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Likeradar's avatar

What needs to be done to change the American education system?

Asked by Likeradar (19580points) September 8th, 2009

I’m working on a teaching license and master’s in education. This question is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as I learn more about the education system in the US.

What if anything do you think needs to change to better the American education system?

Also, please say if you are an educator, student, parent of a student, etc because I’m interested in your perspective.

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73 Answers

blastfamy's avatar

Read this

It’s basically my thoughts exactly…
schools should acknowledge that they are effectively holding cells for children, who have nothing better to do than descend into a cruel social hierarchy that is in no way preparatory for the real world…

I’m in college, by the way… I came from public school in Northern Virginia

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Smaller class sizes in elementary school, public boarding schools for at-risk middle school students, tracking after 11th grade into two years of college prep, or a 2 year vocational/technical program. Not all students are college material, but everyone needs to be outfitted for productivity. You should not have to pay an arm and a leg for vocational programs.

timtrueman's avatar

In fifth grade I was like any other kid; I hated math. I put up every mental barrier I could to prevent me from learning it. It was too hard, too useless and too nerdy. It was a choice I made and not an inability.

I dreaded sitting through math…until one day my teacher threw a curveball that forever changed me. He announced to the class that before each test he would give us a pre-test to determine where he needed to focus the lessons. Anyone that aced the pre-test would take the teacher’s edition of the textbook—the one with the answers—and go to back of the classroom to study chapters we wouldn’t cover.

The possibility to skip lessons and not be supervised was an incentive I could not refuse. Before each pre-test I would study and learn the material on my own. It became easy because I removed all my mental barriers to learning math.

I cannot think of a more important or pivotal moment in my education.

What I’ve taken away from this is this: motivated self-education can be incredibly powerful. The moment when desire and one’s own education intersect is the moment when a student succeeds. Why doesn’t this happen more often? Can this moment happen to everyone?

I often wonder why more people don’t question our educational system. We seem to be OK with a system designed to keep kids busy so parents can get work done. And yet we pretend to think the process and results are important. “Is your homework done?” “Let me see your report card.”

Paul Graham eloquently reveals the problem with the way writing is taught:

“The most obvious difference between real essays and the things one has to write in school is that real essays are not exclusively about English literature. Certainly schools should teach students how to write. But due to a series of historical accidents the teaching of writing has gotten mixed together with the study of literature. And so all over the country students are writing not about how a baseball team with a small budget might compete with the Yankees, or the role of color in fashion, or what constitutes a good dessert, but about symbolism in Dickens.”
— The Age of the Essay by Paul Graham

Individuals work, well, individually. Not everyone gets excited about the same things. What I want to see—which is very hard—is a less standardized, more creative approach that encourages students to take learning into their own hands. Perhaps throw out the short assignments for bigger projects. Things like traveling to a foreign country to learn a language, building a robot, painting a mural, writing a novel or composing a symphony aren’t things our current system really support. Perhaps we could change that?

I graduated from a four-year college.

mponochie's avatar

As a parent and future teacher (I too will be working towards my master in education soon) I think smaller class sizes along with assessing a child’s development based on test prior to starting school and placing like minds together is essential. My oldest child learned at an excelled rate and was often bored which led to him causing mischief. The ironical part of this would be every time I was called for a conference a teacher’s first comment would be he was extremely intelligent and they didn’t know what to do with him. My husband and I checked into a gifted program but it wouldn’t work out for us time wise would have required travelling much further. Children learn differently and if we as educators figured out which method worked best prior to submitting them to years of torture with what doesn’t work we would have a better success rate.

kheredia's avatar

I’m a college student who is trying to be a teacher. And I think the last thing we should be doing is cutting funds for education. Some kids need more attention than others but with overcrowded classrooms it is impossible to know who needs extra help. Also, I think it is important to involve the parents in school activities so that the students feel that they have their parents support. Bottom line is, we need more educators so that each child will get the time and the attention they need.

Likeradar's avatar

@timtrueman “motivated self-education can be incredibly powerful. The moment when desire and one’s own education intersect is the moment when a student succeeds. Why doesn’t this happen more often? Can this moment happen to everyone?”

Beautiful. One of my current classes is focusing on how to make children view education as something they are doing for themselves, not for their parents or teachers.

DominicX's avatar

I am not going to suggest a complete overhaul of the current system as I’ve heard people suggest in the past, but rather, how to improve the current system. I do not think the current system is all bad. I got good grades, I’m going to a good college. It worked for me and it worked for many of my friends. I have no reason to believe that it needs to be overhauled. People with bad experiences in school always assume everyone feels the same way they do. They don’t. I don’t. I know not everyone has good experiences in school, believe me, I could see that. But I do have a few things that I think would help:

First off, there needs to be smaller class sizes. I understand this is a financial problem; I don’t know how to fix a financial problem, but I do think that there should be adequate supplies and smaller class sizes at public schools and I do not think some kids should have less of a shot at college and such just because they came from a poorer area. If that’s happening, there is a problem. More individual attention and more opportunities for individual attention.

Second, I think life skills classes should be more plentiful and more required. I didn’t learn economics until senior year and there were still many things that I wanted to know. Yes, I know I can get the information from my parents. But a lot of kids aren’t going to ask their parents and if they get it at school, then it makes it easier for everyone.

Third, less busy work. Busy work is useless. I understand that homework allows for kids to practice; I am not suggesting to do away with homework. But there are so many assignments I’ve had in the past that were just useless. At-home assignments should be a supplement to what is done in class, not just something you give out for the sake of homework.

I had a teacher in high school who was just awful (not a bad person, just not a good teacher). She didn’t know how to teach and didn’t seem to know the material at all. This is not just my opinion, everyone thought that, including other teachers. That brings me to my fourth issue: abolish the means by which people like that can continue to teach. I had teachers who just by their nature motivated kids. They were friendly, upbeat, knew the material, involved in the kids in the material, didn’t give us busywork, allowed more outlets for creativity, etc. These were the teachers that I’m going to remember most. These were the teachers that had the most impact. Why can’t there be more like that?

The fifth issue is for me the leveling of classes. At my school, some levels were done away with simply because some of the higher levels were all white and Asian. I disagree with that move, frankly. The lower classes still taught all the same material, just at a different speed. What is wrong with that? Not all students are quick learners and could benefit from an easier class. The stigma with that needs to be removed. You don’t know how many times I heard kids use the phrase “dumb class”. No more of that! I think that there should be more opportunities for a slower versus an accelerated class that still teaches all the same material and kids shouldn’t feel ashamed that they desire a slower-paced class. My boyfriend elected to take so-called “dumb classes” simply because he knew that he was a slower learner and a slower test-taker and would benefit from that and he did. He still learned all the same material everyone else did.

Sixth issue: more opportunities for creativity. Creative writing was a class I wanted to take. But I didn’t have enough room for it. It was associated with the “dumber” students and was an alternative to the AP classes. The AP classes and the more advanced classes should have more creative writing in them. I love to write creatively and yet I probably got maybe 1 creative writing assignment per year, if that. Appalling. There should be more of them. Obviously, there are other “creative” things. I got to be very creative in my web design class, photography class, and others. Writing is just one that I thought of at first because I had so little opportunity for it in school. Each class had its share of creative opportunities; I just think there should be more. One of the best moments I had in high school was 11th grade AP U.S. when I got together in a group and we wrote a play about the 1920s and performed it. One of the unique times when I couldn’t wait to get to class!

Yes, I know that if you had bad experiences in school, your opinions are going to be different. I did not have a bad experience. My overall experience was definitely on the positive side. I had a lot of great teachers over the years and I definitely feel I have learned a lot. I am 18, just graduated from high school and will be starting college, dare I say it, next week. :)

timtrueman's avatar

@Likeradar Thank you! I kind of stole that from an essay I started but never finished on my blog. I find that writing is roughly analogous to thinking for me and it was an unfinished thought that I decided to do some more thinking on upon seeing your question.

Likeradar's avatar

@DominicX You have some excellent ideas.
Did you graduate from public school? From the little I know of you from Fluther, you seem like an educated person and a thinker, not a memorizor and regurgitator. If you agree, do you credit that to your formal education, your family, your own self, or a mix?

For the people who have suggested getting rid of the bad teachers- what form of evaluation do you think would be appropriate?
In my opinion, what is occurring now with the standardized testing is simply not working to better our schools. But I have no idea for other realistic means of evaluation.

Also, I’ve been reading The Power of Their Ideas by Deborah Meier, which is more or less about choice/alternative schools. What you those of you who know about them think?

Yeah, I’m kind of using this thread to question a lot of what I’m learning and thinking about in school. You guys are great. :)

DominicX's avatar


I graduated from an urban public school, the so-called worst category there is! (Though my high school was ranked highly nationally and ranked higher than most SF high schools). Still, I went to public school all my life including the magnet school that I went to for K-5. And thank you for saying that about me. :) I attribute it to a combination of them all. I’ve always felt that I could take advantage of education and I felt that I did that, at least, to the extent that I wanted to. I had high expectations of myself that came from myself alone. My family is intellectually stimulating and that definitely helped. But it’s just a combination of it all, including myself and my education. There have definitely been the select few of teachers who truly inspired me and what they did cannot be forgotten.

As for evaluating teachers? I remember my math teacher in 10th grade (who happened to be an excellent teacher without really any room for improvement) handed us all blank sheets of paper and said: write what you think of me as a teacher based on your experiences this year. She told us to be 100% honest and I was. Student evaluations I think are taken too lightly. We always had to do them, but they were formulaic, repetitive, and boring (they all were on the same damn sheet, for crying out loud), and I know that a lot of kids just fudged them without even thinking about it. There wasn’t even any room for personal input, just “choose A”, etc. Useless. It’s my firm belief that nothing useless should ever be done in school!

If even other teachers at my school know that a teacher is bad, I think there should be a way for that teacher to be removed. Tenure is a big problem in that case.

SheWasAll_'s avatar

First and foremost, a good student and strong life skills start in the home. Moms and Dads!!!! Teachers are not there to parent your children for you!!
I went to public school outside Cleveland, Ohio. While I was in high school, my district couldn’t afford: 1. Busing; you had to find your own way to school. 2. Paper; our teachers gave us bonus points for every ream of paper we brought in. 3. Desks/Chairs; students used the radiators in the rooms for desks because there weren’t enough seats. 4.Extracurriculars; any activity a student decided to participate in required a “pay to play” fee. I was editor of the school paper and I had to pay $100 to do so. So from my experience, make schools productive. Every teacher (including my mother, who teaches 8th grade in our district) was less focused on the students and more focused on how to survive the year with the limited resources.
The other thing I always experienced was this constant pressure of “YOU MUST ALL GO TO COLLEGE OR YOU’LL AMOUNT TO NOTHING!!!!” That philosophy needs to go out the window. It creates this self-fulfilling prophecy where those kids who can’t afford or get into college really don’t amount to much. And like @DominicX said, teach some life skills courses. Do you know how many of my friends have no clue how to write a check? I’m in my senior year of undergrad and I know my experience in the public school system shaped me into the student I am today, but I was one of the lucky ones.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Can we at least get textbooks that were written within the last 10 years?

drdoombot's avatar

This is a question I’ve thought about for a long time but really don’t have the answer to.

The only thing I can add is that I think parents need to take a bigger role in stimulating their children intellectually. Many parents treat school like a babysitting service and expect all learning to take place in school. If you sit on your butt and watch TV all the time, why do you expect your kids to go read, be smart and get good grades? Setting an example for your children is very much underrated.

SheWasAll_'s avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic For real. We were told to disregard chapters in our biology textbooks because they were proven incorrect during the 25 years after they were published.

galileogirl's avatar

@mponochie I came to teaching 20 years ago, after my daughter was no longer my financial responsibility and I could take a 50% cut in salary. Your answer is right on but you must understand that you will be entirely dismissed by almost everyone.

Nobody wants to hear about smaller class sizes because that means paying for more teachers. Nobody wants to hear about classes of similar ability because that sometimes looks like a lack of racial diversity. In reality it has more to do with economic inequity, with poorer children less prepared to learn. That’s a particularly difficult problem because that opens a whole new can of worms because as a nation we aren’t willing to look at the problems of children living in poverty.

One of the few things the majority of Americans will agree on is that it must be the teachers’ fault. Or more to the point, the fault of the teachers’ union which points out the uncomfortable truths that we don’t support public education in any meaningful way.

As far as a teacher not being able to challenge a bright child, remember her circumstances. A licensed day care provider in our state is allowed a maximum of 6 children per adult. The average elementary teacher takes care of 25 children while teaching them academics. One bright but bored little boy can take time the teacher doesn’t have.

@DominicX I teach at the SF high school that at one point in the 80’s was known as Hatchet High. Our school went from the bottom of the pack to regularly out performing the 2 West Side general high schools. We have won many commendations over the last 10 years including being named a national model school, We have always had excellent motivated teachers.

The thing that made the biggest difference was a change in how students could make school choices. Students from lower socioeconomic families had 1st choice and flocked to the higher testing schools in middle class neighborhoods and the West Side middle class kids and their parents came to us in our safer touristy area. We have students who come to school prepared to learn, whose parents support the school and the faculty. We feel we would be able to do better still without average class sizes of 34 students and if we had common planning time across the curriculum but that would cost money and we are facing a budget cut again.

ragingloli's avatar

all teachers should have a degree in paedagogy, they also need higher pay. Mandatory additional training in their fields of expertise every couple of years.

Likeradar's avatar

@galileogirl Were zones within a district done away with completely when families had choices about which school their child would attend?

Strauss's avatar

Better pay for teachers. After all, we are entrusting our future to them. Most of them, that I know, became teachers out of a love for the profession.

Likeradar's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Better pay is something I brought up with someone yesterday. I agree, teaching is a damn hard and important job and teachers absolutely should be better compensated. His response was “how will that help?” I replied that it might keep teachers more invested in their work. He countered with pointing out that people who become teachers now are not in it for the money. Love for the profession, as you say, gets people into it. Do you think having it be a better paid field would cause people who would be in it for the paycheck to be in our classrooms? That’s certainly not what we need.

YARNLADY's avatar

I homeschooled my sons and grandsons as much as I was able. The school system must by it’s very nature by geared to educating the largest number of students to the lowest common denominator. Since mine were not in that category, I took the measures necessary to adjust.

Likeradar's avatar

@YARNLADY I mostly agree with you in the way schools are organized now. What steps would you take to ensure that schools aren’t forced to teach to the lowest common denominator?

