Business types like Bill Gates and politicians like Obama, Education Secretary John B. King, and his predecessor Arne Duncan have, in many ways, changed the face of America’s public schools by supporting…

  1. Bribery-induced adoption of the Common Core State Standards via Duncan’s $4.35 billion initial Race to the Top grant program.
  2. Common Core-related online standardized assessments resulting in scores affected by the device used–think tablet vs. a keyboard–as well as kids’ typing experience, or lack thereof.
  3. Teacher evaluations based on students’ standardized test performance, so that Teacher A with a classroom of struggling and/or special-education students faces a label of “ineffective” and could be ousted vs. Teacher B, with few such students and hence higher test scores and a bonus in the offing, as all kids must take the same test regardless of classification.
  4. Non-stop student data collection, with most parents clueless as to how it’s being used, including being shared with third-party, non-education parties.

And so on; you get the idea, but now comes Joanne Yatvin, a former educator, principal, and superintendent, offering up a number of fix-it suggestions and this caveat: “Be warned that my proposals are not only unorthodox but also teacher-biased and cheap. Well, at least cheaper than the test-drenched practices now in place.”

Here’s a sampling:

  1. “Convert schools in high-poverty areas to full-time community centers”–open in the evenings and on weekends, too, providing social, health, and recreational supports, along with inexpensive, nutritious dinners.
  2. “Turn over the management of high-poverty schools to  professional educators”–the best and brightest to serve the neediest children and their families.
  3. “Evaluate teachers on their own performance, not those of students”–meaning both formal and informal/drop-in type observations that assess their effectiveness in the classroom, work ethic, and use of time and coupled with with prompt feedback. For those not making the grade, make mentoring and support the first step, and then, if necessary, provide a dignified way out.
  4. Offer early retirement to burned-out teachers.
  5. “Cut reliance on commercial educational materials… and, instead, invest in high quality literature, technology, and reference books for students and professional books and university courses for teachers.”
  6. “Increase the size and power of the school library, and make the librarian a key figure in the education of students.”
  7. “Provide poor children with the background knowledge and support they may have missed at home and in their community”–such as visiting museums, parks, beaches, hands-on activities, reading to them, and so on.
  8. “Reduce the number of standardized tests and the time devoted to test preparation.”
  9. “Make every school a place where students want to be”

On that last item, add making every school a place where teachers want to be, too. That, in turn, requires a principal leader who circulates constantly, is familiar with countless students and holds them accountable for their behavior, and knows his teachers well, engaging with them as professionals and enlisting their expertise. No more staying behind the office door…