My school reform would never happen, because in this nation we seems to value the wrong sorts of things. But I can't stop thinking about it...
First off, we promise education to every child in this nation. That's a wonderful goal. I think we ought to redefine what "education" is exactly, though. There ought to be several levels of goals in education. The most basic level would be the only one that is mandatory. Every other level would be attempted, but if the child shows no interest or ability, the child should be allowed to opt out. With the caveat that every child has the ability to come back to school, free (on the taxpayers' dime) until they reach the age of 19.
What ought to be in the most basic level? The ability to read, write, and balance a checkbook (practical math). The understanding of their rights as a citizen. And that's it. If we made it an absolute priority to make sure that every single child has mastered the most basic of educational needs, then I think we'd be a heckuva lot better off as a society.
The thought that some children make it through to high school, and beyond, without being able to read sickens me. If you can't read, you can't progress alone. You are reliant on other people. Every single person ought to be read. It's just common sense.
Writing is a little more difficult, but if we say that writing also involves the ability to communicate thoughts, it should cover the needed areas of learning. The ability to be able to explain yourself clearly is crucial to a person's life.
Practical math is something that doesn't get enough emphasis. Just knowing how to handle money, and understanding basic interest rates and what credit cards really do, would help so many people get themselves sorted out. And maybe prevent some people from getting into horrid debt in the first place. It may not be sexy math, but it ought to be the main concern at the most basic level of learning.
Citizenship is never tackled enough. Citizenship includes all your rights as a human being as well as specific rights granted by the State. Every child should know what habeas corpus is and why it is so important. Every child should understand what an honor it is to be able to vote. Every child should learn to respect those around them as fellow citizens.
There should be a few simple tests that make sure that every kid gets the minimum. The tests could also cover other potential goal levels, but at the very least the four basics should be learned throughout the early grades. If at some point the child says, "enough!" to school, they can leave and enter the workforce or an apprenticeship. Again, with the caveat that they cannot just drop out of school and do nothing, and if they wish to return before they turn 19, they can. By the same token, children who learn faster and wish to learn more should be allowed to proceed at their own pace and not be held back by old-fashioned curriculum or teachers attempting to teach far too many students in one tiny classroom.
Unfortunately, to change the schools to this kind of format would be a huge undertaking. Additionally, I doubt that most people would agree with me that a basic education is all that some people need. Heck, I'm not entirely sure of it myself. But I needed to get the words down and spit these thoughts out while I'm thinking about them, so here it is. I'd be delighted to hear critiques of it.