YARNLADY's avatar

@Likeradar When I was in public school, we had “tracks” for people depending on their abilities, and it worked very well, until some people pointed out that the “vocational” tracks were all minority students, and the “college” tracks were all the white, upper class students. The “track” system would work, if only it was based entirely on ability and not on social class.

DominicX's avatar


Well see, that’s kind of what I was saying about the leveling. The problem is that people of a certain social class aren’t forced to be in those classes, that’s just the way it turned out. But people saw it as discriminatory rather than coincidence and they got rid of some of the different levels, which I found to be a bad idea.

galileogirl's avatar

@Likeradar Yes school assignment is based on on choice with socioeconomic factors like family income and parent’ education gien priority. Since you are from the City you understand there used to be bussing for racial balance. Thats all gone and the kids from Sunnydale. HP and the SE projects are staying in that part of town unless they have very motivated parents. The Bay St projects are almost all replaced by mixed income units. Very picturesque and much safer at the cable car turnaround but scores of low income families relocated away from our school.

@YARNLADY Tracking is a 4 letter word today.

Strauss's avatar

@Likeradar Unfortunately, that would be part of it. But since there would be more money, there would probably be something like a merit increase (as opposed to straight tenure) that would allow teachers who are good, and who develop a good track record, to continue in the profession. Ideally, such a merit system would hopefully tend to weed out those who would be in it only for the money.

Likeradar's avatar

@galileogirl I think I’m understanding you, please correct me if I missed something (I’m from Marin, btw, not SF, so I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about).

Are you saying families with lower SES and lower parental educational levels are given the first choice, and families with higher SES and educational levels may not be able to go to their neighborhood schools, which are likely of higher quality?

Hurm… not sure how I feel about that. I truly believe that all children deserve a quality education. I’m trying to picture how I would feel if my future children, who will likely be upper-middle class, live in a single-family home, and have educated parents weren’t able to go to their neighborhood school.

Is the result a lot of pissed off upper and middle class families or an increase in private school enrollment? Or are schools starting to even out in terms of quality?

@Yetanotheruser What criteria do you think should be used to determine merit?

galileogirl's avatar

@Yetanotheruser The problem with merit pay is that who are you going to get to teach in low income schools where there is poor attendance, little parental support in the home and students come to school hungry, tired and unprepared. It will always be the new teachers with the least experience. Like in any profession, the experienced, capable and talented people will end up in positions where they have a chance for better pay and better working conditions.

YARNLADY's avatar

It is unfortunate that a system known as tracking is so undervalued, since there are some valid reasons that “ability grouping” can help. However, to back track some, I believe that the smaller the group, the better, and no “ability” seperation is necessary. When I homeschooled my children, the emphasis was on what they wanted to teach themselves, not on what I wanted them to learn.

galileogirl's avatar

@Likeradar You got it. The population of San Francisco is just under 50% white. With the exception of Lowell HS which requires a high score on an entrance exam, the white population in hs is 5–10%, Where did all the white kids go? $15,000/year private schools or moved to the suburbs.

Strauss's avatar

@Likeradar The question of measuring merit is a good one, and would probably be based on certain metrics that would vary from district to district, if not from school to school. It would have to be performance based, but measured in such a manner as to prevent “teaching for the test”. I don’t have the answer, but I would like to see some type of system put into place.

@galileogirl It’s possible that the challenges you mention could be some of the “measuralbles” that would go toward the merit pay. As far as funding of the low income schools, I agree that it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with. As long as there are students who are lower priority for whatever reason we will continue to have disparities in the educational system. Again, I don’t have any specific answers, but I think some things that might work would be:adult education courses such as :GED; community college; even community-based courses on non-scholastic topics such as gardening, home repair, or community involvement. Perhaps there would be some community based funding, or possibly some grant-funded programs (government and private).

While I was posting, your last post came up. “White flight” is and has been a problem in many school systems for generations.

Likeradar's avatar

@galileogirl Are the public schools as a whole getting better in SF because of choice, or are they all becoming equally bad but in different ways?

galileogirl's avatar

It’s a mixed bag, we’re doing better and schools in the areas we now draw from are doing a few points worse on standardized tests. Most hs’s are creeping up on tests but most of the lower performing schools are “teaching to the tests”. That is they are all about passing multiple choice tests and not teaching research, writing, problem solving and critical thinking. A school is considered failing if all subgroups do not show significant improvement. In 7 years we have gone from 28th percentile to 77th percentile statewide but are always on the edge because AA students (6% of the school) and Sped (5% of the school) have not improved their scores.

Basically better scores do not metranslate into success in college or life where multiple choice is just about useless..

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

The overarching emphasis should not be passing standardized tests, but fostering the ability to think independently and critically.

Strauss's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop Agreed! But could that be used to measure teaching ability, in order to attract and retain the best and brightest to educate our youth?

galileogirl's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop That’s what teachers and our unions have been saying all along.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

@Yetanotheruser I don’t know.

