The view from the other side

Last week, I wrote about my eagerness to read my students’ essays on how to improve American K-12 education. Forty essays in, and I’m exhausted but not disappointed.

A few of their ideas are thinly researched or ill-conceived, but most put a lot of thought and evidence into their proposals.

About half of my students advocated changes to the structure of school day or year, and about half advocated changes to teaching and testing strategies. A handful of others offered strategies more directed at the students or their families.

None of them mentioned the buzzword “accountability” — they seemed to assume that both teachers and students are actually trying their best, but that there are systemic or curricular problems leading to our poor national performance. There was also surprisingly little emphasis on technology.

Here are a few of their proposals, along with a snippet of the evidence they offered. (I’m not including their full citations, but they were included.) You can decide whether we should ask students how to improve their schools.

Changes to the school day or year:

  1. Include physical activity or recess in each school day

“The [Playworks] program reduced bullying, enhanced feelings of safety at school, increased vigorous physical activity during recess, and provided more time for classroom teaching.” – Study of Playworks recess programs

“They go back to the classroom less boisterous, more attentive and better behaved compared to students who have been sitting in chairs hours on end.” – University of Georgia study

2. Switch from five-day weeks to four-day weeks

“For schools that switched to a four day week… there is a discrete increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in math during the year in which the schedule change took place. For reading achievement, the coefficient estimates for the lags are all positive and large in magnitude.” – Study in the MIT Press Journal

3. Implement year-round school

Disadvantaged students can lose up to three months of reading skills over the course of the summer. – CNN

4. Push back high school start times

Economist Finley Edwards demonstrated that moving back the start times one hour improved math and reading standardized test scores by 2-3% and closed the achievement gap between blacks and whites by 14%. – Education Next

Changes in instructional strategies:

  1. Train teachers to use more active learning strategies

When teachers use methods such as full classroom discussions, multimedia, or storytelling, this enhances the learning experience for all students and translates to better standardized test scores and much bigger growth student achievement moving forward. – Economist Eric Hanushek

2. Cut back on standardized testing

A survey of the Colorado Education Association found that teachers spend 30 percent of their time on prep and testing. – NEA Today

3. Implement Lesson Study, a technique used in Japan and Finland

Finland, using Lesson Study, has drastically improved its education system, from an underachieving school system with a large achievement gap in 1970 to fifth best in 2016. – Stanford University study

4. Use more flipped learning strategies

In 2010, fewer than half of Clintondale (MI)  freshmen passed math, science, and English language arts. But just six months after the flipped classroom was implemented, graduation rates increased from 80 to 90 percent, and reading passing rates jumped eleven percent. – PBS News Hour

And a few more:

  1. Reach out to involve parents more in their children’s education

“When their families guided them to classes that would lead to higher education, students were more likely to enroll in a higher-level program, earn credits, and score higher on tests.” – Johns Hopkins University study

2. Pay students for their performance

In schools that implemented monetary rewards for completing reading assignments for four school years, the boost in performance on standardized tests was equivalent to 2.25 months of schooling in addition to the students’ traditional growth curves.- Harvard University study