How I Would Start To Transform Public Education
In our society, you will be hard-pressed to find a person who believes the U.S. public school system is successful. Whether a Republican or Democrat, a man or woman, dwelling in the city or living a simple life on the farm, American’s agree that public education is failing and has been for decades. While we all agree there is a problem, it doesn’t seem anyone has much of a solution. So, the question remains: How can we start to transform public education?
The concept of public schooling has not evolved with the country’s changing economy, our growing diversity, or our ever-developing technology. Despite the teacher trainings, the tablets, the state testing, public schooling is still, at its core, designed for white, multi-generational, American male students with a middle-class, stable home life. Even still, this model didn’t work in 1900, but in 1900, less than 10% of students actually earned a diploma. Now, all of us must have at least a diploma to be successful, but the system was not designed for that.
Now that we have identified the issue, what can we do to change? Firstly, we must re-think education to fit our changing economy. We have seen high schools with college and career focuses crop up over recent years, which is a wonderful start. However, many trade-centered programs are concentrated in low-SES areas, while strong college-centered programs are concentrated in wealthier districts.
I believe making all programs available to all students, regardless of their family’s income, is how we can ensure all students are exposed to opportunities that they are passionate about. It is equally important that students begin learning about the real-life application of their education at a much younger age than high school. What if, for instance, during that fossil lesson in elementary school, a career in archeology was actually explained in depth to you? Or if while studying the history of the automotive industry, you were presented with career opportunities to work with cars?
Secondly, we must seamlessly blend education with the high-tech lives we have. Most classrooms across the U.S. have limited access to textbooks or literature, let alone computers! Additionally, students that do have access to technology are usually not being taught how to use computers in a practical way. Our kids must know how to leverage social media to advance their careers, type up a quality resume, do research in their field, and so much more.
Lastly, and most importantly, schools and educators must serve all of the students in the room. I have witnessed firsthand administrators treating at-risk youth like criminals at just 13 years old – sentenced to solitary in school suspension for minor dress code violations, being sent straight back to class after a physical altercation, forced to take, and fail, exams in English, a language they have only been exposed to for a few weeks. Imagine a world where students and staff ate breakfast together before starting classes and students were assigned coursework to learn coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques. What a positive, productive environment that would be.
If we want our kids to grow into happy, fulfilled adults with a real opportunity to make that happen, then something has to give, and it has to happen quick.