@galileogirl On the other hand, the amount of money we are spending per student is ludicrously high compared to the rest of the world. (Well, this is the impression the last time I saw figures. Can’t remember where and when, now.)

Strauss's avatar

So, some of the things we need to do to improve our educational system:

1) Attract and retain the best and brightest to teach our youth
2) Emphasis should be on the ability to think independently and critically, rather than “teaching to the test.”
3) Make better, more efficient use of our educational dollars.

Earlier in this thread, someone mentioned pedagogy. I think it is important for a professional teacher to understand the art and science of teaching, as well as the learning behaviors of the various student groups.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

I’m tempted to link to George Carlin videos. I think the man will be remembered as the American equivalent to the Russian yurodivy – holy fools who were allowed to speak the truth when it wasn’t politic. He could be extremely caustic and cynical, so I’ll refrain from a direct link this time. He made the point that The Powers That Be benefit from the masses being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator level. Given what has happened to this country in the last thirty years…

I think the underlying culture needs to change before we can see clear ways to address the problems we’re facing. We’re due for a major shift as it’s becoming clear that the fabric as it was last repatched during the Reagan years is coming undone.

mattbrowne's avatar

Make learning a foreign language starting at age 10 mandatory.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Better pay for teachers is important because it stops the bleed-off of talented teacher into other areas, and stops people who would be drawn to teaching choosing other careers because of the financial considerations. It’s hard work, with a lot of responsibility. Schools need a steady supply of well-educated, motivated teachers. Live any other profession, stagnation leads to a proliferation of “office politics” and quality suffers as a result. Reward for effort creates engagement.

zephyr826's avatar

We also need a support system for teachers that creates higher retention rates. This is my fifth year teaching (in a poor rural high school), and since I graduated, half of the people who got their certificates with me did have left the profession. Teaching is a highly stressful profession that requires an eighty-hours-a-week commitment from us during the school year, in exchange for poor monetary compensation, little respect from the community, and a series of jokes about our 3 months paid vacation. We are expected to continue our education but are not always given the resources to do so. Teachers like @timtrueman‘s are rare in schools, not because they don’t exist, but because they are stomped on by a system that wants our children and teachers to be squished into little boxes that look good on a pie chart.

steps off soapbox, takes a deep breath.
sorry. I get a little riled up about these things.

CMaz's avatar

Get rid of the internet and computer games. More socialization and communication skills.

Teach them an understanding of finances at an early age. Economics should be taught in elementary school.
Bring back Gym/PE.

Strauss's avatar

@zephyr826 Thanks for what you do. And thanks to all teachers on this thread. I know you have a tough job with inadequate compensation.

It is no coincidence that the five most influential adults in my childhood (other than my parents) were school teachers or administrators.

wundayatta's avatar

I think we need to train teachers to use different methods in the classroom. The goal of education has been perverted by the need to measure progress. Unfortunately, tests don’t help people get good educations.

Teachers have to get students excited about the work. This can be done by getting them involved in doing real work. Work they can see is relevant to life, and in particular, their lives.

Teachers, I believe, are responsible for demonstrating a sense of enthusiasm. Reward and punishment, while they work, don’t have a lasting impact. Educators should do whatever it takes to help students love whatever it is you are teaching. Or at least think it’s cool. The school system and the evaluation system has to be designed to support this goal.

Kids want to matter. So many teenagers feel like there is no place for them in society. Society values them little. It throws them into schools when they want to be out making a contribution already. It gives them shit jobs when they think they can do so much more. They have so much energy. A good teacher can just channel that energy into interest towards whatever it is they are supposed to teach.

A good teacher learns more from the students than the students learn from the teacher. How can you learn from students? You have to put them in in a position where what they know from life matters. They need to solve real problems, and it can’t be problems that have a set answer.

Of course, this is the same stuff as you do for adult learners or, for that matter, elementary school kids. Unfortunately, most educational administrative systems don’t leave teachers free to do this. For it to work, you kind of have to let go of all the forms of accountability the school system imposes. Tests and grades don’t really matter. Learning does.

Teachers have to be allowed to pull up your sleeves, and pitch in, working with the kids like they are all on the same team. Teachers should be trained to think of themselves as the consultant. Students do the work, and when they get in trouble, teachers help them figure it out. Teaching is so much easier when students do all the work. They can just stand aside and try not to get in their way.

If it is done right, students can hold each other accountable. That way teachers don’t have to face the issue of letting them fail or not letting them fail. The class will do that. If we are really radical, we can let students have input on evaluating each others work. I wouldn’t tell them they are evaluating it officially, but I would have them critique work in a problem-solving kind of way.

We’re looking at process as much as result. It’s like the fish thingy from the Bible. Teach students how to learn, and they can learn forever. Teach them a fact, and all they will know is the fact. We don’t have to get in the way of their interests and force them to focus on what we think they need to learn.

