Two week’s ago I started to outline some of the fundamental problems with the education system in America. I could go on for at least another week or two in this space detailing more of the problems, for we have many. Some of those have to be left to lower levels to be addressed, but some of those are systemic, foundational, and fundamental.
It is these larger issues that we need to focus on. If you read that column, then you had a bit of a preview and certainly this should come as no surprise to you.
There are cultural changes which we as parents have to start making. One of the overarching themes of this column, has been personal responsibility. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and our children. This includes in the education of our children. For example, when I was a child, if I used a word that I didn’t know, and my father caught me, I had to get out the dictionary, look it up, write out the definition, and use it in proper sentences to demonstrate that I was now capable of using it correctly. When I had children of my own, I repeated this with them. It works. My eldest now enjoys playing Scrabble® with his friends and regularly demolishes them because he knows the language. Neither my father nor I relied solely on the schools to educate our children. This culture of responsibility is something which has been eroding throughout many aspects of our society, and I will hold my tongue as to my thoughts on why, for now. However, the relevant point in this context is that it has infected the parental involvement. If we cannot reverse that trend then whatever other changes we make will be, at best, less effective than they would otherwise be.
That being said, we still must make other changes because we cannot afford not to!
The very first change is to move to a true year round school system. (Yes, I can hear the combined screaming of the kiddies, the crappier teachers, the teachers with multiple interests, the teachers nearing retirement, and a few other varieties. I can even hear the ‘kids need to be kids crowd’.) Some school districts around the country have toyed with various types of year round schooling.
One version, referred to as the Single Track Year, follows the typical school year plan. Teach for x number of days, with y number of days off (Typically 45-15, 60-20, or 45-10). The effect is that “basic calendar does not increase the number of days in the school year.” In other words, all they’re really doing is spreading it out. It does not achieve anything else. This is as much a sham as selling the proverbial bridge. It also actually exacerbates the child care problems that were previously discussed. It is referred to as Single Track, because all students are on the same schedule. Another version, referred to as the Multi-Track Year, does the same thing, but divides students and teachers into tracks, and has one portion out on break at any given moment. The only advantage of this is to ease over-crowding in schools. In all other ways, these are the same approach and neither is a real improvement.
It does address one part of the problem which is time away from school leading to loss of retention. However, we actually need our students these days to learn more than ever before. I do not mean more facts and figures, though there is some truth to that also. I mean more in terms of technology and systems. We have reached a point in our societal development where we need a true year round school system. One which does not just have a standard 180 day educational calendar year, regardless of how that is spread out. More than that though, we need to move to a school system at our junior and high school levels that more closely mirrors the set up of our colleges. A system which recognizes achievement more than simply time spent. The days when our students can learn what they need in order to be successful in a modern global, technologically interconnected society in 180 days of school are gone. If they ever existed.