How can we improve failing schools?

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How can we improve failing schools?

To improve the quality of our schools, the things that I think we need to do immediately are to provide teachers with conditions under which they can teach. To give you an example, when I first started teaching English, I taught it at an independent school, a private school. I had four classes a day of twelve students. I could assign an essay to every kid every week, novels, collections of poems, plays to read. I could get their work read, handed back, corrected, and so on. If I were teaching English in a large, inner-city public school, I’d have five classes a day of 35, 40, 45 students and I couldn’t be successful. So what I would do immediately is cut class size in half, which means I’d have to hire 100% more teachers, particularly in the inner-city, low income neighborhood schools, and I would raise the salaries of those teachers dramatically so that we attracted the best teachers, the best graduating students in the country into the teaching profession. Right now, the bottom 25% academically go into teaching. So if you’re going to cut class sizes in half, you’re going to hire more teachers, you’re going to pay the teachers better, and what you’re going to do is put a curriculum in which is rich and has all of what I call the five other solids. The arts, physical education, not just football but a whole physical education program, community service, environmental education, human development. So what do those four things have in common? A rich curriculum, better paid teachers, more teachers, cut class size in half. It’s going to cost money. And we as a society are going to have to decide that educating our children is more important than spending more on military defense than every other nation in the world combined. And until we sort out our priorities, I don’t know how we’re going to improve our schools.

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Paul Cummins, PhD

Educator & Author

Dr. Paul Cummins, President and CEO of Coalition for Engaged Education (CEE), received his bachelor of arts from Stanford University, his MAT from Harvard, and his doctorate from the University of Southern California.  In 1971, he co-founded Crossroads School in Santa Monica and built it into one of Los Angeles’s most successful educational institutions and a national model for innovative, independent schools. 

In 1995, Cummins stepped down as Headmaster of Crossroads and formed New Visions Foundation (now Coalition for Engaged Education) to offer opportunities for Engaged Education to all youth. The first venture was New Roads School, a diverse, K-12 independent school in Santa Monica that has a deep commitment to social justice. New Roads devotes 40% of its tuition budget to need-based student financial aid, guaranteeing access to students from a wide socioeconomic array. Cummins has since implemented a number of innovative programs to help children at risk.

Cummins has published four books on education, including Proceed With Passion: Engaging Students in Meaningful Education (2004), and Two Americas, Two Educations: Funding Quality Schools for all Students (2007), both published by Red Hen Press. His most recent book of essays, Why Poetry? Reflections on Poetry, Writing and Culture, was published in 2009 by Xlibris, in addition to two volumes of his poetry and two children's books published in recent years. He is currently finishing Confessions of a Headmaster: My Pursuit of Joy and Justice in Education (forthcoming from Red Hen Press).

Cummins and his wife Mary Ann reside in Santa Monica. They have four daughters and five grandchildren.

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