Ongoing Open Call: What Should Change About School?

I’ve just begun reading Nikhil Goyal’s One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School.  Goyal is an American high-school senior who has made a name for himself talking to the media about educational change, and although I’m not far into his book yet, I am already intrigued.  I’ll write more on his ideas later, but for now, I’d like to reopen a discussion on his pet subject: the need to hear from young people about what could make school better.

Last year, I asked for student responses to the question “What needs to change about school?” The answers that flowed in were diverse and enlightening, and I feel like there’s still lots more to be said on this subject.  So I would love to hear from more of you.  What have you encountered in your time in school that you think really needs to change?

You can go to the permanent page devoted to this open call  in order to get more details and to see some previous responses on the subject.  Most of the essays I received last year concerned the administration and requirements of school, things like the usefulness (or not) of Pell Grants and the over-emphasis on grades.  I would be delighted to hear more of your opinions on these and similar matters, but there’s another side of the question that is preying on my mind.

The seemingly endless current stream of cyberbullying scandals, a couple of personal teaching experiences over the last few days, and a second listen to This American Life’s fabulous podcast “Middle School” have combined to make me think more about the strange social environment that schools create.  We pile a bunch of people of approximately the same age together in one building, one classroom, one playground, and we ask them to negotiate so many things.  Is this working?  What are your personal experiences of the way “school society” works?  Is there anything we could change about it to make it work better?

To address this or any other topic on how “school” could be improved, please visit the open call page, or leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Image by Michal Zacharzewski

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12 responses

  1. I definitely think there is an overemphasis on grading. Instead of the well-being of the child, the school system caters to standardized test scores and the “gifted” students while ignoring the ones who need help both in and outside of the classroom. Children who do not do well with testing are told that they are “stupid” by being put in classes with lower expectations and by being separated from those that we feel are more capable of academic rigor (whatever that is). A vast majority of students feel they are mediocre at best because they do not fall into the failing category, but are not as good at standardized tests as those who are deemed “gifted.” What messages are we sending to children when we separate them and compare them to one another? Does competition make for better results, or are we just setting up our children for more failure? Instead of pitting them against each other, why not pair the so called “gifted” ones with those who need help. Has not peer to peer training proven effective in the work world? If not more effective than, say, a college education in some cases?

    A child’s life and health, both mental and physical, is essential to the learning process, and until the school system as a whole (because I know teachers care about their students) changes its ideology of standardizing the complexity of the human brain with the SATs, GREs, and ITBS testing, we will continue to see high dropout rates and low test scores throughout the school system. When are we going to realize that the learning process takes more than filling in bubbles on test sheets just so we can get into college and face more pressure to get good grades? It’s time to make learning a priority and rid the idea that regurgitating information on a multiple choice test is an “acceptable” way of rating someone’s academic capabilities.

    • Lynnie: I spend a lot of time thinking about the random nature of grading and the difficulty of creating grading systems that measure actual learning. What alternatives would you suggest to the “multiple-choice bubble” model?

  2. I think the school year schedule has to change. Long summers mean that children have months to forget what they have learned. 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off, with a slightly longer break in the winter and one in the summer, would make learning more continuous and help children to keep in the routine of learning. Rather than promoting children each summer, based on their ages, they could be promoted after each session, if they have mastered the material. This would promote multi-age classrooms of learners who are working at their best pace, without the stigma of being “held back”. Schools would become more flexible and fluid and students could be placed more thoughfully in programs they need. Teachers would need to become year round professionals, with these short breaks becoming professional development time with a more meaningful work and plans being made for specific students. The breaks would also allow time to remediate and enrich specific students though tightly focused, short term programs.

  3. Very timely post! I’ll take a look at the hyperlinks and post something in the most appropriate place. My blog is in a phase of asking questions about our systems, and this very system was on queue to be tackled…excellent!

  4. My issue with high schools is that we are asking children to make adult decisions about their future. I am an employment counsellor (certified teacher) and I see youth in my office every single day who took a college or university diploma they cannot use or don’t want to use and are now in so much debt yet barely qualified to work at McDonalds.

    I wish there was a mandatory program for highschool juniors and seniors to take that really helped them plan for employment in the future so that my office would have less youth with no skills and a pricey education they cannot use

    • N30: Do you have some ideas about what such a program would consist of? I too am troubled by the number of my students who have arrived in college without any clear goals, not just in terms of career but also in terms of basic learning (“Why am I here? What are my other options?”)

    • I love this idea! There should be an after school program or a lunch program that helps students to know what’s out there, what drives them, and balance that with the needs of the economy. Great idea, but it might be too late senior year. I don’t subscribe that all students will fall through the cracks of they don’t go to school right out of high school, but it helps. Keep up the ideas!

  5. Reblogged this on English Techie and commented:
    The mindset of an entire community must change before schools can really change. I feel like parents want to see their children do the same kinds of things that they themselves did in school. We don’t make progress if everyone isn’t on board.

  6. As a teacher in NYC, I think the system suffers from the lack of teachers, space, facilities and over population. It could stem from money/use of budget, but honestly, I just think that there are too many people/students to serve. It’s like when you go to Starbucks vs. going to a small private owned cafe. Workers in Starbucks can try but they can’t possible give the personal touch to so man customers at the high volume rate. Also, the people are processed more and rushed because so many “customers” are waiting in line. In the local coffee shop, a conversation may strike up with out panic, and a little extra milk to accommodate their needs is not going to be scoffed at because their is no pressure of a long line of needy customers.

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