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School Ideas: In Practice, Not Just Theoretical
By David W. Kirkpatrick (February 07, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

There are more than 14,000 school districts in the United States and while there are many variations in size, wealth, location - rural, suburban or urban - and the like, they are very much alike in their approach to education.  Given the virtually universal demands for more money, demands that are never fully satisfied, and not likely to be, it's curious that there is so little variation among the school districts.  This is especially so since there are alternative ideas, and even here and there a few practical applications to be found.
For example, there seems to be no basic reason why virtually all schools are standalone buildings when it is common elsewhere in society for multipurpose structures to be the norm.
As far back as 1971 the respected Committee on Economic Development in New York issued a report, Education for the Urban Disadvantaged, recommending that "The possibilities of joint occupancy–incorporating commercial establishments, community facilities, and schools in one physical plant–deserve careful study as a means of locating schools at acceptable costs where they are needed."  The report went on to note that "Every city has a supply of abandoned...buildings that are suited for conversion into educational facilities at costs far below those involved in building new schools."
Before objectors had time to say how impractical this suggestion was, Improving State Leadership in Education in Denver coincidentally issued its own 1972 report, The Big Cities, which highlighted an instance of what the CED had proposed, the Human Resources Center in Pontiac, Michigan.   "In addition to an elementary school, the complex includes facilities for community health, welfare family counseling, recreation, adult education and cultural services.  It also includes restaurants...The school district built and owns the facilities."
It isn't clear whether the school district charges rent from the other agencies utilizing the Center but, if not, at the very least there is undoubtedly some sharing of expenses since the school district supplied the upfront money.  Such multipurpose buildings are relatively common in urban areas for the provision of social services, as one example.  There seems to be little reason why they should be correspondingly rare in the public education arena.
Among the other ideas that date as far back as the early 1970s include the practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina of giving credit to high school students for teaching in elementary schools for eight hours a week.  Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, in The School Book, noted that the Chapel Hill option was also offered in Palma Heights, Ohio and "dozens of other places."  They also noted the Do Unto Others, DUO, program in Vermont which offered full academic credit to students participating "in legitimate political, social, or ecological organizations."
At the same time the publication Educational Leadership, aimed at public educators, called attention to the Urban High School which had opened in Las Vegas in September of 1970, offering a full-time comprehensive high school program at night.  The school also gave credit for job experience to any student who was registered for the program who was supervised on the job and took a related class.  The school was available to any high school student in the Clark County School District and any reason for attending was acceptable.
Finally, Education U.S.A. noted in 1975 that while 44% of public school student ride buses, only 3% do so because of racial integration programs. The article mentioned researchers at Illinois State University  looking at the use of "bus teachers," college student majoring in education who brought play materials and conducted activities on a bus.  The results were sufficiently positive that it was recommended buses have one adult for every 15 primary school children and face-to-face seating be instituted or encourage such activities.
If that seems too expensive, more districts might try following another example where teachers were allowed too ride the school bus at no charge as long as it didn't require altering the normal route of the bus, and there was space.  Some did so and their very presence led to a significant reduction of student problems or unruliness on the bus.
The issue isn't necessarily  that districts should adopt such ideas.  It's that they aren't even aware of them.

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"Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worse of them all–the apathy of human beings."  --Helen Keller,  p. 79, Ted Goodman, Ed., The Forbes Book of Business Quotations, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 1997

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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