We need to build on their interests and use that to get them motivated to learn the skills they need for life. This student-centered approach is very difficult to apply in most school systems, where the needs to show progress outweigh most other considerations. It is also not something that teachers seem to learn at education colleges. In fact, education colleges are not often taken seriously in the larger university. They are often not seen as rigorous or effective.

The whole goal is to replace the use of extrinsic motivation with efforts to instill intrinsic motivation in all our students. This is not an army or a production line. We should not be teaching kids to obey orders. We can’t just teach them a set of rules. We need to be teaching them to solve problems on their own.

dalepetrie's avatar

I’m going to copy the last answer I gave verbatim to a question about how to lower the dropout rate, as it’s the same idea:

I don’t have time to read everything everyone else said today and post what I’m going to post, so forgive me if some of this is redundant. But I think there are a few problems with school.

1) Much of it is not engaging to students, I remember the students in school who were in the most danger of dropping out just plain did not see anything interesting about school, did not see how it related to them or how they could possibly use it in the real world. To some degree they were right….no one really needs to know dates of when things occurred, that’s trivia and not everyone is interested in trivia. But so much of what is taught in history is names and dates, and less is taught about overall movements and what they mean. Geography is the same thing….we worry about capitals and ignore the rest of the countries….if we taught more about the cultures and the regions, kids would be more engaged and informed and ready to deal with the current world. Math has a myriad of real world applications, but a lot of kids don’t see that, we should worry less about what happens when train a is going 100mph and train b is going 60 mph, and more about what happens when Bob earns $10.50 an hour and works 22 hours a week, pays $500 a month rent, $50 a month in utilities….how much can he spend each day on meals.

2) So much of school doesn’t teach kids to think…the whole basis of school should be critical thinking, not teaching to standardized tests. What determines success in the future is the ability to think and to apply knowledge, but we teach kids to memorize and retrieve, and even our college system is increasingly becoming more vocational focused, training people to learn the terminology of their craft and the steps to performing the busywork involved.

3) Assessment is crucial. Though we need to train everyone to think critically from an early age, we have to learn to recognize the signs of people with different types of aptitudes and as kids get older, we need to engage them in different ways….teaching the more intellectually gifted kids is going to be a completely different process than teaching the more mechanically inclined kids. Stop forcing every kid into shop or home ec AND algebra.

DominicX's avatar

I’ll repeat what I said on the other question as well: For the whole “interest based” school solution, what about the fact that kids’ interests change? What do you do about that?

Likeradar's avatar

@ChazMaz What would getting rid of the internet accomplish, aside removing a very valuable and incredibly fast growing information source?

CMaz's avatar

It is apparently too late to get rid of it. But it needs to be curbed greatly.

Take the children off the internet and have the education system make a linked intranet. This way you can have all that good and necessary information. Without the predators and all the other “crap” that is easily accessible and overly distracting.

Very Valuable yes. When used properly. Other what is it? It is an out of control resource.

galileogirl's avatar

@hiphiphopflipflapflop Hardly ludicrous. There is great disparity among the states. NY pays $11, 500, CA pays abt $7,300 (the European average) and Mississippi pays abt $5,500. That covers a lot of overhead beyond teacher pay and books.

We also have a very different mandate than schools in other countries. We are required to teach every child as if he is going to college which requires a lot of remedial work for children who don’t have family support. We aren’t allowed to teach non-English speakers by tossing them into regular classes. I doubt if Swiss schools (the highest compensation in Europe) have to pay for the security we do. Also some European systems channel non-academic students into job training (for jobs that do not exist) and release them from school at sixteen without taking those competitive tests.

I admit that the Japanese spend only about $5500 per pupil but their children take responsibility and cut some of the resource expenses. Imagine if we required our students take on janitor duties in the classroom. Parents would go ballistic. And I wonder if their scores have as much to do with their public schools as it does to the private cram schools their parents pay for and the extra 15 hours/week of study.

And where do the payments on building and maintenance bonds come from. Over the last 10 years every school in our district had to be earthquake retrofitted. The cost in my 85 yo school was $9 mil. That will pump up anybody’s bottom line over the next 30 years

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

@galileogirl “We also have a very different mandate than schools in other countries.”

Mandates may change to meet the fiscal reality on the ground.

galileogirl's avatar

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But in fact the opposite is true. We already have been told we will get a smaller budget while we are getting more students. At our first faculty meeting we were given a list of additional responsibilities due to lost resources. It’s called trickle down responsibility where it all ends up dumping on the teachers.

YARNLADY's avatar

I think the concept of “pass” or “fail” should be dropped completely. Every child can learn the material if it is presented properly, and if one method doesn’t work, another must be tried. Some students take longer to learn, and should be given the time and effort it takes. Some learn faster, and should be given the ability to move on as soon as they are ready.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

@galileogirl The same thing is happening in businesses. Frankly I do not see things getting better in the short term. I think things are going to need to really start breaking down before something like workable fixes are made. As much as people realize a crisis is happening right now, ways of thinking and acting and expectations haven’t changed as a result of it. Reality is still being put off.

