It doesn’t take a high school graduate to realize there aren’t enough jobs in the United States. But it does take a high school graduate to do most of what jobs there are.

The stalemates that exist between the political right and center – vouchers vs. public education; teacher unions vs. you’re fired; evolution science vs. snakes and apples; etc – create a unique opening for progressives to offer some real ideas that might actually gain traction in a national dialogue currently mired in politicalculus.

To this end I offer three progressive proposals – seeking thoughtful response from both progressives and the political community at large. What do you think about…


My first plan for reforming public education is a national teacher assistant corps. This would be federally-funded but supplemented with state, local, private and corporate contributions as well.

Beginning with the most at-risk districts and eventually fanning out to every public school in America, I propose placing a teacher’s assistant in every class, every classroom, every day.


Because students pay attention and learn more; disrupt and cheat less when there are two adults in the classroom. Think back to your own school experience…whenever there was a teachers’ assistant or administrator in attendance didn’t you put your class clown schtick on hold and knuckle down a bit more, however begrudgingly? I know I did. Didn’t the class get more work done?

Feedback on this proposal is especially welcomed from our teachers and adminstrators. Some might see the presence of an assistant as an intrusion but I suspect most would agree it would help them better manage classes and homework. Depending on grade, subject and methods, teachers’ assistants could be assigned to a single teacher throughout the day or float from teacher to teacher within a department.

In districts disproportionately represented by single-parent households, extra care in the lower grades might be placed on matching female teachers with male assistants and vice versa to provide a gender-balanced environment.

Teaching assistants would make less than teachers, of course, but gain valuable experience on the way to becoming teachers. Grades would improve – how could they not? There would be more time for individual instruction.

Teaching assistants would come from the collegiate intern community as they always have, from community colleges where specific teaching assistant programs would be taught, and also from the ranks of retired teachers.

In a political climate where reduced retirement benefits and increased senior living costs are likely, an option of returning to work in a part-time capacity might be helpful for many retirees.

Teaching assistants could – and should – be part of the collective labor movement. Like medical and dental assisting, this profession could be a meaningful and gratifying lifelong career or a stepping stone to higher pay and greater responsibility teaching or administrating.

Meanwhile, a new industry would be born to help reduce the nation’s unemployment crisis.

Just how transformational might this reformed model of the US classroom be? Consider some of the scenarios that play out in classrooms every day:

A disruptive student needs to be dealt with so all instruction ceases for five minutes while the student and teacher talk in the hallway. Besides the fact that the lesson flow has been impacted, Johnny has squandered five whole minutes of the day’s instruction. And in real terms it’s not five minutes but five minutes times every student in the class ~ 100 student-minutes or more. With a teacher-teaching assistant team, one adult would attend to Johnny while the other continued with the class.

How about the scenario of testing…and texting?

Students have become experts at googling answers and even the most watchful eye of teachers can’t monitor all of it all the time. Even a teaching team of two can’t, but four eyes are far better than two. Eventually, given the certainty of two grown-ups in their classes at all times, American students would simply come to the conclusion (through their greatly improved critical thinking skills!) that they may as well simply study their butts off and master the material. Because they aren’t getting away with squat!


My second proposal is to do away with the three-level school system that has been in place for over a century and replace it with a four-level school system as follows: K-3 (primary school) 4-6 (middle school) 7-9 (junior high school) and 10-12 (high school).


First off, I believe this tighter grouping of ages works better than lumping, say, five-year-olds with 11- and 12-year-olds under the same roof in a K-5 or K-6 arrangement.

Second, administering smaller and more focused developmental stages of youth would lead to better curricula and extra-curricular programming. Even the furniture, ergonomics and architecture of the buildings could be better tailored to the needs of each level.

Third, invasive and controversial mid-year proficiency testing would be replaced with end-of-year proficiency testing in the four graduating classes only – 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th.

Teachers have complained for decades about “teaching to the test.” This is a legitimate concern as these tests wreak havoc on lesson plans and represent what many in conservative and liberal communities alike see as too much oversight by the federal and state governments. What a relief it would be if proficiency testing simply coincided with the graduating grades. You don’t pass, you don’t graduate. You either repeat the grade or you got to summer school. That’s that.

