American students receive a top quality education but there is room for improvement. The 2009 international test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that American students ranked 31st in Math, 23rd in Science, and 17th in Reading when compared to student test takers from 65 countries. The test requires critical thinking and reading comprehension because the questions in all three areas involve word problems about real situations. The mediocre results suggest that American students have opportunities to improve test scores.
Many remedies for upgrading America’s schools have been suggested, including revising curricula, remodeling schools, adding electronics features to classrooms, and numerous other improvements. However, most of the suggested remedies suffer from being expensive, logistically difficult, or politically resistant. On the other hand, there are several changes that would help to improve the American education system and the scores of American students relative to international students that are much simpler and more straightforward.
First, American parents can do a more effective job of helping the public schools and improving their children’s educational performance. Too often American parents feel that supporting their children’s education means attending concerts or games, driving students on field trips, bringing snacks to class, helping with fund raising events, and checking homework. American parents may be the best in the world at doing those things and more in support of schools, but, unfortunately, those things are not the most effective way to support the education of their children.
One of the best activities that a parent can do with their young children is to read to them and to be seen reading. Communicating the joy of reading and helping children become lifelong readers is extremely valuable. Reading with their children also gives parents the opportunity to talk about the ideas and values in the stories and how they apply to real life. When the children are older parents no longer need to read to them, but they should continue to talk about real ideas and values. Parents can talk about the issues in the family, the school, the community, the state, and the nation. This is the type of activity that will help to encourage students to become thinking young adults and prepare them to be wise adults. The benefit to their school work and their testing will be an increase in the student’s ability to think critically and to solve real world problems.
A second remedy to the public education system is to upgrade the selection of teachers. Currently, there are a large number of colleges and universities offering degrees in public school teaching, and the result is that there are far more new teachers each year than are needed. The solution is to decrease the number of colleges and universities that offer a teaching degree and to increase the requirements to be accepted into a teaching degree program. Currently at many colleges it is possible for a student who graduated in the bottom half of their high school class and who are maintaining a C average in their college courses to be accepted into a teaching degree program. A teaching degree should be much more difficult to obtain.
Colleges could upgrade their standards to accept only those students who graduated in the top third of their high school class and who maintain a B average in their college course work into a teaching degree program. At the same time, colleges could increase the rigor of the education department teaching program so that the end result would be fewer but far higher quality teachers being granted a teaching certificate. The prestige of being a teacher would likewise be elevated to the level of being a doctor or an engineer. The benefit to the public education system would be that there would be more highly educated and highly trained teachers in the classrooms able to teach and inspire students to become good critical thinkers.
With these simple but significant changes, American students would not only score higher on international tests but they would be better prepared to address the problems of the world.