America's Failing Public Education System--Solutions
All hope is not lost if your children go to a public school. You just have to be an active part of the solution.
America's Failing Public Education System--Solutions
While I would like to continue discussing the problems dealt with in the sphere of public education, a lot of talk with no action or plan of action will only be as detrimental as the problems that we are trying to fix. The time has come to reveal several fundamental changes that will shake the foundation that our broken public education system is currently standing on. I am insanely optimistic about the future of our education system because since I began my research into this, many bills have been passed in various states that seem to have the students’ best interests at heart. Prepare yourselves for this journey, as it will not end with the last word on the last page of this paper. For that is where your journey truly begins. I am merely a messenger with a lamp to shine a light down the path you choose.
A crucial subject that is equally important as it is controversial is the system by which teachers are hired, fired, trained, and paid. Some key fundamental changes to the current system will cause such a dramatic turnaround for our schools. Under the current system, teachers all get paid around the same salary. Whenever the number of teachers needs to drop, they usually follow a last-one-in-first-one-out policy. This protects teachers who have held their positions for many years. Here is how this system gets fixed. Start paying teachers based on their results. Good teachers should get rewarded for their efforts with salary increases or yearly performance bonuses. Likewise, the lower performing teachers get no bonuses. The amount of pay increase they receive will be directly proportional to how much they have improved from the previous year. These criteria will be determined by test scores, by the average confidence level of the students at the end of the year, and students’ evaluations of their teachers at the end of the year. When it comes time to lay off teachers, this must be done either by a random lottery or based on their average yearly increase in performance levels over the course of their careers. This will prevent long-time teachers from falling back on tenure to ensure their job, and allow young and energetic teachers to bring their ideas to the classroom. Then we have the training potential teachers must receive before they become teachers. Different schools have different standards, and certain candidates that do not meet qualifications in one place can go somewhere else and meet their qualifications. This whole system needs to be universalized. The same standards will apply for everyone across the board. Not only does training need to occur before employment, but current teachers need to be re-trained each summer to incorporate new ideas and technology into their respective lesson plans. Training will also occur throughout the year. Teachers will be encouraged to help other teachers. The profession of teaching will become completely student-focused.
It is generally a rule that children get sent to whichever school is in their district. There are many obstacles and hoops to jump through for parents who wish to send their children to a different school. This is not helping anyone. If someone is unfortunate to live in an area known to have a poorly performing school, then it should be the parent’s right to send their child across town to a better performing school without being forced to pay extra fees or filling out erroneous paperwork. An opponent to this proposal might argue that this will cause many schools to become over-crowded. Well, yes, and no. There are already many over-crowded schools because parents cannot send their child elsewhere. This idea personally resonates with me because I went to a high school that did not offer all of the advanced classed I wanted to take, either for the lack of other students interested or the lack of a qualified teacher. The high school in the next town over had an ample amount of classes available, many of which had several options as far as what time of the day and which teachers I would select. Why didn’t I go to that school instead of the one in my hometown? Because it would have cost over $2,000 per semester for being a non-resident. And it’s not like they needed the money; it is a well-known fact that this particular town was home to many people with high-end incomes. Like the saying goes, “if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.” While they weren’t hurting anyone by doing this, they sure weren’t helping anyone.
Another critical factor that influences a student’s performance is the curriculum itself. What these children are being taught and how it is being taught makes all the difference. Controversies include how reading should be taught, what history lessons should be taught, and the role of evolution in science class. As far as reading, phonics is the best approach, as opposed to the current system called the “look-see” method. This isn’t an opinion, it is a proven fact. It is the best method. Yet for some reason, it is not the method most widely used. Then there is history. It is common knowledge that history is skewed in high school, so maybe it is a good idea to be more truthful and spend more time on recent developments. As far as evolution is concerned, it should still be taught, and other theories should also be discussed. It is important for students to know better than to just accept any scientific theory as an absolute truth, likewise, they also need to understand that the same thinking applies to any religious doctrine.
New subjects should be introduced into the curriculum, some as mandatory, and some as electives. There should be courses on the world’s religions, mixed in with some philosophy. These classes will not be used to discredit anyone’s religion, or attempt to convert them, but merely introduce them to various belief systems of the world because we are becoming a global society. There should be electives for those who seek to be financially successful after high school, which could include classes on creating and running a business, money management, ways to invest money, and anything else that will help students become successful. There should also be courses on spirituality, and not from a religious standpoint. This will allow students to harness a deeper understanding of themselves, others around them, and the universe. There should be broad introductory courses for many subjects they may seek to take in college, and spend time on each of the specific areas just to give the students some background information on what is available to them. These are just a few suggestions.
