My solution, in its entirety, but for a few typos corrected and a few names removed. It was originally posted March 9, 2011 on another blog:
A friend of mine had a simple status on Facebook this morning: "When did teachers become the bad guys?" It led to a small discussion, part of which I joined. As an afterthought, I added that if anyone cared, I had a solution. Another friend of mine said she'd be curious to hear it. What? You, too? Great, because here is what I wrote:
Compulsory education only until 8th grade. After 8th grade, everyone can try high school, but you don't have to. If you choose to stay, you are choosing and committing to NOT be a disciplinary problem. If you can't handle that, you are no longer invited. (Now, I don't mean we won't have fights or what-have-you. But we will not have chronic issues, because those children will be asked to leave.) In my utopian system, there will be alternative schools available.
Likewise, if you are in high school and want to drop out, by all means, drop out. The catch is, you can't go on welfare; you have to get a job. If, after twelve consecutive months, you decide you really do want an education, then you can come back. Except we'll have "night school" for you. After one school year there, you either graduate, or you are eligible to move back to regular day school. Or, you can choose to stay. The education is the same, but there are no extra-curriculars, etc. It is 100% academics-focused. Some kids just DO better in alternative settings, and this will be their chance. The difference between night school and day school is not so much punitive (although you DO have to earn the right back into day school) as it is that one setting is no-frills and the other has all the traditional accoutrements of high school.
In my system, a child can "age out" of eighth grade. You get two tries. After that, you must leave for twelve months. Last year, I taught eighth grade math. I had a student who was SEVENTEEN. He was in his third round of 8th grade -- and he was failing!! C'mon now. Really? What kind of influence do you think HE had on his classmates? Even better, what kind of influence do you think he had on the 6th graders at that school? Unacceptable. As a PARENT, I would not want this "adult" around my 6th-grade child; but the law said we had to let him. Ridiculous. And you can only begin to imagine, I'm sure, how some of the girls thought he hung the moon. Let's just say it was a terrible situation and if I had a sixth-grade daughter, I would have been beside myself with the fact that the "system" allowed this phenomenon. (For reference, sixth graders are typically eleven and are coming right out of elementary school. This kid was a seventeen and in many ways thought he was a man.)
In "The World According to Jen," we will also stop trying to push down classes like algebra into seventh and sixth grade. We will bring back recess and gym, and let kids be kids. Then, when physiology and science and age together indicate that the kids are ready for abstract reasoning (right around 9th grade), we will teach more abstract stuff ... and we will STOP trying to cover everything a mile wide; instead we'll try to make sure that what we do teach, the kids actually learn. There's no race to finish the textbook, and no constant interruptions for standardized testing. I want our students to LEARN, not to learn how to bubble. Our local schools here lose TWENTY DAYS a year to standardized testing in various forms. Um, did anyone count?! That's an entire school month spent on testing! Unacceptable. Won't happen in Jen's Utopian World.
Also, I think we need to go back to what we all had in school -- at least my high school -- where we all had both academics and trades available to us. There shouldn't be this distinction of vocational schools (or trades in general) as being somehow lesser than a "traditional" education. Trades are invaluable, and our society has made them second-class. Nope. EVERYONE should have to take some trade class, just like we all had to take tech-ed; I wish it had continued into a high school requirement!
Now, do I pretend to have all the answers? No, and this system of mine surely has issues. I haven't even gotten to special ed!
BUT -- this system eliminates chronic discipline problems, and I believe with all my heart that the root of every problem in our schools today starts with discipline. I don't care what anyone's home life is, or what disadvantages they have, etc., etc. If they are chronically disruptive and we allow it to continue, we ruin everything for everyone. Our schools today pander to the lowest-common-denominator. Our success rate is abysmal because we leave behind the very kids who are capable and want to be successful. We throw them away to try -- often in vain -- to reach the bottom kids. I have asked this over and over and over again: WHY? (I am not talking about special ed kids here. I am talking about kids who don't WANT to do; not kids who aren't ABLE to do.)
Bet you're sorry you asked now, huh?! ;)