JLeslie's avatar

Be able to graduate early. I recently posted a question about what to do about the bottom 2000 schools that account for 75% of all dropouts in the public school system. One thing I noticed was that there were several dropouts who made comments. It seems to me that many of them could have finished the classwork, just had a horrible time at school, many times because of the social pressures.

Personally, I HATED waking up so early, and this is part of the reason my grades were not stellar. From what I understand some counties in Minnesota and California, do start classes later for High School. Also, I was able to graduate early. I had to fight for it. I found out in my junior year that I only needed 6 more credits to qualify for graduation. Although my school was against it at first, they finally gave in to my request, I finished all of the requirments and was out in Dec. Many said they dropped out their senior year. if they had just 4 months more to be done, maybe they would have stuck it out. Or, better yet, a fast track for high school to get 4 years done in 3. My father was on a fast track, graduated at 16, and my mom took summer school to be finished before her senior year. At that time in NY these options were readily available.

I like the idea of separating the genders. I am all in favor of uniforms.

My favorite teachers had a sense of humor, used real life experience to enhance their lessons, and seem to truly enjoy teaching and the subject matter. I don’t think homework should be given to students in second grade and younger, except for once a month projects. Most families have both parents working, some have parents who do not have a good command of the English language, and to me homework is to reinforce a lesson or to show a students independent work. A first grader can barely do work on his own, so it puts an unreasonable burden on the family, and many studies supposedly say homework at this young age does nothing when looking at work habits of HIgh school children.

Hobosnake's avatar

more facilitation of skipping unnecessary classes to avoid tedium.

allow for more customization of the schedule early on; don’t require classes that very few people are going to use in later high school, but rather allow more customization for classes one is interested in and might consider a career in.

I’m a student going all out in my own schedule, but I can’t stand tedium. I find the fact that I have learned nothing new in my pre-calculus class 6 weeks into the school year aggravating. I also find stupid the fact that health is a required class, especially when one is already enrolled in a psychology class, which (at least at my school) taught everything health did (all the stuff we didn’t already know, which was very little) and more in a much more interesting way.

p.s.: Summer reading should only be allowed for AP classes (possibly for honors) and should be RELEVANT TO THE CLASS, OF REASONABLE LENGTH, and BEARABLE!!!!

I’ve lost 2 full summers for mostly irrelevant material. All I got from the summer reading was sleep depravity which significantly lowered my performance during the school year, as I was unable to deprive myself as was necessary during that period.

p.p.s.: I second ALL claims that waking up early sucks.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hobosnake Summer reading? Your school gives you an assignement over the summer? Do they test you on it? Is it a public school? I never heard of such a thing, but I’m old, haven’t been in school for years.

galileogirl's avatar

@JLeslie Our experience with later starting times doesn’t show better attendance. We have had regular starting times from 7:50–8:30 with little difference in tardies or absences. We have a weekly 2 hour planning block and at one time we ran it on Tues am so that students didn’t start until 9:30 am-no difference. When I was in high school during the boom years when they couldn’t build schools fast enough, one year we had double sessions with some students starting at 7 and others starting @ 11. There were more attendance problems with the late starters.

And yes schools do give summer reading. For my world history class it was Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. The English dept gives titles that are cross curricular with us ie, incoming Jrs who will be studying US History have the Great Gatsby and Grapes of Wrath on their list

Likeradar's avatar

@JLeslie I graduated from public high school over 10 years ago and I had summer reading. Not that I ever did it…

JLeslie's avatar

@galileogirl I wonder if grades were better with later start times, and 8:30 would mean fighting the worst of rush hour, so did you really get to leave your house later? Where I grew up 7:50 and 8:30 would mean leaving the house just 15 minutes later, because of traffic, but that might not be true in your town. And, I wonder if you are in Eastern time? Back when I was a kid there were shows we wanted to stay up for starting at 10:00, I used to wish I was in Central time just for that. My sister went to college in Central time and she too saw it as a big bonus. Now with DVR I guess that is less of a problem. Still interesting stats—thanks. Maybe I am a rare breed.

DominicX's avatar


I’ve had summer reading every year since Middle School. The one reason I do like it is that it causes me to read books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read and often I end up liking them. Sometimes it makes me want to read more books like them. Of course, that applies to books read during the school year as well.

galileogirl's avatar

There has been research regarding natural timing that seems to show adolescents are more alert in the late evening and over the years that built in ‘clock’ gradually moves formard until sr citizens are less alert in te evening but wake earlier in the morning. We won’t be able to adjust school hours to the optimum time for teenagers while the teachers need to be at their peak.

The reality is if we offered an 11–6 schedule most students wouldn’t like that either because it would conflict with sports, jobs and their social life.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m just talking starting at 9:15 not 11:00. So you don’t have to wake before dawn. I understand your point about after school activities, but kids who don’t do sports have A LOT of free time before their parents get home, not good either.

