Education reform is always on my mind — mostly because it is such an important issue. It may be the most important issue our country faces right now. How can we educate a person for life, a very long life, a life that will encompass many future decades — unknown and unpredictable decades.
I’ve said this before and I hope this message gets out, but I often feel like I’m throwing a bottle with a note in it out into the ocean, never to be heard from again. I think we can have a grand bargain. With a bargain, both sides can have what they want. It’s a win-win, a quid-pro-quo.
Who are the sides in this grand bargain? They are the educational traditionalists and the educational reformers, because in a lot of ways I think that both sides are right in their beliefs. The grand bargain would go something like this. We could have standardized and local control of school districts until the second year of high school. All students would complete similar coursework. School districts would have total control over their schools and be able to do whatever it takes to make sure kids stay at grade level — extra tutoring, computerized learning, accelerated courses, whatever it takes. Isn’t this really what the best schools do — they do whatever it takes to achieve great learning.
By age 16, we graduate everyone. This would eliminate the drop-out problem for good, because most everyone can make it to Sophomore year. Then we leave the next two years totally up to the student, with input by the community. Each student can receive a voucher for $20,000 — which is the average cost of educating a student in the public school system for two years. The student is free to “spend” that money on any educational opportunity he or she wants — perhaps it’s an apprenticeship, perhaps it’s advanced distance learning courses, or perhaps it’s the two final years of high school, with a sprinkling of community college courses, whatever.
Wouldn’t that be so empowering to lower income students to now have $20.000 to apply to their post-secondary schooling. Who wouldn’t want to continue on? It would be use it or lose it. Community members could also compete to get this money by providing apprenticeships or areas of study that would be useful to students in the areas.
This approach could be a grand bargain because it could please both the educational traditionalists and the educational reformers — traditional education until age 16, and vouchers with educational choice after that. America is the land of opportunity. We need an educational system that provides opportunity. We need choice in learning, but only when it is built on a consistent and stable foundation of common knowledge. It’s time for us to try something new. It’s time to break the status quo, but we need to retain the best of what traditional schools have always provided — the three R’s. Let business and industry have a say in the later years of high school of what is learned. Only then can we provide a well rounded citizen, educated but also possessing the skills that employers really need.
Chris Bernat is the author of Individualized Learning with Technology – Meeting the Needs of High School Students – a book about how learning can be individualized for older students, starting in high school and continuing throughout life. Visit her site at www.learnthroughlife.com.