Why Our Education System Needs to Change

a LinkedIn post by Vallab

There is a problem with the education system in America. We all know it, but we disagree on what exactly that problem is and what the perfect solution should be. Today, with advancement in science and technology doubling every decade, there is more pressure on students than ever before to keep up. And with this pressure comes nationally standardized testing, common core standards, and students with an unprecedented desire to go to the “best” (and probably most expensive) college possible, only to rack up debt in the long-run. This trend is unsustainable and, sooner or later, we are going to have to make a drastic change to fix it.

I am a junior in high school. This year, I am taking all Honors or AP classes, and with PARCC testing, AP exams, the SATs/ACTs, and other major exams, I feel as though I have lost the time to do the things that really matter, the things that are more relevant to my future than graphing a rose curve or memorizing long, irrelevant formulas that are readily available online.

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As a nation, we are fourteenth in the world when it comes to education. While some present the valid argument that the United States engenders creativity like no other nation, our innovative culture is not an excuse for our increasingly poor academic performance. In fact, among all of the world’s developed countries, the United States is currently the only country that is on track to have smaller percentages of young people graduate from high school and college than their parents’ generation.

This is a problem, since creativity alone is not enough to compete in a world where C++ may soon be the language more popular than English.  We also need to know how to use knowledge that others have produced as well. So, how do we solve this problem?

As a student, I find myself disagreeing with most plans for “educational reform.” The constant cries for an end to standardized testing. The push towards no college. The President’s agenda for year-round schooling. I am not by any means an “expert” on this topic, but since I am currently trapped in the broken system, I have a few ideas on what may turn things around.

The 5 Things We Need to Change

1) High schools should start later.

Before you roll your eyes, I should point out that this comes from scientific studies, not just a personal desire for sleep. Around the country, pediatricians unequivocally state that sleep patterns in teens don’t match school start times. Most pediatricians say that it is more important for high schools to start late and elementary schools early, rather than the other way around. In fact, pediatricians recommend that teens get around 10 hours of sleep, but, in reality, they get only 6 or 7.  I know from experience that this lack of sleep is an everyday thing, and, of course, the all-nighters play into the equation too.

RESULT: Delaying school start times would drive up academic performance, increase attendance, lower depression, and reduce student car accidents.

2) There should be one nationally standardized test four times each year.

This test would be customized for each student based on the subjects of the courses they are enrolled in. This test should be well-developed, challenging, and a replacement for final exam grades, AP tests, and the SAT/ACT. It should also test logical thinking, almost like an IQ test. The major benefit will be a dramatic increase in class time, since a single, universal test will reduce redundancy. In addition, the test will not be something teachers have to prepare students for separately but rather will incorporate concepts that are already part of the curriculum.

RESULT:

  1. Students will need to familiarize themselves with one type of test format only.
  2. The test will be administered by the state rather than private companies like Pearson that are out to make a profit.
  3. Students and teachers regain valuable class time instead of spending time taking major tests (AP, PARCC, mid-terms, finals, etc.), which are often redundant.
  4. Time spent testing and stressing about standardized tests is dramatically reduced.
  5. Questions will test actual ability and understanding instead of artificial knowledge and the questions won’t be designed to confuse students like PARCC questions are.
  6. The test will enable students to actually focus on learning since comprehension is the best way to succeed on the test.

3) Colleges should receive limited information about students.

Right now, everything is about getting the best grades possible, period. I find myself surrounded by an unwarranted belief that the grades one gets in high school will dictate success in college and life. With the growing importance and, consequently, power of colleges, students will do anything to get into their “dream” college. If you have not already guessed it, this situation inspires cheating. Since the pressure to be the best, or at least appear the best, outweighs the desire to learn, students will almost always resort to cheating if that is what it takes.

In fact, it is evident that honors and AP students cheat more than any other group of students in my school, which I assume carries over to high schools nationally. It’s unfortunate and inevitable in the current environment. However, there is a solution.

Rather than providing colleges with students’ transcripts, colleges would only receive detailed score reports from the standardized test mentioned above, along with a performance review from each of the student’s teachers and class projects the student chooses to submit. Instead of constantly worrying about how to cheat the grading system, students can focus on the educational aspect of school. Meanwhile, teachers can accurately assess students to better understand how to teach them rather than to discern which societal echelon they belong in.

RESULT: Students will have more freedom to choose what they want to do and how they want to do it rather than submit to the pressure from colleges that dictate their every move. There will be less cheating and more understanding in classrooms.

4) Technology should be integrated into teaching and curricula should adapt to modern resources.

Can you recite the formula for the Law of Cosines? What about the Quadratic Formula? Chances are you cannot, even though these are relatively useful formulas. The reason is that using these formulas in real life is rare and referencing them on the internet is a bit more practical than memorizing them in high school.

Yet it is not uncommon to be testing students on their ability to memorize formulas. Today, with phones and so many devices that can access the internet, memorizing formulas is a bit silly, especially since one will never use them in real life.

In addition, the prevalence of technology means we do not need to learn using conventional classroom methods. Students need to go to school so they can interact with others, but maybe flipping things around — learning at home using videos (ie. KhanAcademy, educator.com) — and practicing in class  would be a more effective method of teaching.

RESULT: Learn how to solve problems using the resources around you (like in real life) instead of simply challenging your memory.

5) Students do not need to know everything about everything.

In the last century, a lot has changed, except for the basic structure of high school courses. Not too long ago, it was possible to become a stock broker or engineer with only a high school diploma, which meant high schools had to train students for specialized careers. However, colleges now seem to be essential for almost every specialized career choice.

In the past three years, I have taken advanced Biology, Chemistry and Physics classes, which each dive deep into the subject. I plan to be a computer engineer, and while chemistry and physics are relevant to my major, I can’t imagine why I would need to know Biology in so much detail. Nevertheless, it is important that high schools produce well-rounded students, so where’s the balance?

In order to expose students to everything, but not waste time teaching them information they will never need, high schools should simplify many classes, especially math and science courses. Help students understand the important concepts in every subject rather than the details, and in the time saved, allow motivated students to begin specializing and taking college courses related to their major in their junior and senior years.

In addition, schools should also stop limiting themselves to traditional courses. Introducing new required courses may help better prepare students for today’s world. For example, learning a basic programming language teaches logic. Philosophy forces students to be open-minded and debate the difficult questions. A challenging class on finance would teach students personal accounting, the dangers and benefits of loans, wise investing, taxes, insurance, and more. And a class on political science might just make this new generation more aware of what is actually going on around it, since politics is at the heart of democracy.

RESULT: Students save time learning irrelevant details and instead spend time on courses that make them well-rounded and aware individuals with something to contribute to society.

Conclusion

So those are my five major ideas for proper education reform. However, I would not be surprised if you disagree with at least some of these points. There are many ways to prepare a generation of students for a future that cannot be completely anticipated, but there are some things about the education system that are clearly dysfunctional.

Primarily, we should not let individual creativity fade. Implementing the ideas above will ensure that students retain their creativity and natural interest in learning, while simultaneously enabling them to meet the intellectual requirements of a rapidly advancing society.

Everyone is different. Everyone learns differently. Everyone performs differently. Education is currently focused on the group, not the individual.   It’s not easy to change this last fact, but hopefully we can one day create a system that does not restrain individual creativity and is still practical. But something needs to change, that is certain.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Vallab will be a senior.  He is the Executive Director of Earth Youth Environmental Society.

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