There’s more to blame than parents

Though parents may be one part of the issue, our education system’s lacking curricula is another place to start.

by Connor Nikolic

American K-12 schools have fallen behind many of their overseas counterparts. Young Americans are not as successful as many of the world’s students in cumulative test scores, and lawmakers have not yet found a solution with methods like “No Child Left Behind.” Where should we look next?

In a recent New York Times piece, columnist Thomas Friedman proposed President Barack Obama model his State of the Union address after Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent speech regarding the state of American K-12 education. Duncan said students and their parents are to blame for issues in the American education system, more so than the school districts or assigned curriculums. Duncan used South Korean parents, who he described as demanding of a world-class education, as his primary example

Duncan also references Amanda Ripley’s work, “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way,” in which she says parents should reassess how much they want schools to challenge their children. Ripley also pointed to South Korea’s serious parents.

It’s an interesting point. However, I believe Friedman, Ripley and Duncan are pointing their finger at the wrong people. They have more power to change our education system through their respective voices.

Students and parents should be partially responsible for their own education. If students refuse to do their homework or don’t bother to study before an exam, it’s not the school’s fault. However, the curriculum and the focus on grading are beyond the student’s control.

One of the more successful education models is in Germany. In the long-standing American model, every student is forced into the same types of classes, with a small amount of time for electives and unrequired coursework. German students are all in the same schools through Grundschule, their elementary school equivalent.

After grade four, however, the education system divides students into a secondary school (Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium or Gesamtschule), each sending students to futures in different paths. Students receive additional vocational training to help prepare them for a specific field. By the time they graduate, German students may have three or four years of job experience, almost guaranteeing themselves opportunities for job placement relatable to their study.

With more guiding curricula and job-focused training, German students quickly provide the country with highly skilled labor.

These students have coursework directly related to what they want to do throughout their life, which may be the key to challenging our students. German students have rising test scores and boosted job placement statistics. They also, surprisingly, spend fewer hours of the day in school at a young age.

If Duncan and Obama wish to fix our schools, they have international education models with more efficient curricula to adapt our own system to. While the culture of South Korean parents may be one option in competing internationally, there are other countries with superior systems the U.S. could emulate.