A Modest Proposal: NRFEL

I have a modest proposal.


The lower a student performs on the various tests, obviously the more resources it takes to get that student up to par (however you define “par”).

Obviously, right now, regular public schools, especially those in low-income areas, have disproportionately large percentages of those such low-performing, high-needs students.

The current, popular accusation is that the school teachers in those inner-city schools are deliberately sabotaging the learning of those students (and causing that low performance), under union protection.

It is charged that if schools were privatized in general, and/or if teacher union organizations were smashed, then freed-up non-union public schools, and also charter and private and parochial schools, would do a better job.

But today, let’s be honest. All of those high-performing schools are selective. And/or, they put out the low-performers, and the ones they consider ‘rotten apples.’

There has to be some place for housing the kids who are put out of, or simply not allowed in to, more-exclusive schools (be they charter, boarding, magnet, ritzy private, ritzy public, etc., etc…). And guess where that is?

Right. The regular, comprehensive public schools. Especially in poor rural areas and the inner city, there are lots of kids with lots of serious deficiencies, which take a LOT of work to overcome. But many of these schools are totally overwhelmed — I’ve seen it. I’ve seen schools in total chaos, where much of the time, nearly no teaching and learning can possibly take place. Or else it takes an absolute Superman or Wonder Woman to accomplish some teaching in one corner of the school, and only with lots of administrative support, which is denied to the rest of the school…  I’ve seen that, too.

OK,  If those other schools do so much better, let’s try a truly randomized experiment to see if that’s really true. Or else let’s give all of our kids the opportunity to go there.


But what if we turn that on its head? And actually use the ONE positive proposal that Michele Rhee, ever came up with?

Here it is: In four words, it’s this:

USE A REAL LOTTERY.

Use a real lottery for all.

I will call my proposal the Non-Revokable Full-year-long Exchange Lottery (NRFEL for short).

Under NRFEL, in every officially designated ‘failing’ public school, all of the low-performing students would be placed in a lottery. Based on the outcome of the lottery, those students would be selected either to :


(1) stay at their regular school, or

(2) to attend a randomly-selected high-performing school; said school would be either…

(a) located within a two-hour bus ride of the home of the student, or

(b) be a boarding school located anywhere in the USA.

Important terms:

(3) All this would be for no extra taxpayer dollars. Yup.

(4) None of these exchange students could be denied entry, for any reason.

(5) None of these exchange students could be subsequently be put out by the receiving school, FOR ANY REASON until the end of the school year, and the students and their parents would know that. (6) Re-assessments would take place exactly once a year, during the summer break, to discern whether the exchange should continue. If the student then is performing adequately, he or she would return to his or her original school. Let me repeat: those high-performing schools would include ALL high-performing schools within a 2-hour bus ride. Oh, and they also include ALL boarding schools in the nation. For no additional money.

Don’t worry about overcrowding the receiving schools. NRFEL takes care of that. as follows.

(7) Each student in each high-achieving school is also placed in a lottery.

(8) Every school that receives one of the low-achieving or handicapped students from a ‘failing’ would simply send back one adequately -performing student, chosen at random in this second lottery. It could be worked out later whether there would be exact, one-for-one exchanges, or whether all students being moved would be put into a general “pool”.  This is a 1:1 exchange ratio: one kid in, one kid out. So class sizes, overall, wouldn’t rise. But there might be need for physical therapists, mental health and social service professionals, reading and math specialists, as well as security guards in some cases. None of which the school district shall be liable for funding.

A very good question arises: what if the receiving school receives so many low-achieving students that it is overwhelmed and enters the category of “failing school” because they are unable to work enough of a miracle in one year? Well, then they can enter the lottery the next year on the other side of the tracks (so to speak).


One aspect I haven’t decided on yet for NRFEL is whether there should also be a similar randomized exchanges of teachers and staff and administration between high-achieveing and low-achieving schools. So I will put this is up for debate. Perhaps this feature could be a separate experiment in geographical region. (Imagine teachers and staff at Sidwell, Holton-Arms, and BCC randomly exchanging places with teachers at schools in deepest Anacostia or inside the near-DC PG County Beltway area.)


I know what you are thinking: NCLB has something like this, but often there is no room in the ‘receiving schools’. In fact, this has happened a lot in DCPS already. NRFEL takes care of this. First, it’s random, so it’s not merely selecting the kids with the most-motivated parents. Second, it’s ALL schools, no matter what denomination, ownership status, or jurisdiction. The exact numbers of exchange students and their distribution could be debated in committee hearings. I propose that each geographical region (think, Washington Metro Area, or Greater Washington, or Delmarva Peninsula, or Greater New York) would take a census of all youth, and their academic levels, to decide how to allot those students among high-and-low-achieving schools. After all, just about all of our public school students have to take lots of standardized tests. What better possible use could we make of this data? NRFEL’s goal is equalizing educational opportunity for all youth, and isn’t that supposedly what America is based on?
Let me emphasize one thing. None of these receiving schools would have the right or capacity to send any of these students back, nor to expel them. They would have to keep them and deal with them for a full school year, whether they are sick, incarcerated or hospitalized, or truant, or  whether they come to school each and every single day and join the rugby or football or hockey or computer-tech club at their new school. For no extra expense, remember.


What ever could we use to ‘persuade’ parochial and private schools to go along? Public charter schools and magnet schools are funded by public money anyway, so they would have to comply. But think of this: private and religious schools get substantial benefits and subsidies from society and government. I will just mention one public subsidy for these schools: tax exemption!


(BTW: have you recently noticed the bill for tuition at the high-flying local private schools?)


Oh, and the low-performing schools can’t put their high-performing return-exchange students out, either. Though those schools might just find that those students will hold their own pretty well, forming substantial fractions of the school’s student government, athletic teams, and other clubs, not to mention their honor roll…


Waddaya say?

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