The State of Education

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A little while ago, a friend of mine posted the following comment on facebook:

We need year-round school to compete globally:

This is a common argument that the only way to compete against schools globally is to go to school all the time.  My question is: “If that is what it takes, why doesn’t everyone else do it too?” My comment to the article follows.

While the author does make some good points, I do not agree that year-round school would fix the issues that we have in the education system.

The most appropriate point he makes is this:

“Cutting into summer vacation won’t solve all our education problems — most research points toward the quality of the teacher as the biggest influencer — but more class time could help. At 180 days, we have one of the shortest school years of the countries tested. South Korea, for example, has 220 school days, and a No. 2 ranking in math. Finland is first in math and science at 190 days.”

Do we really think that 10 days (2 weeks) make the difference between 25 and 1 in math? I do not see how that is possible.

To me, the biggest issues are
1) Teacher’s unions. Teachers are encouraged to get better only out of the goodness of their heart. While beneficial, that desire only goes so far to improve the teaching. And if there is a bad teacher, the only way to get rid of them (unless they really screw up) is to encourage them to move to another district.
2) Standardized tests. We are so focused on trying to measure how much the students have learned so that we know if we are behind, that they do not get the opportunity to actually learn. Instead, the students have to spend the time preparing for the tests (not to mention a full week is required to take the tests which adds to the distance behind by another week)
3) Lack of family support. Families have begun looking to the school system as babysitters. As a result, there is after-school care, free and reduced lunches, and in some cases early drop off as well. None of this helps the students. The majority cause of this problem is on the part of the family, not the schools. Though the schools have been enablers in these regards.

To solve the education issues, I believe drastic measures need to be taken as well. Based on the issues I see, the solutions should be as follows:
1) Get rid of the Teacher’s Unions. Change the pay model to be based on quality of work rather than time served. This would encourage more teachers to enter the profession as well as better teachers to remain in the system.
2) Get rid of standardized tests. They do not provide any reliable statistics. There are constant stories about people cheating the system causing more doubt to be cast on the results. If the government still feels the testing is necessary, then make it last a single day, and don’t base district compensation on the results at all. Instead, use it as a measurement of the broad picture of education.
3) Encourage family involvement. This is, admittedly, the most difficult. Perhaps districts should cut back on after-school care forcing parents to get their kids earlier. The schools can’t do anything once the child leaves the school, but they can do everything possible to encourage parental involvement. I am not saying the kids are not important. What I am saying is that the schools need to no longer take the place of the family. If this time is essential to the families, then extend the school day by one hour and get rid of the after-school care altogether. That will keep the kids longer to help the parents as well as increase the level of education.

Other options include:
1) Encourage homeschooling.
2) Encourage the private school option.
3) Expand and encourage summer school.

There are lots of options. Lengthening the school year is just one of them. Unfortunately, it is the one most often discussed.


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