As a student who was brought up in the American public education system, this has always been a topic of fascination for me. Students often complain about what they wish they could change about their education, but what about those employed by the public education system? What is their opinion on the matter? Now that I am in a public, liberal arts college I decided to finally just ask my teachers my burning question:
"If you were to change one thing about our public education system, K-college, what would it be?"
A very loaded question to just throw onto a professor after a lecture, but I asked it anyway, and these were their answers...
Two of my professors said, plain and simple, our schools need more funding to improve them in any way. We invest in what we value, and in thinking about it, schools provide an education for our future citizens. Why not value this more? Upon doing some research, I discovered that the US spends over 500 billion on public education a year. About 43% of this is provided by the state, 44% by the local government, and 13% from the federal government. Of course, this varies from each state, school district, and individual school. Schools are spending these funds on teacher salaries, maintenance, support staff, transportation, and equipment.
I think to face this issue, we need to think about where we want our money being spent in public education. Should it go more towards child safety or teacher training?
2. Reduce Homework for Students
As a student, I think we all have had this hope for less homework. Luckily, one of my professors agrees! Homework starts early in our public education system. Elementary schools give students an average of 2.9 hours a week, not bad. This time range rises as we go into middle school at 3.2 hours a week. An even more significant climb going into high school making the average high school student spend about 17.5 hours a week (or about 3.5 hours a night) doing homework. Considering the fact that most high school students are involved in sports, other after-school activities, or have a job, this can seem overwhelming for sure. What's shocking is the fact that improved scores have little to no correlation with homework on the subject.
3. Improve Our Science Programs
You'll never guess who wished they could change this about our education system... my science teacher! She explained that she wished that schools would make science more interesting for their students. According to a recent poll, only 14% of teenagers considered science to be their favorite subject, and shockingly 82% of students are not proficient in science fields by the time they reach 12th grade. Perhaps this is because of a lack of interest in the subject, or because science is seen as a "nerd" subject? Who knows?
Tenure has been a subject of much debate in the education world. Tenure is essentially giving teachers benefits if they are seen as good teachers. The most significant benefit being job security, making it difficult to fire a tenured teacher. Other benefits include a teacher's union and possible higher salary. To qualify for tenure a teacher must demonstrate a strong proficiency in educating and helping students; 16 states regard performance as the most important factor in obtaining tenure. However, in my experience, I don't know how well performances are assessed in certain tenured teachers.
Others states regard the amount of time teaching the primary factor in receiving tenure. The average amount time needed to qualify for tenure is seven years. (In Maryland it is only three years.) Tenure can also vary depending on how many tenured teachers are still employed.
A common misconception about tenure is that a tenured teacher cannot be fired, but that is not true. There was a problem in the past with teachers receiving tenure and then beginning to care less about their student's success, resulting in lower test scores. Now, many schools require yearly job evaluations. If teachers do not meet the requirements for their tenure anymore, they are on probation until they improve. If there is still no improvement, that teacher can be fired.
5. Improve Writing Skills
Just as my science professor wanted to improve the science fields in schools, my English teacher wants to improve the writing field in schools. I know that personally, as an English major, I have felt somewhat let down by my public education when it comes to writing papers in college. High schools generally teach the writing template of five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. It came as quite a shock to me that upon coming to college, my professors BEGGED everyone to not turn in a five paragraph paper. Not only did that throw me off, but also the fact that my college papers are all required to be APA format and not MLA as I was taught in high school.
I have also seen that this disconnect between writing and reading starts at a very young age. I have been volunteering through a program called Reading Partners for a little over five months now. This program gets volunteers to go into elementary schools and tutor students in reading. I go to a Baltimore City School to tutor a fourth grader. Although my student is rather bright for his class, he is still considered a grade level behind in his reading skills. When my student is absent, I have tutored other students that are three grade levels behind, and these are elementary age students. It is shocking how far behind some students can be at such a young age.
6. Provide Life Skill Classes
One of my professors felt very strongly about the fact that high schools should be required to provide a class in which students learn essential life skills. Teaching students how to change a tire, apply for a job, how to have a good credit score, what a credit score even is, what is a 401K, how to make a budget plan, and so many other vital life skills are no longer addressed in the public school system. My professor expressed how unprepared he felt coming into college and later life still not knowing the answers to these questions, admitting that even at 36 years old he has to ask his parents for help when making bigger life choices.
7. Schools as Community Centers
Two of my professors explained how they wished that schools would not only be for teaching students, but also as a place for the community to gather and learn together. One of my professors explicitly mentioned the fact that she wished schools provided better resources for students and parents. Better afterschool programs and opportunities, extended learning for parents, summer programs, and more that encourage the community as a whole to further education and become a stronger support system for their students.
8. Reduce the Pressure to go to College
As a college student, I know full well how many of my friends are only in college because their parents or high school staff told them they had to go. Around 88% of high school graduates end up attending college even though some may not want to. Many of my friends are undecided majors, not that it is a bad thing to still be figuring out what you want to do in life, but that they never had time to figure it out before committing to the money pit of college.
Money is a whole other factor to consider when looking for a college, especially when around 30% of college graduates do not use their college degrees in their careers. I know that I feel immense pressure from my parents to use my degree upon graduating because they are the ones paying for it.
But also keep in mind that just because you do not see a point in going to college, does not mean you will not be successful and happy in life. Assess what you want to do in the future and then determine the importance of college.
So those were the responses I heard when asking my professors what they would change about the education system. Some I expected, others I had never even considered. I think in general there is always room for improvement in the education system, we just have to ask ourselves which we deem to be more important than others.
Peace, Love, and Happiness.