10 Crazy Ideas for Fixing Our Education System

School is out for almost all students in Kindergarten through college. So now that the teachers and students are out relaxing, let's talk about them behind their backs: Our education system stinks. It's a paragon of wasteful spending and mediocre results. Lucky for us, Obama and his whip-smart Secretary of Education Arne Duncan know that better results require bold changes. So let's get bold! From killing tenure and the SAT to requiring Spanish classes for everybody (er, para todos!), nutty ideas abound. Here are 10 crazy ideas for remaking our schools from K through College:

1) Eliminate summer vacation.

My colleague Conor Clarke has for years argued that summer vacation means that our kids have less time in classrooms than students in other countries (in America, we average about 180 school days a year; Japan averages 240). But Conor isn't just being a workaholic killjoy: he also makes a good point that summer vacation gives richer parents a chance to maintain their kids "education" with expensive summer programs, which less fortunate kids' parents cannot. This leads to backsliding, or the inability of less fortunate students to retain the past year's lessons as well as their richer peers. Imagine: better achievement equality could be an August away.


2) Extend the School Day.
The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), the brainchild of Teach for America grads, has demonstrated remarkable national results in low-income areas, largely by attracting teachers and students willing to work in an extended school day. Longer days mean more time in classrooms and less time to students to spend in the troubled areas that sometimes surround KIPP schools. Given the myriad factors that contribute to a student's learning, it is remarkable and noteworthy that extended days -- as opposed to higher spending per student -- are one of the most consistent indicators of better achievement.

3) Expand Bilingual Education.
Research on the impact of bilingual education on student achievement is mixed, but studies continue to show the verbal benefits of being steeped in two languages from a young age. At a time when America's term at the top of the world appears increasingly limited, now would make a good time to ask ourselves whether it's appropriate to revisit the question of expanding elementary bilingual education.  Also this way, we could presumably pronounce Sonia Sotomayor's name without getting loco about syllable emphasis.

4) Raise Compulsory Education Age
This is a straightforward one. The longer you stay in school, the better chance to have to get a job and make more money. So why not ask state governments to go further to recognize that? As I wrote yesterday, every level of education (from high school dropout to HS grad to college dropout to college grad) corresponds with higher levels of employment. Harold Levy argues that if the government guaranteed one year of post-grad education to every American (even if the classes are online), it could mark a turning point on par with the GI Bill with incredible benefit to our GDP and employment levels.

5) Kill the SAT.
In 2001 Robert Atkinson, the president of the University of California, proposed the school's admissions discontinue its SAT requirement. He argued that the test is old-fashioned, that it does not measure appropriate skills given the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Another popular argument is that the SAT gives richer parents a chance to put their kids through a grinding tutorial process that inherently puts them at an advantage over students without the means. As this article points out, "when Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania and Bates College in Maine stopped requiring the SAT, minority applications doubled."

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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