The federal “Race to the Top” and Florida’s “Student Success Act” are attempts to improve K-12 results. Race to the Top claims to “spur systemic reform and embrace innovative approaches to teaching and learning.” It’s unclear how to decode that. Student Success Act seeks to gear teacher pay to growth in student achievement.
More K-12 programs are expected in the coming months. All will claim to put the students’ interests first and to help reverse American students’ slide in international comparisons. Politicians and educators will tell us what’s good or bad in each improvement from their unique perspectives. But the consumer’s perspective is likely to be more pragmatic, more holistic, and be that of a buyer, not a seller. Today, we assess “Student Success Act” from a consumer perspective.
Consumers pay for public K-12 education, send their children to it and have clear goals for K-12 students. Consumers expect K-12 students to graduate from high school with enough skill in mathematics, science, citizenship, reading, and composition to be ready for first year of college without remedial classes. For a few students, alternate goals are needed, but citizenship and readiness for employment should be emphasized in those cases. Consumers know that many factors can deter students from achieving their goal.
Consumers, especially parent taxpayers, reflexively go through a mental checklist to gauge whether an “improvement” should increase progress toward their goal. The checklist is similar to what consumers apply to any major purchase of services. There are four big categories in the consumer’s checklist.
First is “Time on Task,” namely hours of instruction during the school year. Typically 180 six-hour days make a school year. But not all hours are available for instruction. Subtract hours for administration and test taking, hours on non-curriculum topics, hours needed to quell classroom disruptions, and hours devoted to those needing “one-on-one help.” Florida’s Student Success Act is neutral on “Time on Task.”
Second is the “Right Curriculum Content,” the sequenced building blocks of curriculum that a student must master in order to graduate. Curriculum is set by the school board or accrediting agency. Students unprepared to learn the curriculum should not be in the class – they waste everyone’s time. Students who have already mastered material should not be forced to re-learn it or to sit idle. Curriculum content should be presented in an apolitical, mainstream culture tone. Florida’s Student Success Act probably won’t have a bearing on “Right Curriculum Content.”
Third is “Teacher and Student Performance.” Student performance is growth as measured by beginning and ending achievement tests. Teacher performance includes the total of student performances, class size, headcount of “challenged” students, multilingual skills required by the class, and timely reports on student progress. If a student cannot/will not learn at the prescribed pace he should be placed in a class attuned to his situation. Florida’s Student Success Act is likely to improve fairness and pay for teachers and thus improve “Teacher and Student Performance.”
Fourth is “Cost.” Consumers understand paying more for better quality and they appreciate that it’s rational to pay more to teachers whose high skill and passion made for large gains in student achievement. The pay hike should match the hike in student achievement. The Student Success Act should be cost efficient.
Overall, Florida’s Student Success Act is narrow in scope but seems to be an improvement from a consumer’s perspective.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida. He follows public policy issues from the consumer’s perspective