I remember the first day of my master’s program (with an emphasis on higher education) quite well.
The professor passed around a big bag of colorful candies and told everyone to take a handful. After the bag had been passed around, she instructed us that for every red candy we took we had to tell the class one of our favorite books, for every blue candy we had to say a place we had visited, and so on and so forth.
Note: While this activity was probably designed for 4th graders, it seemed to work well for graduate students, too.
I was shocked to hear more than one student profess to not reading books! After a laugh from the class (Personally, I was laughing out of shock, but maybe others were laughing out of relief), these students discussed magazines or video games they enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-periodical nor am I anti-technology. It’s just…this is an education program. In order to serve your students well (let alone do well in the graduate program), you absolutely have to read!
I guess my point is that everyone knows the U.S. education system is failing. Now, that may sound like a hypocritical statement coming from a person with two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree (at least I didn’t take on debt to pay for these, but there was an opportunity cost…sigh). But hear me out:
- There are huge inequalities and achievement gaps within the educational pipeline. If you aren’t white and well-behaved, the odds are your teacher is going to “track” you into easier classes.
- High school students are dropping out at unprecedented levels. Some states are only graduating 47% of students.
- The students that are graduating aren’t prepared for college. If they do decide to apply, often picking up $15-25k a year in student debt in the process, they have to take remedial courses to catch them up and get them ready for the rigors of college.
- Even if you make it through college with a degree or two, you’re not likely to find a job. Thanks to the timing of the market, most of the students in the millennial generation are facing unemployment levels worse than the great depression.
Okay, it’s pretty bad. What can we do to improve the situation and help the U.S. get back on top? Here are my recommendations (and add your own if you’ve got ‘em):
1. Raise the salaries of teachers and make the school year a full calendar year, with a full 9-4:30 day, which includes sports or physical education. It’s too hard on students to remember concepts after three months off, and too hard on parents to cover the cost of childcare.
2. Pay teachers based on their improvement of their students. With better technology and evaluation procedures, it should be easier to see improvement from year to year. Standardized testing in its current state is a failure, so this would rely on something better. More effective teachers deserve better pay.
3. Do away with tenure and with teacher’s unions. Bad teachers should be fired. Period.
4. Raise the expectation of parents. Provide classes to educate parents on how much they should read with their students, how to ask students about their day, etc. Parents should be involved throughout their kid’s education.
5. Raise the expectation of students. Get rid of No Child Left Behind. Abolish the idea that students should always be segregated by their age level. Work to improve a model where students mentor other students and get mentored themselves.
6. Improve the physical education programs in schools, and provide healthy, fresh, breakfast and lunch to every student. You can’t learn if you’re hungry or sick.
7. Cut class sizes down to 15-20 tops. Teachers should get an extra $2,000 for any additional students beyond the cap of 20.
8. Change the tax code of the United States so that the more children you have, the more you pay, not the opposite (current) structure.
9. Allow teachers to invite guest lecturers to teach about important topics like personal finance, specialized science projects, music, foreign language, and the arts. Teachers should be allowed to focus on being excellent at teaching the core concepts in exciting, unique ways.
10. Encourage young entrepreneurs to find new ways to teach from outside the classroom. Examples include the Khan Academy that wants to flip education upside down: The students watch the lectures (on YouTube) at home, and then they come to school to do their homework with individualized attention from the teacher and working collaboratively with their fellow students.
11. Make education a process of “lifelong learning”. Your education shouldn’t stop at the end of the school year, the end of high school, the end of college, or…ever. Folks in their forties, fifties, and eighties should be able to teach and learn. If you feel like you still have a little bit more to learn, check out these 12 dozen online education sites: http://www.marcandangel.com/2010/11/15/12-dozen-places-to-self-educate-yourself-online/
Ultimately, just like my friend Tyson pointed out, our education system will determine whether or not the U.S. retains a middle class. I personally think that the U.S. would not be half the nation it is today if we didn’t offer a free, top-notch education to all students. If we lose this, our whole country loses.
What would YOU change about our current education system?
~Nick, the Self-Taught Economist