Thanks to the spectacle that was a crowded field and a limelight dominated by Donald J. Trump, we’ve had very little chance to talk about key issues in America that the next president of the United States will have to deal with. Abroad, the immediate goal of stopping ISIS and the long term goal of re-establishing a global presence seem pretty clear. However, what we need to do at home is anything but.
The top domestic policy of any Republican candidate should be a total restructuring of how education is done in the United States. There is more to fixing education than simply saying “Stop Common Core” and “Eliminate the Department of Education.” While this are both nice ideas, they simply do not fix the problem we have with education – namely, that it is run publicly and with little to no accountability.
What’s more, education is still largely structured around an assembly line mentality. We want to teach students to do basic tasks quickly and without much thought. At the same time, we force them to memorize the “important” things from each content field (English, Math, Science, and Social Studies). This ultimately leads to standardized testing, which is the ultimate regurgitation of those “important” things. Studies show, however, that students lose most of that knowledge over the summer, and teachers in the subsequent years don’t have time to re-teach all of that information, plus their own content for that year.
We have a pretty good idea that this content is not remembered over the course of the summer. One of the top schools in America, the Lawrenceville School, ran an interesting experiment to test this.
After summer vacation, returning students retook the final exams they had completed in June for their science courses. Actually, they retook simplified versions of these exams, after faculty removed low-level “forgettable” questions The results were stunning. The average grade in June was a B+ (87 percent). When the simplified test was taken in September, the average grade plummeted to an F (58 percent). Not one student retained mastery of all key concepts they appear to have learned in June. The obvious question: if what was “learned” vanishes so quickly, was anything learned in the first place?
With the creation of the Common Core State Standard (CCSS) initiative, we saw essentially educators come together to create a bridge between the assembly line model of education to a model that heavily emphasized critical thought. The result of the initiative proved to be the worst nightmare of education: co-opted by the federal government and the big business interests. The Department of Education, which was already granted too much power in enforcing No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top, made implementation of the standards mandatory in states seeking Race To The Top money. Big businesses saw a way to create a newer, smarter working class, and heavily pushed the standards as a way to create it.
When the powers that be in Washington heavily endorse something as a cure-all for the ills of something, it is only natural to suspect it.
That is not to say that the CCSS or the Department of Education should be abolished. The CCSS will exist in some form or another because they aren’t really new. They are a natural evolution of what teachers see students needing to know in their content fields. The Department of Education, meanwhile, does have some things it should be able to do as a means of tracking and measuring overall achievement within the states. Collecting this data and showing the trends in education will inevitably lead states and districts to see what the successful of their peers are doing and aim to implement it themselves.
But, neither Common Core nor the Education Department should be a part of the decision making process at the local level. They should exist solely as tools to be used by local districts in order to help them improve. Eventually, yes, they can be phased out, but as part of the process of revamping education, this would be a great start.
What comes next, however, is far beyond a single presidency to achieve, which is the danger of an increasingly polarized political society. The entire culture of education has to change from the top down. The traditional system of assigning grades based on mastery of content rather than mastery of skills is slowly being changed, although with great resistance, but that has to continue going forward, and likely with more of a push. The problem is creating a federal education policy while scaling back federal involvement/interference in local education.
This is why the culture of education, rather than just the policies, have to change. We have to break free of that assembly line mentality in education, and we have to look beyond content/curriculum changes as some sort of cure-all for our woes. The changes we have to make go well beyond a law or federal rule. We have to change the culture, and we need a president who can do that.