The United States used to be a world leader in education results, but we have been slipping for decades – in science education, in mathematics, even in basic literacy. Much of this decline is easily reversible if we enact a series of simple reforms to streamline the process and refocus priorities where they need to be. And before we can get the most benefit from increasing access higher education, we need to revisit some of our disastrous mistakes in primary and secondary school policy.
To start, we must abandon the nonsense of No Child Left Behind, with its standardized tests and their impact on school funding. Those schools which struggle the most should have their funding increased, not decreased – the policy as it stands now serves only to deepen the lingering effects of segregation, and strengthen the divide between affluent suburbs and both the urban and rural areas to either side of them. Standardized testing also needs to be reformed completely, so that teachers do not spend all of their time preparing students to take a test and can instead focus on teaching the subjects themselves. Schools will still be held accountable for administrative failures and poor teaching, but that cannot come at the expense of the students.
We must, as a whole, refocus education on the students and the learning process, not on administration, technology, or testing. Teacher pay in the United States in among the lowest in the developed world, making it hard to recruit and retain talented instructors. These are the people helping to bring up the next generation of Americans, and they deserve to make a decent wage so that they can invest their time and energy into teaching, instead of having to moonlight as Uber drivers and bartenders. That teaching should also cover subjects both useful to real life, such as civics lessons, and those helpful to mental development, such as logic and music. The shift to testing and falling budgets have caused schools to drop important subjects that helped earlier generations of Americans, and we need to restore these.
Students need to be able to focus on learning, so I propose that school lunches be a right of all children in American schools, regardless of income. Those with parents at or near the poverty line should have nutritious lunches provided at state expense, so that their learning is not negatively impacted by hunger and poverty does not become a generational problem. Numerous studies have shown that nutrient deficiencies reduce attention span, retention, and brain development. American school lunches also need to be healthful, with good portions and no junk food.
Finally, I fully oppose the redirection of public monies to charter schools and private religious schools. These exist as an option for parents who wish to pay for them, but our tax dollars need to support the public system so that all Americans have access to a quality education. If well-off parents are able to withdrawn their contributions in the form of vouchers, the only result is a deepening class divide, with the wealthy able to ensure the success of their children and the poor locked into a failing system that will further the already-growing poverty in the United States. The richest country in the history of the world owes to all its citizens the promise of a quality education. It is the only way to ensure that we remain a vibrant democracy and not a hereditary oligarchy.
Photo by Charles Edward Miller – CC BY-SA 2.0