Aside from the curriculum that is taught, how it is taught raises some questions. Which method is the best? Some feel that the straight lecture-exam method is best. Others feel that classroom discussion is the best way. Still, others feel that assigning chapters to read and homework assignments are the most effective. Well, forget what you know. There is a new and innovative approach to teaching lessons in the classroom. It involves a teacher videotaping their lectures and demonstrations. This way, a student can watch the lecture as many times as they need too, or at the pace that is right for them. When the student comes to class, they will work on the assignment in-class, and this will allow the teacher to spend more one-on-one time with each student. This will give each student an opportunity to ask questions about the lecture and grasp a better understanding of the subject at hand. After the first few assessments, the teacher will then be able to determine the level at which everyone is learning at. The teacher will then pair up the students who excel in the subject with students who are struggling in an attempt to bridge the gap along the learning curve. They will learn the value of helping others at a young age. There is someone who has created a video library, a “virtual university” if you will, that can be accessed for free by anyone at any learning level. His name is Salman Khan and he created the Khan Academy. Google it.
How about the government’s role in all of this? I think they should stay out; they have made a mess out of everything they touch. There is a lingering debate on whether or not privatization of public schools will actually help or harm students. It is irrelevant what people think or feel, because most of them do not understand what this means. Currently, public schools are funded by various levels of government, which means they are funded by our tax dollars. Now, funding is getting cut year after year, and programs are coming to a halt, teachers are being laid off, and schools are being shut down. Privatization allows entrepreneurs to come in with lots of money and invest in the schools, take over the hiring, firing, and paying of the teachers, and employ any methods they wish to educate the students. This will turn the education system into a for-profit business, which will only lead to expansion and growth. Improvement will increase as schools begin competing with each other for students as well as be actively recruiting the best teachers to provide the best education possible. To get an idea of how this will work, look at the private schools and charter schools today. They have a higher success rate across the board. It is a system that works.
As great as all of those potential solutions sound, there are layers upon layers of obstacles and conflicting agendas. So instead of sitting idly by waiting for some elected officials to sign a piece of legislation that shows promise, it is imperative that the parents of students begin to get involved. Parents are responsible for creating a home environment that is conducive to learning. They need to be more involved in their child’s school life to ensure they are receiving a quality education and have all the tools they need to get help if they are not. Whether this is by parent-teacher conferences, or by finding their child a tutor, the parents need to stand by their child every step of the way, from the first day of Kindergarten to graduation from high school. It is also up to the parents to attend school board meetings on a regular basis. They need to know what is going on so they know how they can help. Or, so they can see where the problems come from and maybe get motivated to run for school board the next time elections come around. Parents need to be role models and set a good example for their children. They need to provide their children with the emotional support. Parents have a lot of responsibility.
Of all the changes that could be made, none of them guarantees that any student will be more motivated to do well in school or show an increase in the ability to learn. So, my solution of solutions is simply to instill the virtue of self-education at a young age. How do we do this? It’s simple, really. Tell them the truth. When they are young and have learned to read and write explain to them that the system is broken. Let them know that no matter how good or bad a teacher is, or whether or not they have to wear uniforms, or any other inconsequential element, that the only way they will truly learn is if they have a desire to learn. They have to understand the power of their own mind and the true power of their thoughts. They have to understand that to truly be or have anything they want, they will need to go beyond what is taught in the classroom and learn more advanced knowledge on their own. They need to see and feel what it is like to be successful, and see and feel what it is like to be unsuccessful. They need to be taught that they are responsible for themselves, and that they control their destiny. Their learning environments need to be interactive, and extremely positive. They need to appreciate the value of helping others. Or they need to feel the joy associated with helping others. In reality, no one succeeds on their own, so instilling a passion for teamwork and cooperation is a great way to help students build and develop relationships.
So many things can and should be different. America’s education system has been declining for so long, and it amazes me that it still hasn’t been fixed. I don’t want to start pointing fingers, but I’m pretty sure it is designed to fail intentionally. That’s why all the great progressive achievements that have shown promise have been shutdown. Lucky for Salman Khan he has Bill Gates on his side! I have laid the foundation for you. You know the problems, you have read about some solutions. Now do something!