NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Five Pathways to Fundamentally Reshaping American Schooling

November 27, 2012

The American education system is plagued with failed reform attempts that seek to correct the decline in student achievement, says Jal Mehta of the American Enterprise Institute.

  • In the past, reformers have experimented with standards, vouchers, charters, merit pay and other methods for increasing student achievement.
  • However, huge numbers of students -- nearly 40 percent to 50 percent in some urban districts -- don't graduate from high school.
  • Furthermore, the United States ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math on international standardized tests.

There are five broad avenues that policymakers could take in order to make lasting changes to the educational system for the better.

First, transform the system by making the teaching profession more professional.

  • Right now, the United States draws its teachers from the bottom two thirds of the distribution and gives them little training on the best methods for teaching.
  • Instead, requirements for teaching should be tougher which would attract more skilled workers.

Second, replace traditional institutions with new actors such as charter schools. These schools currently provide competition to the traditional public school system but receive less support.

Third, rather than have a school that offers math, science, English and history, have a school function as a general contractor, bringing in different organizations that excel in teaching the various subjects. Some of these subjects might be taught online rather than in person, or through a combination of online practice and in-person coaching.

Fourth, create an out-of-school system that complements what children learn in school.

  • Studies show that some students experience a "summer learning loss" that puts them behind their peers.
  • Instead, an educational system that uses a student's free time outside of the classroom to reinforce concepts learned in school can help close the gap in student achievement.

Finally, dissolving the current system may do more in preparing students than any other option. Schools that teach from old textbooks fail to take into account how much information a student has at their fingertips with a computer. Employing committees comprised of adults at the state, district and school level can decide what should be taught at schools.

Source: Jal Mehta, "The Futures of School Reform: Five Pathways to Fundamentally Reshaping American Schooling," American Enterprise Institute, November 14, 2012.


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