How would you reform education in the US?

Sometimes I wish that when it comes to the institution of education in the US, we could just wipe the slate clean. I know that’s impossible, and that you have to work with the existing infrastructure and culture to make gradual progress. But if I could start from scratch and design a new educational system, these are some of the things I’d do:

  1. Raise teacher pay. I’m sure everyone here has had both wonderful and shitty teachers. One of the ways to reduce the number of terrible teachers isn’t to evaluate their performance of those of their students…but to actually pay them what they’re worth. Teachers are training our entire population how to think, yet they often have to work extra jobs just to pay the bills. I know too many people who were passionate about teaching and would have been wonderful teachers, but they went into other fields because they didn’t want to get paid diddly squat. We need to make the job more inviting to the best and the brightest by making it competitively priced.
  2. Less standardized testing. Standardized testing is basically bullshit. It doesn’t accurately measure intelligence or your likelihood of succeeding in college or your career. The only thing you can glean from looking at someone’s scores is their socio-economic status. Kids from rich areas with supportive families do much better than kids living in the ghetto with families who can’t even feed them. Hence why evaluating teachers based on their students is ridiculous. It discourages teachers from working in schools that need good teachers the most, and penalizes teachers who happen to get assigned lower level classes instead of the brightest honors students.
  3. Fail more people. Our country has become so obsessed with crap like “No Child Left Behind” and statistics that it’s forgotten the main point of education: To learn. Instead schools are constantly lowering their standards in order to graduate more students, lest they lose government funding. A high school diploma used to mean something. Now a college diploma doesn’t even assure you’ll get a job. Hell, people with biology PhDs have  a terribly bleak job market. We need to make these things mean something again. If you can’t read past an 8th grade level and can’t do basic algebra, then you should have to repeat the 8th grade.
  4. Promote vocational training. If you want to drop out of high school at age 16 because you know you’re going to be a chef or mechanic, then more power to you. We need to remove the stigma from people who have interests and passion and skill that’s not best used on memorizing Shakespeare (while obviously keeping the Shakespeare for those who want it). Lower the social pressure that says you need to go to college in order to be successful…since it’s simply not true.
  5. Teach how to think, not just memorizing facts. We have people who are college graduates without the slightest grasp of logic or the scientific method. People who can regurgitate the dates that wars occurred but not the politics behind why they occurred. People who can blindly follow instructions but who freeze up when encouraged to be creative or come up with their own plan. Science classes should be more about the process, and art classes should be embraced to foster creativity.
I’m sure I could come up with a million more improvements, but those are the ones that pop into my head first. How would you reform education?

This is post 21 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.