So, what’s wrong with the school system today?
In short, everything; classrooms are seriously overcrowded, the number of teachers is dwindling due to budget cuts, the teachers are severely underpaid and required to purchase essential classroom supplies (like printing paper and No. 2 pencils for tests – seriously, WTF!!!), disparity in academic requirements between states, and let’s not forget the students being overtaxed with homework from their over-extended schedules. Students face long hours of repetition and boredom due to an extended day which encompasses 50 minutes to 1 hour for each of their 7 to 8 classes each day. At the end of this exhausting day, students are sent home toting repetitious materials for many classes as a meager excuse for exam preparation. This country’s education system focuses on the infamous ‘teach to the test’ rather than educate a full understanding of the concepts at hand so that the concepts can later be applied in a practical sense. Another unfortunate factor in the degrading American public education system is the lack of enthusiasm towards the positive benefits of education from the students and their parents (either by the parent’s choice not to participate or inability to participate due to mounting work demands). In summation, the education system comes with a huge sign reading “out of order”.
A Few Fun Facts
I reviewed some recent research about the public education system before I contributed my two cents worth on the subject, and I have thus far arrived at the following conclusion: a radical correction is desperately required for the betterment of future generations. Here are a few facts derived from studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education: the average school year is approximately 179 attendance days per year; the average school day ranges from 6 to 9 hours; and, as of 2009, there are approximately 49.3 million students enrolled in classes and 3.2 million teachers.
The average student to teacher ratio is 15.3 to 1; however, due to my own personal experience, this ratio seems ridiculous. Each of my courses contained, at minimum, 25 students. I know, I know. That is a personal experience when I am giving empirical data, but this ratio seems low. It is important to note this average is based on all teachers (to include special interest classes which usually are not filled to the maximum levels) and all students (who don’t necessarily take all the special interest classes). In short, the ratio is unfairly portraying the number lower than what is actually reflected in core classes. Another interesting piont is that only 26 states implemented, or plan to implement by 2008, a mandatory exit exam for high school graduation (granted, it is a fairly elementary exam in some cases) – information based on 2004 data from nctm.org.
So, what do I suggest?
As the expression goes, opinions are like a**holes; everyone has one. I know that some, if not all, of these suggestions will summon scrutiny and rejection, but hear me out. Currently, students spend 179 days in school, which equals roughly 36 weeks out of the year. The remaining weeks are haphazardly divided into holiday breaks and an ever-shortening summer break. My suggestion is to eliminate the summer break and establish 3 major semesters, each approximately 14 to 15 weeks long; this allows for 7 to 10 weeks of breaks that can be spread throughout the year. I also think that it would be a better use of time to convert to a ‘block’ style schedule for the semesters – this is similar to the college style of course spacing (only a semester long for each course). This schedule would consist of 4 to 5 courses per day, each between 1 to 1 ½ hours. If put into effect, this approach could help alleviate stress, boredom, and tedious repetition. It would allow students to devote more attention to individual subjects and lessen stress of having 7 to 8 subjects every day. As an added bonus, this schedule layout acts as a college preparation tool.
Students should be required to take a placement test at minimum upon entering their first year of secondary education; this test should be repeated at the completion of each year of high school to assist with course placement for the coming year. The results of the placement test would be used to determine which level of courses the student qualifies (remedial, standard, or advanced). Yes, I am advocating employing more teachers and 3 levels of certain courses (such as math and sciences) because some students cannot grasp certain higher level math or science complexities. It is unfair to force a student into these classes, and it is unfair to other students in the class to be held back because of a student’s inability to grasp the concepts as quickly as his/her peers. Students should be surrounded by peers that excel at approximately their level; they should not be required to sit in a classroom in a constant state of boredom while the teacher reviews the same concept over and over for the select few who cannot grasp it. It is time that we set aside these petty notions of political correctness and fear of damaging a student’s self image and assigning courses based on the student’s performance. Granted, if a student wishes to retake the placement examination, allowances will be required; we don’t all perform the same every day, and the same is true about days when they take exams. If the student has a bad day on the placement exam schedule, they should be allowed to retake it at another time when they feel more able.
Another suggestion is to do away with English review courses for all 4 years of high school. Honestly, if a student hasn’t grasped the English language in the previous eight to nine years of lower education, there is little hope of a miraculous uptake in the final 4 years before college. Instead, offer a mandatory English ‘refresher’ course in the freshman year of high school which reviews the fundamental principles of grammar, and then design courses that concentrate on formatting, research, writing, and literature analysis. I can’t stress enough how boring it was to sit through yet another review of the basic tenants of the English language…this is a noun…this is a verb…this is a subject/verb agreement…yadda, yadda, yadda; I wanted to shoot myself when it came to that part of the year, but the most painful part of the experience was listening to some of my classmates who were not able to understand the basics – and I am referencing individuals in twelfth grade standard English. I do not claim to be an expert on the English language – my wife can attest to that fact – but I am able to command a proper use of it (most of the time).
An additional suggestion is to include mandatory courses with the primary focus on personal finance and investing as a prerequisite for graduation. Too many individuals grow up without the ability to budget their finances or consider investing for retirement. Teaching the next generation how to prepare for the future is one step closer to removing the burden of the older generation from the next younger generation. I could spend hours at length discussing this segment, but I feel that my previous (and almost certainly future) posts will address this issue even further than can be done justice here.
Again, the education system today is a skydiver in a free fall; if he/she becomes too excited or oblivious to the fact that he/she is hurtling towards the earth, the end result is tragic but avoidable. Don’t let our future generations become complacent with meager results and a lousy system that pushes failing students through to pass the burden to the next year. It is time to step up and dig a little deeper into those pockets to support education. Like the skydiver, society is given a warning when it is time to pull the ripcord, and that warning is sounding right now. Are you willing to pull it, even if it means a sudden jerk out of bliss?
It is time to truly evaluate whether today’s small decrease in income to fund education is worth facing the disaster of our children who can’t read our prescription bottles. This might not be so far from the truth in the near future if we don’t act now. So, remember to….
As always, I encourage your thoughts and opinions. Please post below. I also encourage you to check out some of the research conducted by the Department of Education. www.ed.gov