Let me preface this article by saying that I am by no means an expert in the area of education. I simply have a degree in a social science and have my own life experience to draw from. Whether or not you choose to give any weight to this at all is entirely up to you. It's no shocker to see the words "failing" or "inadequate" when you're looking at something in reference to the American education system. A country that would seem to have it all can't figure out how to educate it's children. The system is entirely out of control. I believe one of the biggest obstacles keeping it from being overhauled is the lack of urgency from the public. It really doesn't seem like the general population understands the consequences of a poor education system. Every politician makes a point to mention in their campaign slurs that they will fix it. Everyone knows it's broken and hearing empty promises by someone potentially highly influential makes the public feel like they're helping to fix it simply with a vote. Still, no urgency and nothing gets done. The fact is the system is still broken after every attempt to fix it. I believe that is because the politicians either don't understand why it doesn't work or they're too afraid to address it. So why doesn't it work? Let me try my hand at this. Let's talk about the public school system at the elementary level.
I couldn't give all the reasons it's broken in one short article. Nor do I know all of the reasons. But there are a few glaring ones I'd like to point out. The first one is the control the government has over the curriculum. There is obviously a plus side to this. The uniformity of the curriculum across all schools prevents a less capable school from teaching their students with bad information or irrelevant subjects (we won't yet mention the lack of control over bad teachers). But the down side to this is paralyzing. It also prevents better curriculums from being used. There are no "cutting edge" teachers out there because "cutting edge" would be illegal to teach (assuming it hasn't yet gone through the motions to be approved teaching material). Remember, this doesn't apply to private schools or colleges, we're just talking about public elementary schools. They can't make the curriculum any harder or too many children will fail. What's worse, failing children that don't grasp the subject or preventing those that do from reaching a higher level? I would argue the latter. I know it sounds barbaric to leave kids behind and I think there should be things in place for those kids to bring them up to speed. In fact the bulk of the attention should be on those kids. The over-achievers won't require as much attention. The higher learning programs just need to be available! On a societal level, it is far more beneficial to embrace the over-achievers and encourage them to reach new heights than to allow them to over-achieve in under-performing classes. A child should never be able to reach the peak potential of a class before their own has been met. Programs should always be in place to push them to higher learning. It's those children, after all, that will be running the country for their generation. Slowing them now has grave consequences for the future.
By now you're probably thinking I'm way off base. How could anyone expect children to perform at higher levels when the failure rate is already so high in the curriculum we have now? We have a new problem that's harder to solve than the first ones. Imagine you live in a castle and you see the enemy just 100 yards away bombarding your walls as they crumble around you. The enemy is clear. But unfortunately you don't have the ability to stop them so all you can do is watch as your fortress is destroyed. This is the threat teacher's unions pose to any politician willing to take them on. It is a very powerful union because of its vast resources. Those resources are votes. If the governor of your state decides to challenge the union it is likely they will be a one term governor. Especially in a state that's more liberal than conservative. Now you're thinking I just have issues with unions. Not so. There is a place for unions. But when it comes to educating kids, it is wrong. It is the union's role to protect the teacher's best interest. Who's role is it to protect the student's interest? The student's union? That is an area a union would be beneficial. Of course the idea of children forming a union is ridiculous. So the only option left is to dump the teacher's union. It should be in no ones best interest to protect the job of an individual who is negatively influencing children with their work. That is what bad teachers do. A good teacher can push kids harder because they're better equipped to ensure the children keep up. A bad teacher will have high failure rates, or worse, will change their testing standards to "fudge the numbers" and allow more children to pass with lower scores. Granted, teachers are underpaid which causes some justification for the union. That is an issue that needs to be addressed. But not at the expense of the students.
To fix the system it needs to be changed from the ground up. There should be incentive for teachers to do well and they should be compensated for their skills. Teaching in low income, underachieving areas shouldn't be the low paying jobs with brand new unproven teachers. Those less desirable working conditions should warrant higher pay and thereby draw in better teachers. There is no question that pay and performance go hand on hand more often than it doesn't. With the union in place, you could never build a system like this. It just doesn't work. There are casualties when you make drastic changes and the union would fight to the end to prevent them, as they should. It is after all their role. There should be more benefits for teachers, better compensation, and recognition for fields they may specialize in. A NASA engineer should be given special consideration to teach a class on engineering over a college graduate with a teaching credential and a few classes in engineering. To accommodate that they need to be compensated for that specialty. The only way to do these things is to drastically increase funding to public schools at the government level. But only after the system is rebuilt.
I've really only scratched the surface on what's wrong with our school system. Lack of public urgency, government curriculum control and poor teacher performance (tied to union protection) are three issues I feel should receive urgent attention. It would take a bold move from a bold person to fix this. They wouldn't be popular today, tomorrow or maybe even in their lifetime. But they would leave a legacy of smarter more capable Americans. And that should be good enough.