8 Things That Schools Just Stink At

By Dominick Cooper

Step one: Make it mandatory for students to attend school. Step two: Don’t listen to advice or research and keep doing what you’ve always done. Step three: See that everyone keep on attending without doing anything.

Really though, why is nobody actually talking about this? All the news about Trayvon Martin, crazy abortion doctors, and a royal baby that doesn’t concern American politics (that’s William and Kate’s baby, not Kim and Kanye) still doesn’t address one of America’s deepest and long-standing problems – our education system.

Just do a quick Google search for “problems in american education” and over half a BILLION webpage results will load up.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll see all these statistics about nearly 1 out of every 5 students dropping out of high school and only 25% of high school graduates actually being ready for college.  It’s outrageous.


Long hallways lined with bells (or speakers now) and lockers is probably what immediately came to mind.  But have you ever asked, why are buildings designed like this when hallways can take up nearly 30% of the total building space?  The answer is simple – it’s the most efficient way of transporting students from one classroom to another.  There needs to be a reevaluation of effective classroom and school design.  Imagine if the the hallways themselves were a part of the learning experience, almost like a hands-on museum, or if the classrooms were simply made larger.  There’s so many possibilities to talk about and any change would be better than the status quo.


And I’m not talking about the taste.  Ever wonder why congress declared pizza sauce as a vegetable? Because it now can be counted towards making schools look like their serving healthy meals to their students. The No. 1 meal served to children in U.S. schools is chicken fingers and French fries.  Sadly, a trip to their home might to much healthier either.  However, schools should be providing the best meal of the day.  As more and more schools partner up with local farms in an attempt to provide healthier meals, the health of the students is looking up.  Sadly, this is still the exception and not the norm.


I hate to say this as a math teacher but, unless you plan on going into something involving math (like business, finance, engineering, etc), Algebra II is not necessary.  Neither is much of the postulates taught in Geometry.  I’m not saying do away with the subjects entirely but modify them to really address what it is that most students are going to need to know.  And math isn’t the only subject field.  Dates and facts in World History without any real connection to today or principles of economics is just as bad.  And shop class? Why is that not required? It teaches students about systems, promotes collaboration and discovery, gives students a sense of ownership, and incorporates hands-on projects which has been shown to be the most effective teaching style.  What is necessary is a reevaluation of what skills are important for the 21st century and how we can teach them. Tony Wagoner did a pretty good job of that.


The problem with education reform is that most educators and administrators are only talking to other educators and administrators.  And this usually leads to murmuring rather than solutions.  Think outside the box.  Look at businesses. Look at hospitals.  What are some systems they have in place?  How do medical schools and nursing programs train their students? Could we adapt that?  To overcome the new problems that will face us in the future, we’re going to have to teach our students differently.


Now, let me say, I believe that education should have some standards that every student needs to know – how to communicate and write effectively, every day math and arithmetic, and the ability to read critically.  But, inside even these skills, the material can be modified to fit the student’s interests.  By providing students with a buffet of opportunities and projects that introduce students to several different fields, they are more likely to discover what their talents and passions are and, as Sir Ken Robinson refers to it, “discover their element.”  The strict regime of required classes we have now won’t allow that.  Menus and Rubrics are a great assessment tool to move toward this non-conformity system. And speaking of assessment…


Multiple-choice tests hardly tell you anything.  Neither does a GPA for that matter.  I’ve met 3.0 students that are much more creative and critical thinkers than 4.0 students.  Colleges are getting the right idea by having their students create portfolios of their best work, demonstrating their knowledge in a particular area.  I even did this in elementary school as part of an experimental assessment program and loved it.  Why can’t we do that for high school?  Imagine employers actually being able to see students give presentations, check out their hands-on assignments, and see how they’ve progressed over the years.  It would be invaluable and, in turn, probably decrease employee turn-over rates and boost the economy.


When was the last time your school did something for the community or involved the community in a decision about adding classes, deleting classes, or changing lunch menus?  Communities want to be involved, but schools have to make the steps to engage them.  Offer food. Everybody will come to that.


Perhaps the biggest problem in schools though, is the excessive responsibility parents have placed on the system.  After tutoring dozens of families myself and meeting very successful individuals, I can tell you this – success is dependent on habits and values, not skills and knowledge.  The habits and values that parents instill in their students throughout their childhood is foundation for the rest of their education.  Sadly, some parents simply don’t know what values or habits are beneficial and much less how to instill them in children.  If schools offered parent get-togethers, online newsletters of parenting advice, and maybe even workshops, I think this would be a tremendous leap towards something great.

Stay Smart.

Dominick is the Director and Lead Creative Tutor of Launch Academy, 2011 Winner of the Davinci Scholar Award for Creativity in Education, and 2012 Nominee for Tulsa Young Entrepreneur of the Year.  He also is a guest lecturer for universities on education and curriculum. If you’d like to contact him, just click here.

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