Fixing Our Schools

fixing our schools

“Cooking School” — Bigstock Photo

After a wonderful long weekend , I thought it might be appropriate to momentarily drop my Junkyard Dog/Badass Teacher persona and offer some positive ideas about how to improve our educational system.

I think we need to drop the test-based, one-size-fits-all model of education and allow for far more experimentation in school design. To this end, I would suggest that the following approaches to school organization and design be encouraged, in some cases beginning at middle school, in others beginning in high school:

  • An expansion of “portfolio schools” which are assessed based on holistic evaluation of student academic work, rather than performance on standardized tests. New York City’s “Urban Academy” is a great example, a multiracial school known for high levels of student/teacher engagement.
  • The revival of vocational and technical high schools teaching skills connected to the rebuilding of the infrastructure, sustainable design, repair and maintenance of information systems, along with traditional skills that such schools once offered such as plumbing, electronics, auto repair. Not only will such schools create an entry into existing job markets for their students, they will ease the transition to a nation less dependent on fossil fuels.
  • The creation of schools organized around sustainable agriculture, and health-centered food preparation and delivery. Such institutions would not only contribute to the improved health of their students, and the communities in which they are located, they would create jobs, and open entrepreneurial opportunities for students in an economic niche which is expanding locally and globally. Such schools could be located in cities as well as rural areas.
  • The creation of schools built around community redevelopment and democratic participation by local residents. Dr. Henry Taylor is experimenting with this model of school organization in Inner City Buffalo and it is an approach that could help stabilize and revive resource deprived neighborhoods while promoting broad community involvement in the schools, along with student involvement in neighborhood design and revitalization.

If those in charge of the nation’s schools would give exemptions for schools that follow these models, it would do far more for teacher morale and student engagement than having every school adapt to a unitary set of national standards and dish out rewards and punishments based on their success in mastering them.

mark naison

It would also help our stagnant economy by producing graduates with the practical and entrepreneurial skills necessary to help us move beyond a dependence on fossil fuels and compulsive consumerism that is steadily threatening our collective health as well as our quality of life.

Mark Naison
With A Brooklyn Accent 



  1. JoeWeinstein says

    Mark means very well, but his mindset is conditioned to think in terms of schools as the end-all, the entities to be ‘fixed’ or improved. There are good things to say about each of his four models – especially the fourth in case there really is a well-defined holistic local community. And contrary to what you might think just by reading his piece, none of his models is particularly novel or ‘experimental’: each has been tried and has worked at many times and places – my son attended a public ‘alternative’ elementary school with some of the features of the third and fourth models.

    But the abiding end is not good schools but good well-developed kids, good people. No school can replace – or should be used as an excuse to repress – a typical child’s natural curiosity and drive to discover and find place in the world. For the sake of their children, many really good parents do and will find it easier and more directly rewarding to create and run one-family or multi-family informal ‘home’ schools rather than to fight school-district bureaucrats for ‘better schools’ of conventional more massive scale.

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