I don’t know if anyone will read this, and I’m not particularly fussed about it either way. I just wanted to get this down, because I’ve really been thinking about it a lot lately. The thing is, I really don’t like how the education system in this country is set up. The problem is that the US education system was put into place in a time when our country needed different things from it, and it was made for fulfilling those needs. However, times have changed and now we need to change our approach to education as well. These are just a few ideas I had. I don’t know if they’re practical, and I’m pretty much sure that no one in the position to change such things will take this one little blog post seriously, but here goes:
1-A National School System I moved quite a few times during grade school, and I never quite knew when I got to a place if I would be ahead or behind in my classes. For example, I can hardly write cursive, because I moved from a school district that taught it in the fourth grade to one that taught it in the second. So, on the first day of fourth grade in my new school, my teacher said, “I expect everyone to write in cursive”, and all I could do was sit there with a pink face and explain that I hadn’t learned it yet. Having a national school system with a set curriculum for each grade would help things like that. Not to mention, a national school system would be far more efficient than dozens of dozens of ISDs, in terms of not only the curriculum when students move, but also in transferring records and distributing funding.
2-Year Round Schooling I know, I know, this is quite a departure from the way we’re used to thinking. “What about summer vacations?”, you may ask. And, I’m not saying that children don’t deserve to have a little time away from school. Certainly, I would have been angry at such a suggestion as a child. What I am proposing is four quadrimesters of three months each, separated by two weeks of vacation time. The reason being, summer vacation, those long two and a half months away from school, is actually detrimental to the learning process. Most of the time, it’s too long to retain a lot of what you learned, and so the first few weeks of the school year are spent refreshing and reviewing, not exactly the most efficacious use of that time. Also, with a year-round system in place, we could have each new grade start in January, and then also be rid of the ‘if you were born before some arbitrary day in September’ rule for determining when our children start school. If the school year began in January, then everyone born the same year would be in the same class.
3-Restructure Testing and Grade Placement Okay, so this might sound like two points, but it is in fact, really only one. The way the current system usually works is one school is K-5 (with an optional pre-K program), one is 6-8, and one is 9-12. I propose that we make pre-K mandatory (making the begining age for school four, not five), having elementary school be pre-k through sixth, middle school seventh through ninth, and high school tenth through twelfth. Then, with that in place, we scrap the current system of standardized testing in favor of one that tests only when you move up a level. For example, a child in this scenario would only have to take standardized exams in the sixth, ninth, and twelfth grades. This would allow teachers to be less focused on ‘teaching the test’, and more focused on their real job, that is, educating young people and sharing the joys of knowledge. Also, the deemphasis of standardized testing also ties into my next point nicely.
4-Stop Basing Funding Off of Test Scores This is a big one for me. The fact that a lot of ISDs allocate funds according to standardized testing scores has lead to a whole slew of problems including cheating, increased stress on teachers and students, and ISDs that focus on teaching ‘test-taking strategies’ to the exclusion of other curriculum. Also, what sense does it make to base funding for schools on test scores instead of student population or other factors? Of course schools that already have good funding are going to get higher scores resulting in more funding. Meanwhile, poor schools can’t afford teaching tools that will make their students engaged in learning, and so their scores plummet. Basing funding off of test scores is a self-fulfilling prophesy. It also bothers me that people in affluent areas expect their public school to be of a higher quality than one in a poor neighborhood. Maybe this is my naivety talking, and maybe I’m being overly idealistic, but why should the fact that your parents can pull in six figures mean you’re entitled to a better education than someone whose parents have to work minimum-wage jobs because they couldn’t afford college? To me, a public school system should mean equal opportunities for all students, regardless of background. If you want to enroll your child in a private institution because you’re convinced it will provide better opportunities, that’s your prerogative and I won’t nay-say you, but I wish people wouldn’t bankrupt the schools in the poor neighborhoods so the ones in the wealthy communities can get new football uniforms or afford to remodel the auditorium.
5-Cut Classroom Sizes Especially in the lower grades, class sizes need to be significantly pared down. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to hold the attention of twenty or thirty grade-school aged children before, but it’s no laughing matter. At the very least, every elementary teacher should have a TA. Two people tending to twenty children is vastly easier than one person having to looking after even ten. Older kids, middle school and up, shouldn’t have much problem staying focused in a larger group, but a TA could still be useful in helping explain points to students who are having trouble understanding the material.
6-Integrate Technology Into the Classroom After all, children these days are often more conversant with technology than their parents. Instead of suppressing this ability, teachers should incorporate it. Include educational films, computer games, and other media into standard curriculum. Doing this is likely to increase student interest, which means that teachers won’t have to work as hard to teach, because students will be actively engaged in learning. Also, many public schools now have websites where parents can get in touch with teachers. Some teachers even post assignments online, in case one of their students misses a day, or is unsure of when something is due.
7-Embrace a Staggered Schedule I know that in some ISDs, staggered or block scheduling is already in place, but I think that it should be the standard on a national level. Some people may not know why it would make a difference, or might think that going to the same seven or eight classes every day is the best way to approach education, but I disagree. With block schedules, teachers have a longer time to spend with students each class period in order to ensure that each student understands the material. Plus, there’s less stress on students, because they’ll have a little longer to complete assignments.
8-Increase Parental Involvement It makes me sad to think that some parents are not interested in their child’s education. That certainly wasn’t the case in my family. On the contrary, when my grades began dropping in high school, my mother called each of my teachers in turn to ask them why and what I could do for extra credit. And then she wanted weekly notes from each of them until my grades improved. It was humiliating, and it worked.
9-Stop Protecting Bad Teachers I know that this one is probably not going to earn me many admirers, and I know also that a lot of teachers go into their field from the sheer love of teaching, or maybe they just like working with kids. That’s all well and good. What I’m talking about are the teachers who teach because they think they’ll get summer and holidays off, and only work until school’s out. The ones who mistakenly think teaching is ‘easy money’. (Surprise! It’s not.) It bothers me that teachers are so protected by teacher’s unions. Sure, unions had their place once upon a time, when there really were people out to ‘get’ workers. However, now it seems to me that more often than not, unions in general, and teacher’s unions specifically, exist solely to keep mediocre teachers on the payroll. I know that teaching is tough work, and you can’t always be the brilliant, creative, fun teacher. However, it doesn’t mean that you can allow yourself to be lazy. Teachers are the molders of our future, and along with tossing out the bad teachers that drag young people down with them, I think teachers should be paid more. I also think a teacher’s pay should be based on their performance. Lots of jobs have yearly performance reviews that affect raises, and I don’t think teaching should be any different.
10-Uniforms Some schools already have this in place, and I don’t believe in strict uniforms where everyone must wear the exact same thing, but limiting the dress code in schools to something like khaki or black pants or knee-length or longer skirt or shorts with solid-colored polo or button-down shirts would offer students the benefits of uniforms (better performance, disguising poverty, eliminating peer pressure regarding fashions, saving money) without completely taking away the students’ right to choose what they wear.
So, there you have it. Just some of my thoughts about how I would run the schools were I in charge. If you read this whole thing, then you deserve a medal or something.