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Radically Reforming Public Education--and How Video Can Help

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One commentator on contemporary ed­ucation policy who is worthy of his mas­sive audience is Brandon Busteed, CEO of BrandEd and formerly at Kaplan and Gallup. He wrote two notable and highly recommend­ed articles in Forbes magazine in February. The first was The Growing Discontent With American Education. My takeaway was this snippet:

The brutal reality is that education isn’t exciting, engaging, or relevant for far too many students. ... When asking students, parents, or employers [to describe educa­tion], we are more likely to hear descrip­tors such as ‘boring,’ ‘outdated,’ and ‘dis­connected from the real world.’ Indeed, only 26% of U.S. adults who have expe­rienced higher education strongly agree their coursework is relevant to their work and day-to-day life.

This insight spurred what sounded like a call for something like standardized testing for teacher engagement, prompting a new column 2 days later: To Fix U.S. Education, Free Our Teachers. This piece summa­rized profoundly alarming research identify­ing the teaching profession as the most demor­alized in our society and absolved teachers of any blame for the lack of student engagement. The reasons provided resonated with a point I made in a 2022 column:

[T]eachers feel they spent too much time teaching to and administering the standardized test. ... [T]eachers’ core role is [becoming] to maintain home values in their schools’ community instead of teach­ing students to think critically about a text, play the viola, or graph polynomials.

Taking seriously the conclusion that stu­dents, teachers, parents, and employers all agree there’s a fundamental problem with the curriculum used in schools, I propose a rad­ical plan for reforming education: From sec­ond grade through freshman year of high school, spend an hour of every school day on a chain of curricula intended make students feel prepared for adulthood before entering their sophomore year of high school.

Even as women have approached (and in many fields surpassed) equal representation in higher education and academic achievement, there persists a gender gap in financial liter­acy that is worldwide in scope and perplexing in root cause. Some of the most popular courses I know of at the college level concern finan­cial literacy, in which students are taught ba­sic skills around budgeting money, measuring investment risk, and understanding how gov­ernments raise funds for services and projects.

Schools would design this curricular track locally with the school board, working hand in hand with the regional chamber of commerce to accelerate students’ growth toward under­standing the basic financial operations of adult­hood. As of this year, more than half of all states require at least a semester of financial literacy as a graduation requirement, although many students in those states report not having any recollection of having taken the course. Finan­cial literacy should be taught from a young age through adulthood. Parents would find helping their children work through age-appropriate material to be as life-altering as college stu­dents do and can only help to engage them in their children’s educational journey.

In addition to financial literacy, the classes we used to call home economics and industrial arts merit a revival. Local stakeholders in edu­cation should come together and agree on how students can spend an hour a day that will pre­pare them, whether they are college-, entrepre­neurial-, or labor-bound, as they develop into adults. That culture and sense of engagement with the community will seep into the rest of the curriculum as the great many parts already contributing to that basic growth reveal them­selves and become redefined. By the time stu­dents graduate from the track as sophomores, they should know how much they have yet to learn and maybe even have a good idea of what they want to do in life. This is where streaming media comes in: Online video and books can provide for rich, specialized independent study to any community with motivated students.

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