third of the third-grade material during that school year. Also, I took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. I don’t remember exactly what my scores were but they were almost all in the 99th percentile for my grade level. The school noticed this, called myself and my parents in for a meeting. At the meeting, it was felt that I had all the skills needed to begin the third-grade in the following fall. My handwriting, however, needed improvement so I should attend a couple of summer school where I was given some additional instruction on handwriting (although I don’t think it ever stuck).
My third grade year was uneventful and I have no difficulty in completely the coursework.
As the school I was attending only went through third grade, I left and started attending a relatively new math-science-technology magnet elementary school. The school was located in a former high school on the Eastside of town. The district had been under court order to desegregate so they closed most of the schools on the Eastside (read: black) side of town and bused those kids to other locations. The school was in a poverty-stricken area of town. Across the street was one of “the projects”- public housing for those who couldn’t afford it. Since it was a magnet school, students from all over town attended lowered the economically-disadvantaged rate up to 46.4% (again, using 2002 numbers).
Even though it was on the wrong side of the tracks and had all the local children- as well as magnet students- in the same classrooms together, parents used to wait in line starting at 4 am to try to get their students a place on campus. In any case, the school- through Federal Magnet Assistance- had over 300 computers on campus, two state-of-the-art project rooms, a greenhouse, a hydroponics lab, a riverwater testing lab, an aviation/space lab. In addition, the teachers knew their material, they knew how to aim higher and higher, they pushed students- both the rich boy who was the son of the most wealthy man in the city as well as the poor boy who couldn’t afford school supplies. No excuses were made for either of them. The student that needed pencils- pencils were found somewhere for him. They both succeeded. The school has since won various awards, including the first presentation of The Ronald P. Simpson Award, giving it the title as “The Best Magnet School in America”. Previous to that, it had been a Magnet School of Distinction and a Magnet School of Merit.
After seeing the success of the elementary magnet program, the Wichita Falls ISD started a junior high magnet- making Kirby Junior High into the Kirby Math-Science Center. The school, again with the assistance of Federal Magnet funds, had computers in every classroom, a video-editing lab and studio, a greenhouse, an aerospace technology program as well as whatever I can’t think of at the time. The school also offered Pre-AP courses, at the time, in Algebra I and II. Since, they expanded to include other courses. While at Kirby, most of the teachers knew what they were doing. I learned the basics while reaching for the stars, literally, in the space shuttle simulator that one of the teachers had created from a converted Air Force F-14 cockpit simulator (see- this is where creating programs that catch the attention of surrounding businesses and industry helps).
The school won the third presentation of the Ronald P. Simpson Award. It had previously been named a Magnet School of Merit award winner.
Of course, after seeing both an elementary and junior high magnet program work- it was time to branch out to high school. The district selected another school in a low socioeconomic area to be converted. Hirschi High School was redesignated as a magnet school. Now, this is when I believe Dr. Huffines, the late Director of Federal Funds for the WFISD, really had fun. The school started with four magnet programs: multimedia, medical, aviation and engineering. The school continued to run the district’s automotive career center as well. Again, using Federal Magnet Funds, they converted part of the building into a multimedia lab; they converted an old upstairs gym (without need after the completion of a field house a few years before) into the largest Tech Plaza in the country that contained a fully digital video studio and editing suite complete with blue screen. A set of classrooms were converted to a medical classroom that had a complete simulation of a hospital room as well as medical dummies for students to work on. The aviation program was given a handful of computers with flight simulators as well as a pilot to serve as an instructor and the ability to use an aircraft at the local airpark. The engineering program was given a small portion of the building where they worked on various projects that served the school well. While I was at Hirschi, they built all of the pyros used at pep rallies and football games, t-shirt guns, a run-through tunnel and other various spirit-related things. One of the cool things- they created a device to help the local law enforcement determine the speed that an accident victim was traveling based on skid marks. I don’t know what they created but apparently it saved a huge amount of time for the officers using the devices.
Meanwhile, in the year before I attended, the district heard wind somehow of the International Baccalaureate program and was accepted to the program with the Class of 2002. The school, with my class, started offering Pre-IB and then IB coursework.
This high school, also, was very negatively seen by the community at large. The school was painted with the image that it once rightly held as the “gang school” in town with the drug problem. The problem had ended in the early 90s but community perception did not change. The school, in a process driven by students and administrators, worked on spirit-related projects, image-related projects as well as a media campaign designed to improve the school’s image. The hands-on work that I was able to put into the projects has given me the largest benefit of any progressive educational technique.
Now back to the issue of choice. What didn’t I tell you about this setup? Initially, the school magnet programs worked like how many across the country do. Students in the district attend whatever school that they are supposed to according to neighborhood outlines. If they wish to attend a magnet school, they apply and are then accepted or denied. My elementary school and junior high experience was like that.
Now, the school district, under court pressure, adapted a different technique. First off, all secondary schools were upgraded to magnet status and, by the decision of the campus with school board approval, were given a field to specialize electives. Visual and Performing Arts programs developed, Communication programs developed, etc. Secondly, all 6th grade students (rather their parents) return a form requesting a junior high campus to attend. All 8th grade students return a form requesting a high school campus to attend. Geographical zones do not exist for secondary schools. Initially, the process was to ensure racial balance and so they would deny some students their first choice based on that (only eight students in two years). After a few years, they realized that the process racially balanced itself and so they lifted that restriction.
Secondary school education in WFISD is based on choice.
Elementary schools are still neighborhood schools with a request required to transfer to a magnet school. Since my elementary school days, the district has expanded the magnet program to include a number of campuses.
In any case, that is how public schooling should be done in my opinion. I had doors opened to me every time I thought to knock. The teachers cared and put forth effort I would only dream of on a college campus. I will, in the future, describe certain aspects in more detail but in short, I feel that public education is not the bane of education of this country. It is sick but it has potential that can not be ignored.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

2 replies on “educational reform blueprint

I just love hearing people brag about our high school :-D!! It always puts a huge smile on my face.
Did you know that technically I was turned down for my first choice of high school? But I’m not counted as a statistic since it was never put down in the paperwork. However, I chose Rider before I knew they had the whole program of letting you choose your school, but they told me I couldn’t attend Rider because I was caucasion. I didn’t really understand this at the time. All I knew was that I live four blocks from this high school and they weren’t allowing me to attend it. But, I believe that was the best thing that could have happened to me. Could you imagine me as a Raider?! Anyway, I feel very lucky to have attended Hirschi…especially now that I have seen what the “sick” public schools are like. If any state needs reform, it’s California. Its schools rank down at the bottom of the list along with Mississippi’s. So sad…Students out here are considered lucky if they get accepted to the private schools.

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