Let's Revamp Our Public School System

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Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.” We students have been overwhelmed by the tribe. Today’s school system encourages monotony, promotes excessive conformity, and discourages creativity and individuality.

I am a student, and we students have a unique view on this subject matter, and it should be our perspective that is the most essential in designing education systems. Sadly, this is not the case. People who haven’t been in school for decades make these decisions, and it is no secret that times have changed.

How many people have you heard saying, “Of course I haven’t read Crime and Punishment!”, and how many people have you heard saying “Oh please, I will never understand math”. I guarantee that more people have heard the latter phrase, simply because there is a mentality against math, a mentality against science, that students can’t learn the topic because they are “too difficult’. No subject is intrinsically difficult, subjects become difficult when a student accumulates gaps in foundational knowledge that more advanced topics are constructed upon. That brings me to the fact that schools do not place enough emphasis on mastery. Our teachers tell us, “You are accelerated students, you are to get an 85 or above to achieve mastery!”. Outrageous! You wouldn’t expect me to write an analysis of “The Tempest” without having read fifteen percent of the play and you certainly wouldn’t expect me to be able to able to build you a house with only eighty-five percent of the material I need. So why do teachers expect students to move on to more advanced topics without having truly having full knowledge of the simpler concepts, and this lack of accentuation on truly understanding concepts cannot be hidden. In 2013, the United States ranked 17th out of 34 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in mathematics, 21st in science, and 17th in reading, and in 2015 the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 25 percent of 12th graders, and 33 percent of 8th graders were ranked as advanced or proficient in mathematics. Disregard the rule of getting an 85 or above for a moment. What about students that receive an 80, or a 70, or a 60, or even lower? They too are forced to move at the same pace as other students, without being able to do so.

The solution to this is to implement mastery learning in schools. Vahid Motamedi, an Assistant Professor at Tarbiat Moallem University writes that “Mastery learning is used in order to advance an individual’s potential for learning. Compared to traditional learning models, sufficient time, attention, and help are afforded to each student.” Students can’t just be grouped into one flock, we are individual beings! There are two types of classes offered in many schools, Regents classes, and Accelerated Classes. I draw from this organization of our classes that administrators really believe that there are two types of students, and quite apparently, there are not two types of students. We must make learning more individualized if we hope to have our students succeed! We live in an era of technological advancement, where anything you want to know can be found by typing something into a search bar. The internet can be utilized by students to learn, and if we make this a standardized procedure in schools, then it is almost certain that our proficiency rates will skyrocket. Sources like Khan Academy provide an incredible learning experience. A student can learn everything from Pre-K math to Multivariable Calculus in as much detail as a schoolteacher could provide, and the phenomenal part of it? A student can move at their own pace. They are provided with personalized feedback on their performance, and they can go back and review every single concept as many times as it takes for them to master it. Implementing this into schools does not have to be a major undertaking, it could be an elementary task if executed correctly. It is a fact that in New York state, around three times as much is spent to keep an inmate jailed than is spent to educate an elementary/high school student. Divert the funds from prison, and buy laptops for the students! Let the teacher be a guide as the students work through Algebra or Geometry or Precalculus at their own pace!

Our curriculum discourages our creativity and it promotes a lack of individual identity in students. There are only two groups of people who know what school is like, namely the current students, and the current teachers. We know that our talents, no matter how magnificent they may be, are to be ignored, because we have to cover all the material in Living Environment before the Regents in June. Students are forced, in the 7th and 8th grades, to stick to one schedule, with no variation from person to person. A person who is extremely talented in mathematics has to sit through a class covering material they already know, and an extremely talented musician has to sit through a disorganized and chaotic Band class, unable to express their abilities. Creative thinking is also discouraged in our system, the problem is that students are forced to stick to one method, and if they do not adhere strictly to that technique, they are reprimanded. No one asks how the Pythagorean Theorem is derived, no one thinks outside the box, because we have been conditioned to look at a formula in math class, adhere to one uniform algorithm, and work from there. An interesting observation to be made is that students in the United States performed poorly in Geometry, and performed better in Algebra, meaning that “Students in the United States have...strengths in cognitively less-demanding mathematical skills and abilities… They have particular weaknesses in items with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms…” This comes directly from the 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). Schools focus too much on teaching to tests, like the Regents Examinations in New York State, or Advanced Placement Examinations, and interestingly enough, it is companies like The Princeton Review, Pearson Education, and Barron's Regents Exam Prep that make immense amounts of money off of this.

The time distribution of the school day is also a major problem. It is my opinion that classes should be given time-based on their corresponding level of difficulty (and by this, I mean that a more difficult class has subjects that take longer to grasp, in general). Home and Career, where half the period is spent with students in the back of the classroom listening to rap music, is a 42-minute class, and so is Algebra, where we barely have half of a packet done at the ring of the bell and have to stay after the bell.

I hope that you will join me in bringing about a change to our education system by signing this petition.

Thank You,
Sameer Singh

8th Grade Accelerated Student
Principal’s List
President's Award for Educational Excellence Recipient (Gold Seal)

I would like to thank Sal Khan of the Khan Academy for inspiring me to write this.

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