TUNG’S TAKE: My plan to fix the U.S. educational crisis, part 2

The following is part two of a three-part blog that describes how I would fix the current U.S. educational crisis. This installment covers high-school education. For the preceding installment, click here.

While elementary school may be the building block of our educational system, it is in high school where some of the largest problems exist.

In fact, over this past year I have discovered a systemic problem that is rampant not just at public schools, but at Country Day as well.

I call it the “Shove it in, memorize it, regurgitate it” method, and it is just as painful as it sounds. The way the educational system is designed currently has many students, including myself, confused. I can’t count how many times a friend has said, “Why are we learning any of this?”

Sadly, most of my friends with the highest grades are devout practitioners of this style of “learning.”

Put simply, they stay up for two preceding nights memorizing the information, take the test and instantly feel the information practically drain onto the floor.

What have I gotten out of this method? Not much. The studies that the American education system focuses on are not the skills that you will need later in life, and more egregiously the system teaches in a manner that rewards rote memorization.

To fix the problem of curriculum, I propose that as a country we teach students two more classes in addition to their current slate of academic courses.

As a nation we must prepare for the coming onslaught of a technology arms race. So we need to teach coding.

The other pitfall that we must address is the people’s lack of know-how when it comes to money. Not “supply versus demand” charts, but how to write a check, make a budget, file simple taxes. You know, the things that we will eventually have to do one day.

If ours schools don’t teach us this, and our parents don’t either, will the younger generations have to make every mistake in the book just to figure out the rules of the game?

Even if we fix our curriculum, there are still many other problems left in the education system. A glaring issue is that of teacher pay. In America we devote a shockingly small amount of our nation’s resources to paying teachers. In nations like Japan the starting salary of a primary education teacher is $70,000. In America, that figure is closer to $48,000.

Incidentally, if you rank countries based on how well their students perform on international tests and how much their teachers get paid, there is a clear correlation. The issue is so bad, many teachers take on secondary jobs to make ends meet, especially if they head single-income-earner households.

Next you’re going to ask, “How can we pay for this?”

The answer is simple. In school districts across the country we will have to cull support staff, janitorial staff, and most importantly sports teams with high maintenance costs. At public school that means football.

In terms of culling support staff, I’m talking about the armies of employees who aren’t actively making a difference in their students’ lives. We need to increase efficiency to lower costs. In the private sector, this is called a restructuring.

Next is the janitorial staff. “Oh no! But then our campuses will be filthy,” is your likely reaction. No, they won’t. I propose that we give students mandatory “chores” i.e., after classes or before classes they clean up either public spaces or classrooms. This serves several purposes. First, the number of janitorial staff employed will shrink considerably as the vast majority of the cleaning will be done by students (schools could keep skeleton staffs on hand, possibly sharing them throughout the whole district to decrease overhead).

Secondly, the campuses would not be as messy as they currently are. On this suggestion, I can speak from personal experience. Hong Kong Summerbridge lacks janitorial services, and although the cleaning staff at Island School were generous in giving our classrooms a once-over at the beginning of the summer, after that it was left to the teachers and the students.

When I realized that any and all messes were to be my own purview, I ruthlessly enforced a “no trace left behind” policy for my students. After we had our first class clean-up, the students took it to heart. Knowing that they will have to clean up whatever mess they make can turn even the messiest teenagers into clean freaks.

By the end of the summer, our rooms looked remarkably clean, even after seven weeks of classes.

Students would also take pride in knowing that their campus reflects them, and also know that whatever mess is created will still end up being their mess later on

The final and most controversial part of my budgetary plan would be to cull expensive sports programs, specifically football.

Yes, I know it’s an American institution. But did you know that in many school districts, the cost per player can top $1,300? Laying new synthetic turf fields can run over a $1 million, and don’t believe it when pundits tell you that concessions pay for the teams—they don’t.

At schools that abolished their football programs, such as Premont High in southern Texas (2012), millions have been saved and test scores have shot up.

Another way to bring in revenues at schools would be to mount advertising on the walls. Most tall walls could be turned into billboards, while smaller walls could hold signs. In an age where eyeballs are dollar signs, it is embarrassing that school districts haven’t capitalized on this ability to bring in extra revenue to either hire more teachers or pay their existing ones better.

Of course, the ads would have to be of mission-aligned companies (no Marlboro campaigns), but overall it would be a way to monetize the school system and create emergency funding for schools.

Next, I’ll cover the final branch of education in America – college.

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