Why Our Educational System is Not Hopeless

Take it from the daughter of a public school principal- America’s educational system is not hopeless.

The educational system in the United States seems to be a scary topic for politicians to discuss and improve upon. After all, it is one of the oldest institutions in the United States, sucks up exuberant amounts of government funding and is the hot topic of debates on what techniques we should use to improve student learning.

Since recent tests and studies have shown American students falling behind in Math and Science in comparison with many other countries, candidates in the current presidential election made a point to “touch” on increasing funding for education. This resembled a grossly vague, underdeveloped and ill-informed attempt to cure one of the biggest developmental delays in United States history. Anyone can see that the public school system needs more than money to improve.

There is good news: the system itself can in fact be improved. It is not hopeless. The most difficult transition is convincing educators that the way they were taught is not the best way to teach anymore. We, as students and teachers, are need to embrace change rather than give into the fear of the unknown and revert back to ineffective methods of teaching and grading.

While I could write books (that have already been written) on the best teaching techniques, classroom leadership and grading systems, the most important thing I have learned about public schooling in the U.S. came from my father. He taught me that it is not about the intelligence of students or teachers, but instead their willingness to improve on weaknesses—no matter how diverged from the traditional system.

For example, in my former high school, my father implemented a Standards-Based grading system. Basically, the students received grades based on their mastery of individual concepts instead of entire (combinative) assignments. Instead of receiving an overall “B” for an arithmetic test, for example, a student might score a “1” in subtraction, but a “4” in addition and multiplication. Therefore, the student is now aware that their weakness is subtraction and can work on improving in this section with further study or tutoring. In the traditional system, their grade would be considered  mediocre, leaving no room to improve upon what they missed. In this method, students will continue to struggle once more when the topic arises again.

While some teachers in my high school implemented these features properly, many were resistant toward such a dramatic difference, even if it was proven more effective than the traditional grading system in terms of college preparedness and comprehension.

So why, in one of them most important professions in the world, do so many teachers refuse to adopt new techniques, from grading to flipped classrooms, technology and better inclusion? My father described the situation as such: If a surgeon is shown a better, cheaper, safer way to perform a surgery, they will most likely adopt it without hesitation because they understand the importance of cost and safety. However, if a teacher is shown a better, more effective way to teach students, many would say, “But, that’s not how I was taught.”

There is a reason the educational system is falling behind and the lack of improvement can be attributed to society pretending that the use of 20th century teaching techniques are still effective.