I'll eventually get into some more complicated issues but as a first step I'd like to list what I consider some common sense educational reforms. By common sense I don't mean easy to put in place, instead, while there are few that would argue these reforms wouldn't help our education system, these are very difficult to pass reforms for social or political reasons. Since I'm putting an emphasis on the labor force at the heart of my take of rethinking ideology I'm going to ignore the political difficulties since if you can't successfully argue for the core of your thesis despite obstacles there is little reason to even attempt the approach.
Also, I'd like to note that the vast bulk of what I know about the education comes from newspapers and does not come from any particular expertise (other than a lot of time spent in school). While I've tracked back information to a journal article here and there I'm communicating primarily based upon what I see the current consensus is rather than on any particular expertise.
1. Start the school day later. There has been a lot of research that younger people simply aren't wired to get up as early as older people. While I have no idea what the magnitude of the effect would be, simply making the school day start later would help to increase the amount of learning that goes on in classrooms. I would also guess it would reduce problem behaviors. There are obviously a number of social and political reasons why instituting this reform would be difficult. Incidentally, this is also one of those traits our meritocratic society selects for that has nothing to do with merit. Those that are naturally early risers have an advantage over those that are late risers that sets in quite early. While this certainly impacts your lifetime ability to contribute this has nothing to do with any individual merit you possess, it's solely an artifact of our institutions.
2. Make the school year longer. Our school year has become shorter than that of many of our competitors and this is likely associated with less overall learning.
3. Shorten summer break and break up the school year more. I've heard in a few places that lower performing students in particular have their skills deteriorate over long breaks. Since these are the students I am most concerned about doing what will help them learn best is necessary.
4. Look at making the school day longer. I have no idea if this is actually something that would help since I'm unsure if kids do a good job paying attention over long periods of time. If this is a major problem, a longer school day with a few breaks for more fun activities may be in order.
5. More guidance, and in particular resources, for self-study. While this may benefit all kids, this suggestion is more for those at the upper half of the distribution. A frequent frustration of mine as a younger kid was that I wanted to learn all kinds of new things but had no idea where to start. This led me to read a lot of Greek philosophy, or other subjects where I happened to have stumbled across author names or titles, which looking back on it was a waste of time because I didn't really have the background to understand it, particularly how different the culture was, till later. A listing of progressively more difficult resources, not just age-level appropriate which may not be challenging enough for every student, would be helpful. Combining this with an online library for accessing these texts would also be helpful. Some sort of rewards system would also be necessary to get the full benefit, whether some kind of accelerated coursework or some form of more material reward.
6. Explore more incentive systems for classroom work, especially for low income students. I've heard the idea but haven't read much. I see no particular reason to oppose it, except for spending. Targeting this to lower income students may be ideal, wealthier parents tend to set up incentive systems for their kids already anyway. It's those whose parents aren't doing this that could use a break.
Much of this could be achieved simply with more federal funding. In general, I don't believe current levels of taxation are high enough to sustain our investment in either our labor force or our physical infrastructure so I'll simply be assuming taxes will eventually go up to pay for this, though I'll likely be doing another spot on taxation since I'm still thinking through some issues with it. Also, I assume a better education system will involve more centralized control, though I see some options with this, issues that I'll be getting into in later posts