On the four-tiered school proposal, feedback from child psychologists and guidance counselors would be especially welcomed. But what I gather anecdotally – and personally - about the American education experience is that jumping into a school of relative giants from 5th and 8th grades is daunting, and creates many issues for administrating based on the needs of such a wide range of ages in one student population.

As schools become more crowded in their traditional configurations, now is an advantageous time to transition to this progressive model of school levels. U.S, Schools are reported to be in the worst structural shape ever and rising enrollments are forcing the building of more schools regardless of whether it is three-tiered or the four-tiered system I advocate.

One more very important idea comes along with this plan: 13th Grade! };=D

This is the novel option of placing the freshman year of community college within 10th-12th high schools in situations where moving 9th graders out of the building creates a surplus of classroom space.

This is a progressive notion for sure, as it would increase the chance of students continuing on to college by providing a free, reduced-cost or means-based first year of college; an easier and more familiar transition to college; and a chance for marginal students to brush up their grades for transfer to universities. It would reduce the cost of college by up to a 1/4th, meaning less debt to repay upon college graduation.

As with any educational proposal, one must consider who might object and the athletic community immediately comes to mind. Freshmen would no longer be available to varsity sports programs as they are in some districts.

Also, already budget-strapped school districts might view a fourth school level as an extra layer of bureaucracy. Perhaps, but many administrative functions could be centralized in either case. And where a K-6 or 9-12 school might require a principal and an assistant principal, K-3 and 10-12 schools might just as well be served with just a principal apiece.


Our hour of public school reform has arrived!

The third proposal in my trio of public school reform ideas is simply one-hour classes and one-hour lunches. Or, more specifically, 55 minute classes and lunches with five minutes to get your ass to class.


Because classes are too short! In some districts they are less than 45 minutes and when you factor in time to get everyone situated, you are looking at not much more than a half-hour of instruction. Teachers have barely got down to business before students are thinking about getting to their next class. So I advocate simplifying the whole scheduling system to reflect a class-an-hour-on-the-hour. Are our children to A.D.D. to focus on one subject for a full hour? Tough! Thirteen years of one hour classes will cure them of that by the time they are 18, whereas 40 minute classes simply reinforce America’s short attention span culture.

School would begin at 8AM and/or 9AM, continue to 3PM and/or 4PM (1PM or 2PM for work-study juniors and seniors) with lunches at 11PM/noon/1PM. Three lunch periods might overtax many cafeterias that depend on four or more periods to serve everyone, especially in high school, but there would be one less grade to serve in the four-tiered schools formation. Here we would want feedback from cafeteria workers and nutritional experts but it’s a given that more time to digest your food and eat properly is healthier and more enjoyable.

Five minutes between classes and lunch allows enough time to run to the restroom meaning fewer restroom breaks during class.

And a lunch hour that’s really an hour ensures that afternoon classes would be more productive and less disruptive, with students getting more mid-day time to “get it out off their system.”

Depending on each student's schedule and needs, my “hour power” proposal allows for up to seven classes in an 8AM-4PM day or as many as five classes in a 9PM-3PM day. Work-study students could skip lunch and roll straight through with up to five classes in a 8AM-1PM day, or up to six classes in an 8AM-2PM day, depending on whether students opted for study halls.

With hour-long classes, half-year courses would certainly become more fulfilling and allow for more material retention. With hour-long lunches, students could use the longer period to study, eliminate a study hall and opt for an extra elective class. Better choices equals Better chances. More winning, less whining.

On this proposal, feedback from administrators and school boards would be especially welcomed. They are the people who must make the schedules of thousands of students and teachers somehow flow while trying to get as much learning into the minds of our future American workers, leaders and parents as possible.

There is one more special – very special - interest group that must weigh in on these proposals as well: The kids!

How do you K-12ers feel about two adults in every class; four-tiered school systems, one hour classes and a full hour for lunch?

Study these proposals carefully – there may be a pop quiz!


Christopher Bifani is a poet, writer and artist who dropped out of high school and earned his GED. Grade him at bifani