"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Albert Einstein
There are no magic bullets, but after 20 years in education here are my ideas to improve the education system in the U.S.
Students would only move along to the next grade level based on mastery of the subject matter instead of their time in a seat. Students need to take more responsibility for their own learning. This way some students could exit school faster or earn college credits and others could be given additional help. Today classrooms are based on average intelligence. So if 17 of 20 students fail they are all forced to go over the material again, but what about the 3 who succeeded. Why do they have to wait for the others to catch up? So as not to over schedule kids, we need to limit them to being involved in only one sport or club at a time too.
Year Round Schooling would add a month of instruction for elementary students by slashing time currently used each fall for review. Students lagging behind could be caught up during the three-week breaks. Students in Japan spend 240 days a year at school, 60 days more then American kids. As a result, at graduation, U.S. students receive almost a year less education than those in Japan.
Have a 4-day school week. This practice has been adopted in other states, especially in rural areas, with good results.
Use technology more to our advantage. Online tests cost less and yield much quicker and more comprehensive results. Education spends a fraction on technology per student compared with businesses.
Gains in achievement generally occur where class size is reduced to 20 in elementary and middle schools and not over 25 in high schools. This also promotes a family atmosphere, where every teacher knows their name and has a better chance to stop bullying, drug problems and depression.
Make parenting classes and volunteering in the classroom or school, mandatory. Children need to know that education is important to more then just their teachers.
Budgets need to be revamped and audited. I see money being wasted on sports billboards rather than on better text books and new computers. We have text books that date back to the George W. H. Bush era and beyond. Nonacademic subjects make up 40% of the budget. Extra curricular activities are important, but the priority should be on the academics. Cost could be cut by one-third with states purchasing buses too.
Curriculum is a very contentious issue. Should we have a national curriculum, like in Japan, or allow states to determine the curriculum? Curriculum based on resources available to that state means that students across the country receive vastly different qualities of education. Every student should have access to the same education. Even though standardized testing is national, the playing field is not. Colleges expect students from these dissimilar school districts to compare nationally. Maybe it's time to try curriculum that parallels Japan.
Don't tie teacher's hands. Creativity has been taken out the classroom to teach to the test. This does not inspire children to be lifelong learners that dream big, but test-takers. The content and accountability are necessary, but learning needs to be exciting and fun too. No Child Left Behind has sucked the passion and creativity out of everything. Ask any teacher, progress is much more important then high test scores. Give me a class of students, at whatever level, and test them at the beginning of the year and then again at the end. Measure their growth (improvement) and hold me accountable for that. That is fair! First-year teachers come in with tons of passion and creativity, but aren't allowed to use it. We lose a lot of good teachers because of this.
We need to stop blaming and start changing.