An Inexpensive and Effective Way to Improve Public Schools

  • Students in two DISTANT schools are bonded as desk-buddies for one week at a time, where each student would be the desk-buddy of every single student in the other class at some time during the school year.
  • The two (distant) desk-buddies would SHARE their combined score (grades) on quizzes. They would therefore have personal reason to HELP the other learn. The two would therefore often be TEACHING each other (often in both directions, but sometimes primarily in one direction).
  • All students would therefore learn the value of working together, and with a wide range of other students, some of which will be smarter or faster than they are and others who may not be as fast. They would be allowed to BOND with each (distant) student if they wished, talking about music, sports, clothes, as well as the classwork.

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The US Government seems constantly frustrated at the sinking effectiveness of American Public Schools. Their solution seems to always be the same as they do regarding any other problem, throw money at it! And that works, sort of. When you spend $10 million dollars in a year to teach 200 students, it is nearly guaranteed to "work" where the students will do better on standardized tests. It has already been discussed by experts that this might simply be due to the students involved FEELING better at having been selected for such enormous expenses regarding their education! So they may just happen to have greater motivation, and even if the approach that is being tried is not of any use, those students would still do better and a Final Report would announce that the approach is effective! Not necessarily true!

No one seems to notice the immense amount of taxpayer money that is involved in such projects! When $10 million is spent in a year for 200 students, that is actually spending $50,000 for each student during that year! Does anyone realize that they could have simply hired a good-quality FULL-TIME personal tutor for each student for maybe $12/hour, in other words, $18,000 for the period of the school year? About 1/3 the cost of that Demonstration? For FULL TIME personal tutors? How do you think the students would do with full-time personal tutors? I betcha a lot better than any Demonstration Project is going to show!

I believe that there is a way to essentially accomplish this, but at virtually ZERO cost!

I propose a "Demonstration" of THIS concept! Find any two schools in moderately similar environments. For discussion sake, I will consider ANY two "suburban" schools. They do NOT necessarily need to be physically near each other, and I believe there is some value in having them relatively far apart, north-south or east-west.

Assuming that both schools have existing computers that the students have access to, a VERY SIMPLE INTRANET connection would be set up between the two schools. This is NOT any Internet connection, and what is described here would have no access to any part of the Internet.

Say each class has 35 students in it, and one is named Mary. Not counting the first week of school, each of the following 35 weeks would have her "connected" to a different one of the 35 students in the other school. Mary and Jane (her first contact from the other school for week #2) would have relatively unlimited contact during that week. Neither of them would have any Intranet contact with any other students.

On Monday morning, Mary would be given several "subjects" in a list, such as " Maine, frogs, rain, multiplying by 7, soccer. Jane would be given a DIFFERENT list of subjects.

Mary now has a "job", of TEACHING Jane about those subjects on her list. Jane also is responsible for teaching Mary the other subjects on her list! Mary might need to look things up to know what to teach Jane, and IN THE PROCESS of reading and preparing to teach those things, she figures to get a VERY good understanding of those subject.

WHY would Mary be motivated to do this (other than it being different and fun)? Because on Friday, all the students in both classes take the same test on all (ten, in this case) subjects. Say Mary gets 78, because she is not that good of a student! She gets CREDIT for exactly half of that, or 39. She also gets CREDIT for half of the score that Jane got, which was 94. So the score/grade that Mary would get for that week would be 39 + 47 or 86! By helping Jane do well on her test in that other school, Mary benefits!

It is also to Jane's advantage to try to help Mary do as well as she can on her test, in other words, really try to help Mary UNDERSTAND that subject. It is true that in this case, she would only receive a score of 86 where she might otherwise have received her 94. But there are "extras"

There would also be a BONUS that could be won! After every five weeks, each student would identify the "best helper" from the other class, and that student would have three extra points added to every one of those five tests. Say that Jane was seen as so helpful that three out of the five students she interacted with each said that she was the best of the five they had interacted with. In that case, Jane would get 9 extra points on every one of the five tests. In this case, she would wind up with 95, more than she would have earned on her own! It is even possible that some students could sometimes get more than 100!

There are some other "adjustments" that would automatically be applied. The Class Average score of each class would be known, and students in the HIGHER Class Average class would receive some additional points due to that effect. That avoids those students from being "punished" just because the other class generally scores lower. This effect is such that the AVERAGED effect on any student in the higher scoring class should be about neutral, not really affecting their grades downward. This effect would NOT be applied to the lower scoring class, where those students would therefore get a NET ADVANTAGE of about half the difference of the Class Average scores. This is an incentive for them to be enthusiastic about this concept.

The main point of this concept is to get students INVOLVED and THINKING about the subjects they are supposed to learn. That motivation rarely exists today in America's Public Schools. The bonding with another student, the working-together, the sharing in their accomplishments, and the enjoyment and celebration of both their own success and that of their week partner, should all greatly enhance the learning experience for all those students.

Now, some classes will have a student who doesn't care about school at all and regularly gets 30 or zero on tests. First, the Class Average will have accounted for this, where that Class Average Difference adjustment would actually be providing larger bonuses when working with all the other students in that class. But for the psychological distress that could occur when an intelligent, motivated student gets partnered with someone who does not care, there are LIMITS on just how much their own score could be reduced. Our Jane above, with her 94, should NOT wind up getting a 47 just because her week partner got a zero!

There are MANY variants of this concept! I suspect that any Demonstration Project should couple two suburban schools, where students may be more likely to have good motivation. I believe it can still work in inner city schools, but the fact that there may be 10 or 15 students in any given class that do not care, might be very frustrating for students from a more motivated school environment. This CAN change, which is a great deal of the point of this concept. But some amount of experience will be necessary to learn how well the bonding experience works for schools that are very different.

This concept could equally be used where the two schools are in different countries! I would think that a school in Japan and a college-prep school in the US might both benefit from this sort of interaction.

The students would be allowed to study and read and teach in whatever ways they wished, and the Teacher could aid in providing direction. Among the teaching communications, both students could ask about what kind of music they like to listen to, what their hobbies are, and a hundred other kid-subjects. The software would have alerts for when any inappropriate words or ideas were brought up, to keep it in the theme in which it is intended.

This presentation is among several different presentations meant to provide ways of improving the American public school system's performance. Here are links to the presentations:

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in January 2007.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago