Despite the complexity and high stakes of the education debate, there are five concrete ways to improve education systems. First of all, we need to address overcrowding. Approximately 14 percent of public schools in the US have overcrowded classrooms, disproportionately affecting low-income students. In Chicago, for example, one in five elementary students starts the school year in overcrowded classrooms.
Second, high-performing systems have a more balanced approach to budgeting. They do not focus as much on sports, administrative positions, or special education functions. They also have mechanisms for targeting resources to the right students. In short, they spend more on students’ needs, not on the things they like least. Whether this is due to a lack of resources, poor performance, or a combination of factors, there is a way to improve education systems.
Third, we must increase student participation in educational programs. Teachers need to be able to focus on individual success, not on the general performance of the class. Moreover, classroom priorities should focus on individual students’ success, reducing the need for zero-tolerance policies and security measures. The more money a school can direct toward classrooms, the better. And, last but not least, we must restructure the educational system to reduce waste.
Lastly, we need to increase funding for public schools. The world’s children deserve a well-equipped public school, and we can get there if we work together. The global financial crisis is a great opportunity to leapfrog forward in education. There are several initiatives underway that will help us get there. The best approach would be to bring together key stakeholders, including parents, educators, and students, and set ambitious, universal, and transparent standards for all students.
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