RESCUING OUR KIDS: A Bold Solution to Weather Our National Education Crisis
Our education system has been in crisis since before 1983 when the famous report A Nation at Risk was published by the Reagan administration. It was put on life support since then with billions of dollars poured in every year. Every administration, Clinton, Bush and Obama, had tried to revitalize it, only to make it worse in spite of good intentions and hard work by teachers, administrators, and educators.
It is like a slowly sinking ship and everyone was trying to keep it float. After having taught in a private Christian college prep school for the past seven years, I have come to the realization that we have to abandon the ship and rescue all the people on board, particularly the students and the teachers.
Like many teachers and educators, I have tried to reform the education system within. A couple of months ago, I finally discovered its fundamental design flaw. That is, no one (teachers, administrations, school boards, and government agencies) in the system has a stake in the future success of the students. Naturally, the system is going to break.
The performance of a high school is measured by graduation rate. So its administration is inclined to inflate the grades. Even though some teachers may resist the pressure from above, eventually they will give in and lower their standards. Today’s B is F of 20 years ago. An A now could be anywhere between D, C, B, and A back then.
For teachers, it is tempting to give easy As and Bs just to keep students happy and parents off their back. In my seven years of teaching, I have not met one parent who asked me if his or her kid understood what’s being taught. Students will complain and fight for just one point for hours, but not spend a few minutes to understand a concept. Both students and parents don’t even think something is wrong when the students forget everything they have learned last school year.
In 2016, 47% of American high school students graduated with A average. But when they got to colleges, a lot of them found that they had to take remedial classes. Some of 1 them will eventually drop out of college. But that will not be counted against their high schools.
Now we start to see many negative social impacts of our failed education system. Many high school graduates can not be trained and many college graduates can not find jobs which require a college education. Without hope of a better future, many youth resort to drugs and alcohol.
So what can we do as an individual?
My idea is to build a global network of community based small learning academies. The smallest unit consists of a teacher and a dozen kids. It is operated as a private school owned by the teacher. This way, the success of the teacher is tied to that of the students. The teacher can raise tuition if the students are successful and be supported financially by the alumni. Free market competition will drive out teachers who are not qualified to run a good school.
Let’s say the tuition is $500 per student per month. With 12 students, that is $6K in total. Since the academy is based in a church or a community center, the operation cost should be less than $2K. So the teacher can make over $4K per month. That is reasonable for a teacher living in Indiana.
The other features of such an academy are as follows:
- No state accreditation thus no government control over curricula and textbooks
- The teacher can choose his or her students
- No standardized tests such as ISTEP
- No grades. A student graduates by earning enough badges, each of which represents a course taken.
- The teacher designs an individualized curriculum for each student
- The teacher’s role is both a mentor and a coach. He or she does not need to be a subject expert. Ideally, he or she has worked in the private sector for many years.
- Teachers in the network support each other with their subject expertise, experiences, and connections.
- The network is maintained by a non-profit organization which creates free learning contents and provides minimum cost trainings.
- Any educational organization or educator can provide contents to the network on the pay-per-view model.
Each academy is unique based on the teacher’s experience and teaching style. One can be a coding academy, the other can be an arts academy, or a STEM academy. It can be for youth or grow-ups, or any other age groups.
Each teacher has access to learning resources on the network. Students learn mostly online individually. The teacher guides each student on where or from whom to learn a particular subject. There is no control over the teachers. They are free to join or leave the network.
I am sure there are many details to be worked out. But based on my thirty eight years of combined experience as an academic researcher, a senior engineer, an engineering manager, and a high school Math teacher, I do believe that the solution I have proposed above has a good chance to succeed.
The ship is sinking. We need to rescue the kids now. Let us work together as a community. If you are interested in becoming a teacher/owner or supporting our effort, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or friend me on Facebook.
Dr. Pingnan Shi is the Co-Founder and Chief Disruption Officer. Dr. Shi has a PhD in Electrical Engineering and has worked in academic research and tech industry for 26 years and holds 15 patents. He currently serves on the board of the Beyond Me Initiative and is leading the Amplify Blockchain Initiative launching in the summer and Amplify Youth Program launching in the fall. His passion is helping the next generation of young leaders with financial literacy, math skills, and leadership training so they can become successful entrepreneurs.