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Goal: To make a simple structural change in public education to transform it from a top-down inflexible model to a parent-student-teacher-centered model that reduces teacher stress, improves student learning, and incentivizes students to learn while being cost neutral.


We have a problem... Large institutions, such as public education, over time, become inflexible and resist innovation. The main impediment to innovation in public education is the funding system. Schools have been and are funded for attendance; not learning. Several names are used for this funding approach that include average daily attendance, ADA, or seat-time. 

Another reason the public education system struggles is because there are too many elements of Elitist Domination impeded into the structure. (see https://steventhayn.com/pm-issue-1 )

In this issue, I will describe how a small structural change will inject more elements of choice into the system that will empower students, teachers, and parents. This empowerment of teacher and parents while disempowering the system will cause a cascade of positive outcomes including less teacher stress and increased student learning.

The Proposal

Public school districts receive funding from the state of Idaho for attendance. If a student is in school for a day, the school system receives funding for that day for that student. If the student is not in school, the school system does not receive funding for that student for that day. 

The seat-time method of funding was devised because of a false assumption that if a set amount of time elapses, a set amount of learning will take place by all students.  The reality is a student who is engaged will learn a concept or subject or skill faster than a student who does not want to learn (disengaged). Seat-time funding ignores that fact that students have different abilities and motivations, yet the current funding system forces all students to spend the same amount of time in class.   

I propose a structural change that allows schools to receive funding for student engagement. School districts would receive funds for engaged students based upon engagement and educational progress.  Schools would still receive funds for disengaged students based upon the old seat-time (attendance) model.

Basically, there would be two funding mechanisms, one for engaged students and one for disengaged students. The proposal would be cost neutral and would create an environment of tremendous innovation.  If students are learning, does it matter how long they are in school? Focusing on learning and engagement would allow significant innovation and create partnerships with parents in unique ways:

a.      A student could earn flexible attendance – a parent could send their elementary child to school two days a week and homeschool the other days. 

b.      A charter school could start a learning pod with twenty or more students where the school sends a teacher to a remote location for face-to-face instruction two days a week and the parents teach the school curriculum the other days of the week.

c.      The student could go home at noon every day.

d.      After completing his or her assignments, the student could spend more time studying math or a longer recess, or high school students could go to work in the afternoon.

e.      A student may come to school at 9:00 rather than 7:30.

f.       The possibilities are endless.

Of course, there would have to be coordination between the teacher, the school, the parents, and the student. I would recommend a written agreement of schedules, expectations, and consequences. In this manner, there would be stability in expectations and scheduling. In my opinion, parents that have a child doing well in school have demonstrated responsible behavior and the right to innovative options.

This small structural change in funding could have a multitude of benefits. One of the main benefits is that it empowers teachers, students, and parents to work together to create the incentive package or individual education plan (IEP) for each student based upon the student’s needs, the parents’ resources, and the school district’s ability for flexibility. There must be a coordinated effort and understanding between the school, the teacher, the parents, and the student.

Four Questions

Important Point: Rigor would be maintained and would be increased unlike some states, like Oregon, that are dropping all graduation and grading requirements because they are supposedly “structurally racist.” Under this proposal, high standards, rigor, and excellence would increase and work ethic would be rewarded. 

People usually have four questions about this proposal.

1.      Who decides if a student is engaged and making progress?

2.      How is student engagement defined and measured?

3.      Why use student engagement rather than test scores?

4.      What accountability is in place, so schools don’t exaggerate their numbers? 

Who decides if learning takes place? 

The obvious answer is the teacher/s of the student.  Who else would know? It is not the legislature. Legislators don’t know individual students. The State Department of Education doesn’t know the students either. If SDE decided, it would become a bureaucratic mess and burden. No, this system must be flexible and nimble. Only the teacher and parents can make this decision.  The teacher is with his or her students every school day. The parents know how supportive they can be and what resources they have and what innovation they can support. The teacher knows who is doing assignments and who is learning.  It only takes a couple of days to identify the engaged verses disengaged students.

How is engagement measured? 

In grades k-5, it is more about mastery of basic concepts and skills, doing assignments and learning the basics of reading, writing, and math facts and concepts. In grades k-5, students that are struggling may need to be in school longer especially during the summer to avoid learning loss.

In grades 6-12, students need to have education and career goals as well as do assignments and make educational progress.  If a student wants to be deemed “engaged”, the student needs to able to answer these questions. 

·        Why are you in school? 

·        Are you handing in your assignments?

·        What do you wish to accomplish in school and life? 

·        Are they interested in trades, education, or professional careers? 

·        How can the school resources be used to help you reach your goals?   

·        Do you do your work first and then enjoy free-time activities? 

·        Can you read?

·        Do you know your math facts?

·        What do you like to do?

·        What are your academic weaknesses and how can you strengthen them?

       What are your academic strengths?

Why use student engagement rather than test scores? 

Student engagement is used because engagement is the precursor of learning. Teachers can easily tell if a student is engaged (turn in assignments etc.). The experiment in statewide assessments to measure student learning and secondarily as a tool for teacher accountability has been a failure. Students that see no value in the test simply fill in the blanks without even reading the questions. Statewide assessments cannot be used for any individual student measure in this proposal.  Current statewide assessments are too inflexible for this proposal other than another general and measure of long-term disengagement.

What is the accountability system in place so that students are not mislabeled?

Statewide tests would not be used to “prove” individual student engagement or learning. Our current ISAT test is clumsy, old, in need of update, and cannot measure student engagement. It measures frustration tolerance.  

Statewide exams and tests would be used to hold school districts accountable to make sure average IRI, ISAT, and SAT scores correlate with the number of students the school district identifies as engaged. Engaged student scores would be separated from non-engaged student scores. The scores of engaged students should be higher than non-engaged students. If there is a disparity, the State Department of Education would make inquiries as to why and future legislation may be necessary.

This is a very simple system. It is already being used in a variety of settings. Homeschool and sports are two examples. Athletes must have passing grades to compete on a team.

Let me tell you my experience with engaged homeschool students. My wife and I homeschooled all of our children at least one year. We gave them their assignments in the morning with the understanding that as soon as they were done with their schoolwork, the rest of the day could be spent doing what they wanted (within bounds of course).  Because they were motivated, none of them took over two hours a day to complete their assignments. When our children went back to public school, none of them were behind rather they were ahead.

Civic Virtue

This proposal increases civic virtue (see https://steventhayn.com/pm-issue-1 ). The key element of civic virtue is to help everyone be successful and reach their full potential without long-term reliance on government handout programs. Education is the greatest tool we have to help a child accomplish their goals. This proposal encourages the elements of civic virtue by:

1.      Empowers parents, students, and teachers to customize education to fit their needs

2.      Empowers teachers, students, and parents with decision-making thus creating a bottom-up system

3.      The education system begins to serve parents rather than parents serve the system

4.      Individualization becomes the norm

5.      Flexibility is greatly increased

6.      Less reliance upon testing

7.      Parents and teachers and students are given a voice


If you would like to help see that this proposal become law, please contact me at [email protected]