YARNLADY's avatar

Everyone in the neighborhood envied my home schooled son (and grandsons) because he could sleep as late as he wanted and stay up as late as he wanted, and do his schoolwork based on his own schedule, and not dictated by a bureaucracy that won’t even let children use the restroom when they have to without embarrassing them first.

Hobosnake's avatar

@JLeslie I go to a private school. I’ve heard colleges tend to assign it as well.

I also think that students (or at least parents) should have the option of being enrolled in longer classes with less homework.


More testing out of classes would be VERY nice. I’ve seriously considered dropping my AP American Government class and just taking the test in May based on what I learned in AP US history, as all I ever do in that class is outline facts I already know.

@DominicX Yea, summer reading can be enjoyable sometimes. However, I’ve had to read such irrelevant (somewhat relevant, but I never ever used it throughout the school year) and useless books as Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (about a 2000 page, dragged out commentary about the American Government in the 1800s, he was very smart and it might be enjoyable for someone very obsessed with American History, but the entire second half was him whining about how Americans didn’t like art yet, and most of the first half was him pointing out that the American Revolution was far inferior to the French one) and finally showing up after a near sleepless summer and finding out that, because so many people dropped the class after seeing that assignment, it was just a measly bit of extra credit that was nowhere near worth the lost sleep.

JLeslie's avatar

I would hate summer reading unless it was about science maybe? I would rather do math problems and hand in a worksheet the first day of school.

Insomnia's avatar

This is an absolutely fascinating discussion to me, as I’m majoring in History with a concentration in education and plan on eventually being a secondary education teacher.

And for the record timtrueman’s answer was absolutely phenomenal; I couldn’t agree more.

JLeslie's avatar

@Insomnia Because of what you wrote I went back and read @timtrueman answer. It was very good. I have a couple of things after reading it. I have a big problem with subjects being crossed at a very young age. I was helping my neice with her 2nd grade math homework (I was a math girl in school, I still love numbers) and I was dismayed to see that there were a lot of words on the paper. I guess there is a movement to increase childrens ability to do “word” problems, but if you have poor reading comprehension you are going to suck at math also in her class. I think let children get a chance to study each subject as a separate entity before demanding a combination of skills.

Also, my girlfriend called me yesterday to say that her 4th grade daughter failed her math test. She is in a new school, and she is typically an A student. My friend read me some of the questions her daughter got wrong, and they all were in the negative. For example: list these three numbers from greatest to least 20,937; 29,037; 29,307. She picked the answer on the muliple choice that would be least to greatest, how we would typically write numbers and answer a question. My girlfriend was afraid this was a reflection on her daughters ability to comprehend the question. I argue this tests to see if the child READ the question. If she did 20 problems in class where this was asked least to greatest on her worksheet, she already knew what type of question it was. I say why be tricky like this at such a young age? I think test taking skills are very important, but then you have to teach test taking skills also, you can’t load them into a test as a surprise. We assume most of the children did poorly on the exam, because when my girlfriend spoke to the teacher she said she would not do multiple choice anymore. My girlfriend was not asking her to change everything for her daughter, she just wanted to know how she might be able to help her daugher at home to catch up with the other students; we can only assume many children did poorly since she was ready to change everything. My point is I don’t even think the teacher gets why that test is a problem, it is not a matter of multiple choice or not. My girlfriend also started to say in a negative tone, “why is it important to know how to take a test anyway, how does this apply to real life?” I think it is important, we are tested in life. If you go into a medical profession, real estate, CPA, you need to be able to take a test. Also, I think it translates into skills for interviewing and other things. But, let’s be aware of what we are testing, the skill of the subject at hand, or testing if a student is rushing through or overlooking the directions/question?

What I am against is daily homework at a very young age (before 3rd grade). Did I say this already? I think it is difficult on the family, and there are studies showing it doesn’t do anything to improve study habits in later years.

galileogirl's avatar

@JLeslie It is very common for good students to rush through a test and misread questions, that can be addressed

JLeslie's avatar

@galileogirl I agree. I said that didn’t I? I think the teacher doesn’t get that that is the problem. My girlfriend didn’t eaither, she was just pissed the test was too “difficult and confusing.” The teacher is ready to change the test. She needs to either teach the skill, or maybe this is a young age in the first place? That I don’t know.

YARNLADY's avatar

Classes with no more than 10 students per teacher
Most of the work done in the classroom, not at home
No huge, expensive text books, all learning and work done from single workbooks per chapter or subject
Work tables instead of individual desks, work discussion encouraged.
More freedom to move about the class on topic related items.

DominicX's avatar


I had work tables and desks clustered together to form a table pretty much from kindergarten to 5th grade. It was only after that that went away, reappeared again in 8th grade for core class, and then disappeared completely except for my 11th grade math teacher, who, coincidentally, probably would’ve made a great kindergarten teacher. She was a great teacher, though. She just seemed overly nice and happy and kind of treated us like little kids. But she did it in a way that everyone liked. She even let us bring in pie on Pi Day, which I hadn’t done since middle school. :)

Dog's avatar

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