Thursday, January 10, 2008

Education 2.0

I’ve been thinking a lot about the American public education system. I am a huge proponent of the public school system. I went to public schools, and I believe that access to quality public education has to be one of the foundations of American society. I would say that I did pretty well by it, but an increasing number of students are not faring so well. These charter schools and vouchers just take money away from the public schools that need it most. The obvious, embarrassing fact is that American public schools are in dire need of an overhaul. The curriculum needs updating, the classrooms are too crowded and students aren’t getting the quality education that they need. What used to be a world-class education system is now falling further behind. In 2007, UNICEF ranked US schools 14 of 24 in industrialized nations.

There are two types of people that get attention in the modern public school system: the smart kids and the troublemakers. Anyone else just gets by. And far too many people fall through the cracks. We need to shift the focus. Tests don’t measure education. Skills and knowledge make up an education. So, here is my plan for revamping the education system in America (I’m not going to say anything about NCLB except this: It’s Terrible. Get rid of it).

Instead of going to elementary, middle and high school, the system would be broken up into 3 five-year blocks. It would retain its similarity to the current system, but preschool would be the beginning of the public school education. This way, we can ensure that all students have access to the earliest building blocks necessary to have a strong educational foundation. Also, secondary language training would begin in this phase. The world is a multilingual place and Americans need to be able to operate in many languages. Also, experts agree that the “language learning window” is closed or closing at age 12, the age at which most Americans begin their foreign language training. It has also been shown that learning a foreign language along with a native language helps strengthen the understanding of the native language. So, if students learn a second language, they will be better English speakers.

The second block would be where the bulk of the learning takes place. But instead of just knowledge for knowledge’s sake, the learning will be focused on skills. Sure, people will still learn history, math, and literature. What we need is an education system that teaches applicable information. Students will also learn computers and international affairs.

And by the time students get to the third block, they will be branching into different areas. The courses available would be similar to college courses. Students would start at the 100 level and progress to more difficult courses. So, instead of Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry, the courses would be Math 100, 200, 300, and would integrate all subjects, but progress in difficulty. AP/College Level courses would still be available and encouraged. Students will also have the ability to start learning trades and study or volunteer abroad. We can’t force everyone to go to college, and frankly, not everyone is ready for college straight out of high school, but we can give our students skills with which they can succeed in the world.

Another hurdle we have to overcome is the practice of passing students in order to keep them with their peer group. This requires a total revamping of the school system. First, the school year would be broken into trimesters. At the end of the trimester, the teacher would decide whether the student had sufficiently grasped the knowledge to move further. This puts a lot more pressure on the teachers, but it also gives them the power they need to be effective. Additionally, the student can repeat a trimester instead of having to repeat the entire course.

People might gripe at the idea of trimesters, but summer vacation is outdated and hinders the learning process. No children are helping with the crops. Instead, they are forgetting the information that they learned the previous school year. This system allows for children to be continuously learning, thus increasing their chances of academic success.

These ideas might seem radical or even impossible, but if we really want to change the school system, we need to be drastic. Our education system needs to reflect the world we live in. We need to revamp the system, not adjust what is already there. Let’s make the first step a giant leap.


GregL said...

Not that I disagree with you on secondary language training, but who would make the choice of which second language would be taught? Do the "experts" say if the "window" stays open longer if someone keeps learning new languages?

The Public Servant said...

I suppose I could make that decision. But, I think the Department of Education could make a list of 6-9 languages that schools can offer, and schools would pick a minimum of three. Or something along those lines.
Also, I know it's not impossible to learn a foreign language after age 12 (many people do), but before that age, it is much easier. The brain is more responsive to language learning and a young child could learn in hours what an adult would study for days.