What would you do with $5 billion?

If you had $5 billion to improve education, how would you spend it? Eduwonk is offering a free book to the best answer.

In addition to a national (Core Knowledge) curriculum and random testing, Robert Pondiscio suggests at-home tutoring for disruptive students, allowing teachers to create a “positive, productive school environment” for the kids who are ready and able to learn in a classroom.

In a good environment, virtually any curriculum or pedagogy will work. You could put Nobel prize winners in front of every classroom in a dysfunctional school to no good end.

He thinks the achievement gap is a time-on-task gap.

Vast amounts of learning time are sacrificed to discipline problems, and the need to organize classroom management around behavior issues changes the entire classroom dynamic. It turns the teacher into an entertainer, not an instructor.

I’m not sure how I’d spend the money. I might fund a longer school day — with guaranteed time for sports, drama and music as well as extra academics — at schools with lots of high-need students. I think I’d have every new teacher work for a year as an assistant to a master teacher (or several masters) to learn how to teach and lighten the load for the experienced teacher. I might pay for more lesson planning time for teachers and clerical support to maximize their time. I’d like to invest in training principals who can be academic leaders. That $5 billion would go quickly.

Update: Don’t spend it on education research, writes Ken DeRosa on D-Ed Reckoning. The results will be ignored.

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  1. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    With $5 billion…

    …turn high schools into small scale colleges with an amazing array of academic subjects (more language, science, math courses, with better teachers who are able to adapt teaching styles to the students instead of demanding the other way around). Drill a sense of mission into the teachers thereof: YOU HAVE FOUR YEARS LEFT. YOU ARE TO ASSUME THAT THIS IS THE LAST EDUCATION THEY WILL EVER RECEIVE!!! Teach and behave accordingly. (For those dead-set against going to college, vocational classes for the specialty of their choice, or perhaps teaming up with local community colleges to give them specialized training wherever they elect to go.

    And de-emphasize extracurricular activities and athletics. They simply suck up way too much oxygen.

    Forgive the rambling nature of this post; I hope the point gets across…

  2. -Set up a national charter school organization that’s distinctly more politically-oriented the NAPCS. An organization that’ll try to contact and organize charter school parents, past, present and prospective, with an eye towards pushing the concept politically, i.e. removing restrictions on establishment of charters.

    -Set up a parallel organization that’s tasked with developing/proselytizing/supporting solutions for common school-related tasks such as Moodle for course management, etc. along the lines of Canonical and its relationship with Ubuntu. Support open source textbooks/learning materials/web sites/programs.

  3. SuperSub says:

    Build a boarding school outside of NYC in the Catskill mountains and high effective teachers. Allow disadvantaged students from NYC to attend, but try to find the diamonds in the rough. Run a program that has a military-like sense of discipline and order.

    This removes one of the biggest factors that prevent disadvantaged students from succeeding – their own families and communities. No matter how hard you try in school or even in their homes, the negative influences that many students are faced with the other 14-16 hours of the day ruin them.

    5 billion would go fast, but hopefully the school’s success would attract other funding sources.

  4. Fund a study to once and for all settle all the curriculum questions… basically Project Follow Through all over again, but lasting longer.

  5. Distribute it to parents so they could decide how to use it to educate their kids.

  6. Mrs. Davis says:

    Total elementary and secondary expenditures are about $500 Billion per year. $5 billion spent on salaries, programs, teachers would never be noticed. That’s because education gets too much money already, but there’s not enough learning. So maybe we should spend the money on learning instead.

    No solution will serve every student or every type of student. My choice is to spur the effort of top students.

    Students are the one group in the whole education mix who have to defer gratification for all the effort they put into learning for a loooong time. Everybody else gets their reward now. And don’t tell me grades are a reward. Teachers and administrators get paid, no matter how poorly they perform. Parents are absolved of the responsibility for imparting basic knowledge to their children as parents have always done, until the last 150 years. So let’s put some real, significant, tangible incentive out there for the ones who have to actually do the work of learning.

    I would invest the $5 billion to yield conservatively 5%, after reinvestment to preserve principal, or $250 million annually. There are about 20,000 high schools in the US. Give $250 to nine of the third through twelfth highest GPAs and to the tenth randomly selected student in that group $10,000.

  7. I second Dawn. Tear down the whole shambles and fire every teacher who graduated from a United States education college that teaches progressive education and any whiff of intrinsic knowledge.

  8. SteveSC says:

    I agree with Mrs. Davis in that $5 billion (about $100 for each of the 50 million school kids) would disappear in the regular system. Therefore, to make a difference it must fund something innovative outside of, and complementary to, the current system.

    I would suggest using the Internet and targeting the three primary constituencies (teachers, parents, and students) with social networking sites that solve key problems for each group in an ‘open-source’ manner.

    For example, I expect teachers would like a source of lesson plans with ratings and commentary, so perhaps a networking site where teachers could submit structured lesson plans for comment, revision, etc. would work. A few hundred million dollars to reward early users for the best submissions, etc., should go a long way to populating the site and making it useful. Other teacher needs should be determined by asking them.

    Parents want a help with homework, a reasonably objective measure of their kids progress and knowledge level, advice on dealing with the education bureaucracy, etc. I think their issues will tend to be somewhat more dependent on geographical location, child’s grade level, etc, which will tend to fragment the audience, so this group is likely to require the most work and ingenuity, but on the flip side, there are millions of parents who don’t work full-time, and I expect at least several thousand could be found who would put some creative energy into this (a few hundred million should provide some incentive). Again, it will be imperative to create an organic, experimental culture that builds from the grassroots up, using the open source model, rather than a top-down approach.

    Finally, once you have a year or two of experience with the teachers and parents, you create a student-oriented networking site that builds on the success and tools in the teacher and parent networks. This one is least likely to be self-sustaining, so you will need to devote probably a billion dollars to getting it started (through awards, contests, etc.) and use the remaining $3+ billion as principal for investment and use the returns for ongoing funding. An example of a viral, student driven network could be a ‘HSNN’, High School News Network that would use Youtube videos, blogs, etc. to publish activities such as robot wars, athletics, artistic performances (music videos, etc.), science fairs, etc. The key would be to provide infrastructure for students to easily submit content, while providing easy ways for other students to find what they want (RSS feeds, ‘channels’, etc.). Catching younger kids will be tougher, but will probably be accessible through parents and teachers. Online games similar to those in the ‘brain training’ games could both improve basic skills and provide benchmarks.

    Together these efforts will raise quality of education in the classroom (both by raising teacher capability and parent/teacher standards), raise quality of parental support (both at the home and with pressure on administration), and enable objective evaluation of basics in younger kids, plus provide broader experiences to older students.

  9. Use it to provide scholarships that can be used to pay for any of the following:
    – Private school tuition and expenses, including online schools and private tutoring;
    – Rent subsidies in order to help families move to more expensive areas with better-performing public schools;
    – Advanced classes in a community college or university.

    The amount of the scholarship would be fixed or possibly determined by income, so that a family could spend it on whichever option provided the “most bang for the buck” given its own situation.