By: Doktor Prax Evad | Contributing AOJ journalist
Our current educational system is holding back students and encouraging mediocrity. Like the Model T factories of yore, our educational facilities seek to intake every student and output a standard model with little deviation.
This is an injustice to our students and to our country. If the US is to hold onto its technological prowess and reputation as the home of a skilled, productive workforce, it needs to adapt its education system. I am not talking about common core or charter schools or any standard proposals making the rounds, I’m talking about dramatic alterations to our education system.
The structural limitations of our grade system are holding back excellent students. The line between Elementary, middle, and High school should be removed. The difference between one grade level and the next grade level should be fluid. Even the transition between high school and college could be re-imagined as an adaptable, non-rigid process.
One of the fundamental differences between American and European models of education lies in the methods of sorting students into careers. The US does not generally track students from a young age toward a particular career path. My view is that this is an appealing part of the American system. Students can choose their own path, but there are still countless issues in our educational system. One that I seek to address, at least partially, is the tendency for our school systems to limit the success of students by holding them down to heavily structured curriculum, rather than allowing specialization and depth. We choose breadth. That breadth of topics covered in our school system is vital, but needs to be balanced against the legitimate desires and capabilities of students to excel. One way to begin removing these barriers to excellence is removing grade levels. Without such classifications of students, school system can develop more adjustable schedules for its students and students can more easily take classes at higher levels without as great a likelihood of interference with other classes.
Further, the prevailing 2 semester system should be redesigned in a more adaptable way. Consider a system wherein the year is divided into 4 equivalent terms, with students granted one term off every year. Online courses are also essential to raising the adaptability of school to meet students’ needs. At the same time as students are taking their regular course load, they should be allowed to enroll in an additional online course in case of scheduling conflicts during the school day, to encourage students to reach further into the curriculum. This might also allow students to easily graduate earlier if they so desire or gain valuable skills in preparation for college. For instance, let’s say a student wants to go into computer science, but the computer science course they want conflicts with an English course requirement. It should be possible to take one of those courses outside of school, as an online alternative. I would also note that perhaps having some upper level course requirements serves no use for some students. For instance, if Charlotte is set on becoming a graphic designer, what good would upper level math serve her? A basic level of math is important to everyone, but there is certainly a point where that math serves to take time away from taking something more important to an individual student’s future.
Onto my next point, the bounds between high school and college should be blurred a bit. It is important to get a high school degree and I am not arguing to remove that, but students should be able to take college classes at their local community college at no cost and for high school credit plus, potentially college credit. I also don’t think there should be strict age limits on when students can take college courses. If a student wants to try a college course let them. To prevent utterly destroying GPAs (if we still want such constructs), perhaps allow a pass fail option. And obviously allow retaking courses.
Students should be allowed to test into any level course they can handle regardless of age. Without a grade level system, this will streamline that process and reduce negative competitive burdens. For instance, without a grade level, there isn’t a class rank to fret over. Students can focus more on learning, rather than beating peers.
Beyond all these recommendations, standardized testing needs some serious re-evaluation as a means of college admissions. Either we need to remove standardized testing from admissions or make preparation for such tests as accessible as possible to prevent parents from buying their kids’ way to a good test score through tutoring. Such a system serves to promulgate inequalities, rather than meritocratically reward those most qualified for admission.
- European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2017. The Structure of the European Education Systems 2017/18: Schematic Diagrams. Eurydice Facts and Figures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.