The American education system isn’t the envy of the world. It’s not even the prize of U.S. citizens who are becoming more disenchanted with the archaic system the longer it continues. It is a fine example of why the government is not the answer to what ills us.
This is an open thread that starts with some ideas on how it might be improved. The purpose of this thread is to connect the thoughts from as many contributors as I can into a single presentation. Comments to this article (or email submissions if that’s more comfortable) will be combined into a single presentation.
Americans are growing angry over many things the government is failing to do. One of those things is basic education.
The anger isn’t with the teachers – they work hard and teach what they’re asked to teach. Parents aren’t always to blame as they vary from over-bearing “helicopter parents” to nearly non-existent. But there is anger. Anger at the system itself. A system that graduates just 77% of it’s students from secondary education (high school), lower than most developed countries. Though graduates can read,write, do math, and recite some really basic history, they don’t have any real life or job skills after 13 years in the system.
Kids don’t just drop-out due to grades, sometimes it’s due to feeling like school isn’t teaching them anything useful. In many cases, they may be right.
There are numerous proposals to reform education by putting more money into higher-technology tools, paying for tutors, buying better books, etc. Throwing money at the problem has always been the politician’s and administrator’s answer and it has never worked.
A set of reforms based on American values and understanding the individual could be put in place that would help all students, not just the ones that want to be doctors, lawyers or MBAs:
- Privatize more of the system and increase charter school caps (yes, government limits the number of charter schools). This system is suffering from a lack of competition. Everyone realizes that private schools tend to be better, but not everyone can afford them. Charter schools compete for students and are on par with private schooling. Perhaps all schools should compete for students (and therefor, education/tax dollars). If the parents don’t feel their kids are being educated effectively, they should be able to move them. Today’s draconian system of borders that dictate a child’s school by their address is a fundamental flaw. The school will have students no matter how mediocre it is and therefor has little reason to excel – mediocre is good enough.
- Diversify the education ecosystem. Not everyone is going to be the next President, and most don’t even want to. High-schools should be more accommodating of students that want to work with their hands (industrial arts) and realize that not all students need or want so many courses to “round them out”. Trade craft should not be lower on the totem pole. The German system has a singular curriculum up until 5th grade at which point the students abilities, desires, and character will position them for one of three next level schools. Maybe the German’s figured out what we haven’t: not all people are the same and not all should be taught the same things. Even those that don’t make it to academic greatness have a chance at vocational greatness. Not everyone wants an A in English lit, but everyone wants to be good at something.
- Teach real-life skills. Spend more time discussing how to put a savings plan together, why borrowing too much is bad, how credit really works, taking care of finances, crafting a budget, buying a house, setting up a computer, maintaining a car, etc. That way we don’t have to have the travesties of people losing their houses because they say they didn’t understand the contract or process.
- Teach the kids how to learn, not just what to learn. The current model is focused on wrote memorization, probably to get the student ready for all the government tests the school needs them to pass
- Change the message: College is not the only acceptable path to success. A brilliant electrician needs zero college to be successful and doesn’t need to feel subhuman because he doesn’t want to go or can’t afford to go. A piece of paper does not make someone successful. If the trade requires post-secondary education then so-be-it. Doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like need something past high-school. Colleges need to understand their purpose and refocus.
- College needs an overhaul. The desire to balance the student has overtaken the need to ready the citizen. If they are studying to be an aerospace engineer, that class in music history, archery, or modern basketry is useless. They may wish to take it on their own, but making it mandatory is snobbery at it’s finest. Most college degrees don’t prepare the student for their actual career much better than two or three well-written text books could. Technical schools should be the focus, and perhaps public universities should refocus their schools around actual career needs.