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Jul 31

3 Principles for Education Reform

A lot has been written about how American students lag behind their international counterparts, especially in the areas of reading, math, and science. Most politicians and educators agree that education reform is badly needed, but there seems to be no clear consensus for how to go about it.

I am not an educator nor do I have any professional degree in education. But I am a product of the public school system and my mother is a NYC public school teacher. If I were in charge of education reform, I would use three basic principles to shape my reform efforts.

1. Learning Should Be Fun

For a minute let’s forget about standardized testing. Imagine a world where kids came to school, not because they were forced or bribed, but because they enjoyed attending school. Learning is a natural part of life. Discovery and exploration go hand-in-hand with learning. Educators, parents, and politicians need to work together to reform the curriculum in such a way so that it emphasizes the natural process of learning and makes education fun. Getting students to want to come to school is a big step toward ensuring the next generation will be able to compete internationally.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”Dale Carnegie

2. Bad Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated

I’ve heard stories from friends and relatives I know who are public school teachers about how a good chunk of their time is spent breaking up classroom fights or dealing with disruptive students. This takes away from valuable teaching time and is unfair to the students who actually want to learn. If I were a reformist, I’d make sure public schools have the option to expel students for bad behavior. Parents of these students would have the option to home-school these kids or send them to a special charter school for children with behavioral issues.

3. Parental Involvement is Mandatory

Imagine if school worked like a factory. Parents would drop off their children with their unmolded minds, and at the end of the 12 year process, having been shaped and molded by the public school system, their child would emerge a genius. Unfortunately, a public school is not a factory. Students and parents have to do their parts as well. Sometimes parents underestimate the influence they have over their children. They need to stress that learning is important, and demonstrate this by taking an interest in their children’s education. This means helping with homework, attending parent-teacher conferences, and being aware of what is going on in their child’s school.

I believe if parents, teachers, and politicians work together and refocus their efforts on the above principles, they can fix the public schools and give the competitive edge back to our kids.

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  1. Jennifer

    EXCELLENT EXCELLENT POINTS!!! Not going to work very unfortunately :( Number one is completely reasonable and can easily be done (and should be done). I did some first hand reasearch for my college thesis and the independent school I studied was, by far, the most engaging of the students because the school was not constricted by the public school curriculum. Number 2 is hard because children have a right to adequate education by law (like a civil right). Therefore, expelling kids without an actual and viable free option will open the system to endless litigation guaranteed. Number 3 feels (to me) nearly impossible to achieve across the board and that is the one in my opinion that is KEY. No principal or teacher can go into a child’s home and make a parent supervise homework or show interest in her child’s education/growth. In my opinion, this is the critical problem that if solved, will truly transform the education system. Right now, I am on board with people like Michelle Rhee who seek to hold teachers accountable for providing good education as this is something that we actually have control over. Hopefully, parents of students attending a school with excellent teachers and administrators will be spurred on to continue the valuable education at home.

    1. Aiyana

      Hi Jennifer,

      I believe these things can be done, however they will require extraordinary individuals who are willing to think outside of the box to come up with new solutions. If we focus on doing things the same way we’ve always done them, then yes, this will be impossible.

      Many people underestimate the behavioral issues that occur in public schools today. I’ve heard stories of teachers being physically assaulted, having their property vandalized, having to remove weapons from students, etc. And currently, the teachers have no form of retaliation. A teacher who hits a student in self-defense can be fired, but a student can do whatever he wants to a teacher. That is ridiculous! It is completely unfair to send our teachers into harm’s way and give them no viable means to protect or defend themselves. Every child does have the right to an education, yes, but it is unfair to the teachers and the other students for kids with the most extreme behavior problems to continue to disrupt the system. A different solution needs to be created for these extreme cases, be it, mandated home schooling or special charter schools created for these types of children.

