For decades politicians have been debating over different ideas for education reform for public K-12 schools. Should we have more standardized and comprehensive testing? Should we have more standards? Should we have longer school days and/or years? Should we fund these schools even more, and how should we pay teachers? All of these questions have been asked, and they have been the most common questions used for education reform. However, these are the wrong questions to be asking; they have already been tested, and they have not provided sufficient results. Yes, we can make students better at taking standardized tests, but where does this increase a desire to learn?
Universities in our country have excelled and transcended past other universities in the world. In fact, in the last article I wrote, I mentioned that 35 out of the top 50 global universities are found in the U.S. I find it strange that our colleges rank so high while our public k-12 education ranks so poorly among other nations. Our universities have grown tremendously, while our public schools have stagnated; universities have sought innovation in different fields to compete among each other for students, while K-12 education has merely conformed to standards set by the government.
While I do not believe anyone has a solid, correct answer for education reform, I do believe we need to make strong changes to our current system. Our country has acknowledged the problem countless times, yet we continue to settle for the same mediocrity. We have one of the highest per student expenditures in the world, yet we advocate spending more. We have complex, overwhelming standards, like Common Core, that have discouraged teachers and students, yet we keep pushing for more meticulous standards. We cannot be afraid to change a system that has been failing American students.
With that in mind, let’s examine some ideas for reform.
This is probably one of the most controversial ideas in the world of education. Advocates will argue that vouchers will lead to better, more innovative schools, while opponents will proclaim that they are unfair. However, I would argue that this is one of the fairer options for students. The idea is to give each student a “voucher”, or a set amount of money, and allow him or her to choose which school he or she will attend. Schools will then compete for more students to gain more money. This would, in turn, cause more innovation from the competing schools, and they would increase the quality of their education to appeal to more students. Sound familiar? There are differences, but this would be a similar approach to how universities work.
There have been cases in different states where school vouchers have been tested and work. For example, in the District of Columbia, vouchers were tested on 3,300 students, and the graduation rate was much higher among those who used the vouchers for their choices of schools (82% compared to the average of 70% in public schools). Voucher test scores were inconclusive whether or not they were better than public school test scores, but this was a study made by the Department of Education only five years after implementation. Chances are, since the demand is higher for private schools due to school vouchers, it will take time to match that demand with the construction of more schools. Therefore, the competition is not quite as intense among the local private schools vying for the students who possessed vouchers.
The voucher system has recently been implemented in Indiana also, and the growth has been substantial. The amount of students using school vouchers was about 30,000 in 2015. This quick growth is indicative of the parents and students who want a choice on which schools they attend. Since this provides a choice for parents and does not constrain them to a failing school, this is a better situation for families.
Now, this is not to say there are not weaknesses in the idea of school vouchers. Many opponents have argued that the government would be paying money towards religious institutions. However, the first amendment states that “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” meaning this argument is somewhat weak. The government would not be showing a preference towards any one religion, as it would provide funding for parents to choose among any type of religious or non-religious school. They would not, in any way, prevent the free exercise of religion or lack thereof; in fact, it could promote free exercise.
School vouchers would be fairer to students because they would actually have a choice in their education and not be constrained to a school that chooses them. While public schools may become worse, schools will have to compete to keep students and provide better education. Schools would not be burdened by the federal government’s regulations, but rather compelled by the desire to become more profitable. Therefore, schools will cater to the students rather than the government, and students’ educations will be a higher priority.
Information Technology and Coding:
Technological innovation has progressed at an exponential rate in recent years, and with this innovation comes the high demand for those who can actually use this technology efficiently. This trend is not likely to slow, as businesses compete against each other by increasing the amount of technology they use to make consumers’ lives simpler. Whether a student pursues a higher education or enters the job field right after graduating high school, knowledge of computers is necessary for most jobs and careers. This is a reason why schools should start putting more focus on information technology and coding in their curriculum.
Movements have already begun in some public schools across America, but the education has mostly been limited to the high school curriculum. However, learning to program can be beneficial for much younger students; it teaches students how to think more logically and how to solve problems. For example, a teacher from Mount View Elementary taught his students how to code with a program called Scratch, and their test scores went up 30 percent. A study by researchers from different institutions found that coding activates areas in the brain related to memory, attention, and language comprehension. Not only does learning to control computers provide a necessary skill, but it can help with other subjects learned in school by increasing logical and analytical skills.
Many would argue that there are already too many requirements in school and schools do not have enough to fund teachers who can teach coding. Yes, the current standards are burdensome, but coding does not have to be an exclusive study and can be taught through online sources; it can be taught in scientific courses through projects, or sections can even be devoted to programming. After school clubs can be devoted to programming and computer science. There has been a recent fall in schools that offer AP Computer Science, and pushing for more schools to offer this class would allow more students the opportunity to learn more about computers. Schools can even offer a coding or computer science class as an alternative “foreign language” or “science” class. There are many possibilities for schools to encourage learning more about computers, but there is not enough initiative. (And, of course, if the voucher system was followed, schools would most likely add more computer-related knowledge to their curriculum to compete among other schools.)
Students could benefit from learning more about computers directly and indirectly; they can learn a skill that is useful in life after school, and they can become better in other subjects. It can be argued that universities teach this curriculum, but teaching it at a young age can inspire students to pursue a higher education in a high demand field. Even if students do not pursue a higher education, they at least have a better knowledge of the technology they use in every day life.
Grouping Based on Interests:
Throughout all of K-12 education, students are separated based on their age. This makes sense in earlier education where students need to learn the same basic skills. In later education, such as high school, it makes less sense. There is an order to learning mathematics, but other subjects do not necessarily need a specific order. Students should be able to take the classes in which they are most interested (while still having to take certain classes, of course) without being constrained to stay in classes with students of the same age.
Why is this important? Being able to socialize with older and younger students is important; older students are able to give advice about classes and mistakes to avoid to younger students. Younger students can benefit by learning from older students, and they can meet new people instead of being forced to remain with students of the same age in each course. While there has been very limited research on this subject, it could result in better learning patterns due to more diverse classroom settings.
Teaching through Examples
As a student I have found the best teachers provided ample examples that related to the students’ lives. These teachers help students make connections in the subject rather than simply learning it. These examples not only help students understand concepts, but they also help them explain concepts to others. The ability to explain concepts shows mastery of a subject rather than only having the ability to answer factual questions. Examples not only help to thoroughly explain a subject, but they also help to make connections with students and gain their interests. As such, a greater emphasis should be placed on teachers to create examples in their teaching methods. This cannot be enforced through laws or standards, but rather by the school wanting to make improvements. Making connections is more important than stating information, and schools should encourage teachers to take this approach.
While teaching through examples is not the only factor that helps teachers better explain the material, it is one of the most important aspects since it relates to the students’ lives and gains their interests. Examples do not necessarily define a “good teacher,” but they are part of what makes a teacher “good.” Other subjective factors, such as leadership and encouragement towards students, also help them learn, but these come from the intrinsic values a teacher possesses.
Education reform should be more than making students read nonfiction books and learn more random, factual information. It should center around the quality of education for students and how they can apply what they learn to different situations; it should motivate them to desire education. Universities have succeeded through improving the quality of their educational standards, so K-12 schools should follow the same method of innovation; students should be the priority, not the government. Only when schools are given the freedom to improve rather than adhere to government regulations will students truly succeed. The lack of quality education in America is conducive to many of the problems we experience today, so we should make this quality a priority and make a stronger effort to better the future of America.