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The Bottom Line A New K-12 System

Originally published at American Thinker

The American public education system is failing our children. That fact is revealed by the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress exam scores. The reality is that 77% of high school seniors are not proficient in the core subjects after 13 years of schooling. 

No entity — private or public — should survive with this lack of performance. Yet, perhaps our most important public institution has not only been allowed to fail miserably but has consistently received increased funding to do so without any accountability. 

Every few years, a new program is introduced that will supposedly improve our schools. For example, “Goals 2000,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Common Core,” etc. None of these initiatives has made any significant positive difference. Instead, they only drive-up costs to taxpayers.

If we want to effectively educate all of our children, a new education system is needed — not a tweak of the existing system and certainly not more money.

A new education system is needed, based on students rather than adults, individuals rather than groups, learning rather than teaching, outputs rather than inputs, and achievement rather than time.

Donald Nielsen

Student Focused, Not Adult Focused

Unions may not be the sole cause of the obsolete system, but they are the major constraint to fixing it. A union’s mission is to improve member compensation, enhance member working conditions, and protect member employment. Our teacher unions do a fantastic job of achieving this mission. Unfortunately, this mission statement has nothing to do with the education of children. As a consequence, they focus solely on the needs of adults. For change to occur, the power unions wield in our education system must be constrained, and a new system that focuses on the needs of students must be established.

Individually Focused, Not Group Focused

Any parent with two children knows how completely different children can be, even those sharing the same biological parents and being raised in the same environment. The present education system does not take those differences into consideration. Twenty-five or more students are placed in the same classroom, taught the same curriculum in the same way for the same length of time, and the system expects the same outcome. It is insane.

In a classroom of 25 students, there will be 25 different personalities, interests, and levels of learning readiness for the various subjects. Even sleep patterns the night before class are different. Consequently, in any given classroom, students will learn the material in different ways and at different speeds. And too often, they will learn not much of it at all. Yet students today are pushed through the system regardless of whether they are actually learning. This must stop. Individual learning must be the focus — the one-size-fits-all factory model approach needs to be scrapped.

Learning Focused, Not Teaching Focused

In a learning focused approach, as opposed to the current teaching focused approach, individual students could progress at a pace that matched their demonstrated learning. Given instruction time tailored to each student’s needs in order to learn the required skills and knowledge and advance at the individual’s own pace, the results would be much improved.

Output Focused, Not Input Focused

Today’s education system is evaluated based on inputs, not outputs — primarily the accumulation of credits based on course completion. But that is not a measurement of learning. Instead, it is merely based on attending classes for a school year and exiting with a passing grade. What is needed instead is a system that is evaluated based on meaningful outputs — specifically the percentage of graduates who achieve required levels of personal qualities (e.g., responsibility, integrity, and work ethic), communication skills (written and oral), citizenship skills (an understanding and appreciation of our country’s history and founding principles), global skills (an understanding of language and culture), and reading comprehension, math, science, and technology skills.

Furthermore, in the current system, the effectiveness of the money spent is not typically measured. The only requirement is that the money is spent as prescribed. And even when outputs are measured, there is a lack of meaningful accountability in terms of repercussions for not meeting standards. Specifically, educators are not fired, programs are not cut, and funding does not stop based on poor performance. In short, we need to establish required K-12 educational system performance requirements and set benchmarks to ensure they are met.

Achievement Focused, Not Time Focused

The U.S. education system is time-based. The school year is 180 days, the class period is roughly 50 minutes, and the school day is six to seven hours. Grade levels are also time-based. An eight-year-old child is placed in third grade, regardless of whether the student is performing at the first-grade or fifth-grade level. The student will stay in the third grade until June when promotion to the fourth grade occurs. Regardless of the individual’s preparedness for the fourth grade, he or she will be placed there for the next 180 school days.

What we need instead is to place children based on individual achievement levels. They must be met where they are in their learning, and then allowed to progress based upon their demonstrated learning.


In summary, a new education system is needed, based on students rather than adults, individuals rather than groups, learning rather than teaching, outputs rather than inputs, and achievement rather than time. Nothing is more important, to our society, than the effective education of our children and their ability to become productive citizens. It is also critical to the survival of our nation. Today’s K-12 education system is failing our children and our country. We need a “new system,” and we need it now.

Are you concerned about educating the next generation?
The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?