When Jay Leno still hosted The Tonight Show, he had a frequent segment called "Jaywalking." He would go out onto the streets of New York City, and ask random young people questions, such as, "Who won the Revolutionary War?" or "Who fought in the Civil War?" The answers were appallingly ignorant.
Politicians and educators argue about what has gone wrong with our educational system, but the fact that the supposed most powerful nation in the world ranks 14thin education and 24thin reading literacy means that we are failing our kids. And even though our dropout rate is falling, over three million kids drop out of high school every year. And it is worse in the realm of higher education. Over 40% of students who enter college drop out without earning a degree, in both two-year and four-year institutions.
So, what exactly is wrong with American education? If you ask teachers and students, here are the answers you get:
Secondary Schooling is Irrelevant and Political
High school students complain, and rightly so, that they are given a curriculum which has little relevance to what they will be doing in life. As well, they are forced to focus on multiple-choice achievement tests and how to best take them rather than on more important skills sets such as personal finance, problem-solving, vocational/career training, etc.
Teachers voice the same complaints, but to deaf ears. State legislators, who have political agendas, are more concerned about test scores, transgender bathrooms, and prayer in schools than they are about the real goal of preparing kids for an unpredictable future. And those state legislators determine curriculum, textbook adoptions, and, most important, funding. In 2014, for example, the Texas State Board of Education, approved textbooks which stated, among other things, that Moses and the Ten Commandments were foundational in the creation of the U.S. Constitution, and that man-made contributions to climate change were not accurate claims.
The other concerns of state legislatures are, of course, test scores, which are used to determine student grade promotions and accountability of teachers. And college admissions standards are still heavily dependent upon SAT and ACT scores.
Teachers want to turn kids into lifelong independent learners, but legislatures and college admissions committees have other things in mind.
Schooling Remains Unequal
Recent data demonstrates the glaring inequalities among public school districts, largely based upon the socioeconomic demographics of the communities they serve. Schools in poor urban communities, with a large percentage of minority students, are poorly funded, in disrepair, and can only attract those teachers who are unable to find jobs in better-paying districts.
Minority students start the "race" in a different place and if they are to get into college, must play catch up their entire K-12 schooling lives. And expectations for performance are consistently lower for students of color. White suburban children, on the other hand, do quite well.
Given that non-white students will comprise 44% of our K-12 student populations by 2020, American has a problem. These students will not be prepared for the types of jobs that await them.
College is Expensive and Wastes Precious Learning Time
The U.S. higher education system forces students into two years of general education coursework, giving them only two years to focus on their majors. For example, students who plan to go into STEM fields are forced into English and social science classes in which they must become master essay and paper writers when they would prefer to be in laboratories. They understand the stupidity of this and so look to online writing services in order to meet the requirements of courses which are a waste of time and money. Who can blame them?
America is the only country in the developed world that forces students to pay for their own college educations. In fact, it ranks 54th in public spending on education. College is out of the question for many students and those who do go have an average of $33,000 worth of debt along with that Bachelor's degree.
What is the Solution?