|A paradigm shift is needed|
1) The current U.S. education paradigm is based on the "conveyor belt" analogy of the Industrial Age. All students learn the same content in the same amount of time. As Campbell and Monson (1994) state "This may be a model of efficiency, but certainly not for effectiveness". The current paradigm of standardized education allows for valid comparison of students with each other and sort them out efficiently, but does not aim to educate every student (Reigeluth, 1992). When an educational system holds the time of instruction constant, achievement must vary. It is well documented that students learn at different paces. What is the alternative? Instead of grouping students by age group that passes through the education system, schools need to give each learner the time he or she needs to reach the learning goals.
2) Besides the Industrial Age paradigm, the U.S. education system still uses elements from the older Agricultural Age: The three month long summer break was intended to allow children to help during the harvest on farms. Instead of one long summer break, the U.S. could introduce several shorter 2-3 week breaks spread out throughout the year. Research provided strong documentation that the long summer break increases the achievement gap between poor and middle class students (See Summer learning loss and The Case Against Summer Vacation). This also links to the main reason for the education achievement gap in the U.S.: Poverty (or "socio-economic disadvantage") (See Poverty is key factor to improve U.S. education).
3) A dual education system, with an academic and a vocational pathway, offers students valuable alternatives. Unfortunately, the U.S. does not have a well-structured vocational school system as found in many European countries. In Finland, around 50% of students choose vocational school over University education (See The Finland Phenomenon). In the U.S. there exists no alternative to high school, and the current high school curriculum was created to prepare students for higher education not a vocation. In other words, a seventeen year old in the U.S. has only one option: He/She is either a high school student or a dropout (See Americas misplaced disdain for vocational education and Strengthening vocational education could improve U.S. education).
Instead of piecemeal reforms, like "No child left behind" that encourage standardization and assessment (=> sorting), the outdated paradigm itself needs to be changed (See Changing Education Paradigms). Changing the content (educational content standards) or assessment (standardized tests) is not sufficient to meet the needs of the Knowledge Age for the very structure of education discourages self-guided learning, initiative, and creative diversity.
Campbell, R., & Monson, D. (1994). Building a goal-based scenario learning environment. Educational Technology, 34(9), 9-14
Reigeluth, C. M. (1992). The imperative for systemic change. Educational Technology, 32, n11
Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). What is instructional design theory and how is it changing? In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-Design theories and models, vol 2: A new paradigm of instructional theory. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates