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My idea about education reform

Posted by Meg Bear on December 16, 2009


Those of you with long memories know that I had my innocence taken from me about the California public school system.  Ever since,  I’ve been wondering about what I think needs to change about public schools.

About once or twice a year, I manage to watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED presentation, and realize that we need to think in terms of the education that our children need for the future.  A future we cannot even imagine today.

I’ve got two very concrete ideas that I think we should pursue for education reform.  Both, of course, are expensive, but I think they are important.

The first is really Gladwell’s idea and that is year round school.  We all know that an entire summer off doesn’t really make sense anymore, at least in the US.  We are not a farm-based economy and no child needs summers off to help with the crops.  In addition, the family norm is now two working parents, and I can tell you first hand, having summers off is an inconvenience for working parents.  According to Gladwell having long summer breaks also causes a sizable education gap between those kids who are economically fortunate and those who are not.

My second idea I believe to be my own, or at least I don’t remember anyone else suggesting it to me.  I think that the public school system should move past high school and into junior college.  I know that local junior colleges are basically public, but the problem I have is that they are optional and require kids to apply.

I believe that kids who do not have a plan of their own, should be automatically enrolled in their local community college and attendance should be required.   Alternate plans that kids could make would include such ideas as trade schools, armed forces, universities or some kind of public service.  This would mean that the default result for kids would be to achieve an associates degree.

I think that having  18 year-olds trying to figure out a plan for their continued education  is just too risky for society and our economy.  Most 18 year-olds I know, have a hard time getting a plan figured out for lunch, let alone their future.

I have heard people discuss increasing the minimum age for a drivers license and I wonder why no one is discussing a change to the minimum age for a “basic” education.  Of course, I know we can’t afford this with our current system structure, but I also believe we cannot afford to continue to leave our kids without the education they need to have a productive future.

Bill Gates, are you listening?  I’m guessing your organization would be ideal to get people talking about this.

6 Responses to “My idea about education reform”

  1. Gary said

    “Most 18 year-olds I know, have a hard time getting a plan figured out for lunch, let alone their future.”
    Perhaps that’s because they’ve spent most of their life closeted in an institution that doesn’t require them to make any decisions. I think as society as aged, the ‘childhood’ phase is being stretched, and the longer they are treated as children, the longer they will be children.

    Force a bucket load of knowledge into their heads when they are young, then stick them at the bottom level of the workforce where they have the minimum ability to apply any of that knowledge. After ten years or so of forcing their way up to middle-management, what they haven’t forgotten will be out of date. And then, maybe thirty years after they last sat in a classroom to be taught anything, some will finally reach a leadership role.

    When turning an illiterate population into a literate one, it was appropriate to focus education on groups of similarly aged individuals while they were young, most able to learn and with fewer external responsibilities to distract them. Plus children were less physically developed and generally less able to perform manual labor.

    Now jobs require less physical strength and are less dangerous. There’s no reason why 14-year olds can’t work in many industries, earning money, learning responsibility. And continuing education, perhaps one/two days a week or two-four weeks a year, for twenty years or more.

    • Meg Bear said

      @Gary, as someone who had my first “w2” job at 14 and who went off to College at 17 I hear you. I am regularly horrified at the lack of work ethic in “kids these days“.

      BUT as someone who is a pragmatist and who wants our country to be competitive, and as someone who hires people, I know that a simple high school diploma is not likely to get you a job that builds a viable future. In the end, we need to give kids the tools to build their own bright future. Some will, of course, do better than others and some will waste that investment, but on net, we’d move the country forward which is good for us all.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I think these are the conversations that matter.

  2. As someone who works from home – I am totally on board with the year-round school to get them out of my hair. This would also stop the eye-rolling in my direction whenever I say “you don’t know how lucky you are to have the whole summer off” (because I wouldn’t be saying it anymore).

    The idea of mandatory junior college is interesting but I worry that will just turn our clueless 18 year olds into clueless 20 year olds. Also the problem of making something mandatory for an adult isn’t going to fly. I think the answer may be to change the legal definition of adult to age 20. Or while we’re at it, just change it to 21 so we can stop having the arguments about the drinking age not making sense.

    Oh and since Christmas Break starts tomorrow, I will just throw in a request to shorten that to one day, too.

  3. Amy Wilson said

    Meg – I loved the Malcolm Gladwell find about year-round school. It makes so much sense. I suppose “love” isn’t the right word. More astonishing and ridiculous that we kick poor kids out of school in June to make it on their own. Seriously, we think that should work??

    I recently read the book Nurture Shock – an excellent social science book of the Gladwell, Freakonomics, Mindset grain that is focused purely on childhood development. Some good finds in there as well – I highly recommend it.

    Lastly, I have been doing some research on when to start kindergarten (as my child is on the border of eligibility). This is another startling find when you look at it from the perspective of public service. As schools have created tougher and tougher standards, they have stepped up the requirements of kindergarten. This is causing wealthier parents to hold their kids back so that they get a leg up and can easily meet the requirements. This causes a more significant gap between the academic achievement of poor and rich kids since the poor kids are often a year younger. Combining this effect with one of the Nurture Shock finds (that talent is often identified, but not at all reliable, starting in the first grade) … we should push for year round public school starting at age 4 with no academic calibration until age 8. That’s my idea – stolen from others.

    • Meg Bear said

      @Amy I am looking forward to reading this book. Having been an underprivileged, younger child it’s possible I am just looking to retroactively give myself a break, or more likely I’m feeling real guilt about how much better my children have it than the majority.

      I plan to put my youngest in kindergarten right at five and tell her to suck it up and figure it out to compensate😉

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