      I like Michelle Rhee and I think she has some interesting ideas. However, right now the focus is on merit pay and we are putting the onus on the teachers. I believe this is the wrong focus. The focus should be on removing the most disruptive, extreme students from the classroom, and better engaging the other students by designing a new curriculum. If teachers are too busy breaking up fights, and teaching to tests (due to the current emphasis on standardized tests), then what opportunities do they have to go above and beyond. How can we fairly measure the efforts of a teacher who was lucky enough to be placed in a school with engaged students who already want to learn, versus the efforts of a teacher who was sent to a school where the students skip school and are disruptive when they do attend. We need to level the playing field for teachers before we can institute a system of merit pay. We can level the playing field by focusing on the three things I’ve outlined above – remove the disruptive students, get the parents involve, update the curriculum to make it fun.

  2. aaronb

    It seems to me that the one thing we can fix are the schools. I agree, make learning fun and children will want to attend. Remember kindergarten and first grade? Kids loved school and teachers were creative, inventive, interactive, and yes, fun. As we got older, it seems like the teachers (in theory) and the creativity got older and creaky. Then, teachers decided they wanted to be hip which created its own set of problems – teachers dressing unprofessionally, not asking students to adhere to any rules of respect towards the teachers nor the curriculum. Seems like teachers have to learn to be cool, hip, fun and still cater to some rules of authority. However, this is not me blaming teachers, i am simply pointing out that should we place more money and emphasis on 3 things: 1. training teachers to constantly improve in the areas of creativity, communication, and concern, 2. security and protection of both teachers and students, 3. a reward system for success (like they do in the business community).

    1. Aiyana

      Hi Aaron,

      Thanks for commenting. In every profession there are those people who are lax and do not meet the standards required by their profession – teaching is no exception. However, I do feel that the majority of teachers WANT to reach their students and WANT to provide the highest standards of education to our children. However, there are things inherent in the current school system that prevent them from meeting these objectives. (1) The kids are not engaged because the focus of the curriculum has moved toward test-taking and away from learning. Even in kindergarten and first grade, students are required to do hours of homework and become turned off from school before they’ve even really began. (2) A majority of time is spent dealing with the most disruptive students who pose threats to both the teachers and the other students. (3) The parents need to be more involved.

      I agree with the items you’ve listed above. The schools need to work with the teachers to come up with new solutions for how to better reach the students. This might mean a new curriculum and continued training for teachers. Security and protection are key. Teachers should be able to do their jobs without constantly being threatened or possibly assaulted. Unless some form of protection can be put in place, then we should remove the most disruptive students from the classroom. And I agree that teachers who go above and beyond should be rewarded, but I don’t think this is the right time to focus on merit pay. I think the focus needs to be on fixing the most glaring issues with the public schools – the ones I’ve outlined – then they can talk about merit pay.

  3. aaronb

    We are both on the same page with one major exception – the parent involvement. Clearly, caring parents will want to be involved and busy parents or uninformed parents can be trained to finds the time or the way of being involved. That leaves our biggest problem – uncaring, no-good parents who care more about themselves than their kids. And these are the kids who will be the most problematic. There is little that can be done to attempt to bring these parents into their children’s schooling. My solution would be as you say, to make school less test based and more “fun and creative learning” – in fact, make school so fun and warm, the kids will want to go as a sanctuary away from home.

    In these cases, make education about Teachers and Youth – and the way they connect with each other.

  4. Sarah Del Rosario

    Very well said, Department of Education or school administrators should consider all of these. Students seem to be going to school because they need to pass the standardized examinations, not knowing that this is just a pressure to the students. If a classroom environment doesn’t revolve only with papers, books, pencils and exams, rather into a fun way where they can express their thoughts, they can participate and experience the learning process, I believe that no child will stay at home and be forced to go to school. Another one is the involvement of parents during the learning process and the monitoring of the performances of the their kids in the classroom and school, no child will fail and be left behind.

    1. Aiyana

      Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting. I completely agree. It would be great if students and parents were more involved in the learning process. Hopefully with a new mayor and a new school chancellor, we will see some meaningful changes in NYC education.

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