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If you were to design an education system


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This is a thought exercise.


Imagine that you were tasked with designing an education program - lets say for kids from 6 years to 16. 


There are no restrictions and you are not limited by any current system. You can design it from scratch. The only objective is to maximize the effectiveness of it. However, you also have to set the criteria for what you define as effective.


So, how you define effectiveness and how would you design the system?


I'd be very interested in hearing ideas from this board on this matter. Also, references to any related material or persons who are outspoken on this topic would be very valuable. 




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Think "The Hunger Games" and go from there  ;)


I think you addressed the crux of the problem, coming up with a metric for "effectiveness" is hard. Attempts at standardized grade level testing have met with a lot of resistance from teachers, students and parents despite being a relatively straightforward quantitative assessment of a student's progress and in a roundabout way, a teacher's capabilities. While I probably would have supported them had I had to deal with them as a student, end of grade assessments clearly aren't the right standard to judge all students or all teachers and fall short of measuring many of the other factors that compose an effective education system.


I think in this case cloning is the right strategy. There are thousands of education systems out there, cherry pick what works best and hope the end result melds together. Unfortunately, education systems tie into the broader economy more than one might expect so isolating an effective education system is harder than it looks because most that appear "effective" are showered with money from wealthy tax bases and traditionally more involved parents. I don't know enough real world examples where I could point to an education system and say look their ROI is great they're able to put together a quality education system with relatively scarce funds and little waste although I suspect there are some examples of this and it's where I would start looking to clone.


If we try to come up with a metric like dollars spent per graduating student we also have to determine if "graduating" is actually worth something, so you have a high school diploma, now what? Perhaps identifying something that correlates with student success like teacher:student ratio and then optimizing the system for that and hoping you can come up with a metric to asses the teachers is best. I say this coming from public high school where classes were often 30-40 people and teachers were obviously overwhelmed and then transitioning to a private university with small class sizes and plenty of TAs to help out, the difference was like night and day.


One thing my hypothetical system would include is a hard check on a students grade level progression. Pushing students to the next grade without them demonstrating proficiency in subjects just widens the gap and discourages them. If they're reading at a 5th grade level but are a 10th grader don't force them into the class their age says they should be in. It doesn't have to be an end of grade assessment, perhaps every 2 or 3 years is better but having students demonstrate a level of proficiency in subjects before advancing them has always seemed like the right idea to me. Still let them graduate but have something like a college transcript that allows employers or continuing education institutions the ability to determine where they got in high school. This removes some of the aura of a diploma and allows for a more nuanced assessment of each student.

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Guest Schwab711

I'm not sure I know enough to more than scratch the surface but here are some ideas I've thought of over the years.


If I could make only one change I would eliminate local property taxes funding education budgets. If we are going to fund schools with property taxes then they should be standardized nationally and pooled at the state or federal level to be re-distributed with a fixed amount/school + additional funds/child (with some variance to the formula based on a few dozen (just a guess?) other factors). I'd probably have some of the variance due to performance and involvement. Of course, if local residents want to donate (or potentially mandate?) funding above and beyond these minimums then that should be acceptable. These budgets should not be tied to CPI but actively managed on an annual basis to determine sufficient funding. Bonuses could be awarded to both residents and educators/administrators for providing "sufficient education" below the funding minimums (if you return unnecessary money from your budget then you should be rewarded - minimize "use it or lose it" budgeting).


The other big changes I'd prioritize is mandating diversity in schools (even if you have to bus kids across counties - should be less complaints if budgets are generally equal). Counties would have to look at what are feasible targets in their region. Last, I'd want a fairly high % subjects and material taught throughout the country to be standardized. Local education boards should be encouraged to teach locally important topics and subjects beyond the minimum mandate.


I think I'd also like year-round schooling with a few multi-week breaks, 5x/week (I'm interested in potentially 6x/week), shorter days, mandated daily recess (maybe up to 6th or 8th grade?), and starting school later (the goal is to better match school days with work days to help parents).


It would be nice to have some kind of incentive that encourages parental involvement - though I don't even know where I'd start with that idea.


The elephant in the room is measuring teacher's performance, and I have no idea where I'd even start with this topic. I think higher salaries would be a nice start, but I also don't want them to be too high. I'd also like to get rid of the unions or at least make it easier to remove poorly performing teachers (maybe less than < 50% on determining factor is based on student performance - I could be swayed with an even lower hurdle). It would be nice to rotate highly performing teachers between schools so they can pass on their success habits, but I also understand these folks aren't robots and may not want a change. I'd want to study how teachers are rated throughout the world and within the US. I think it would be useful to know what systems are out there and what works with various situations.


I think major education reform would be an excellent long-term investment for the country but significant changes to the system would have to be phased-in over very long periods (>10-20 years?). Otherwise it wouldn't be fair to current educators. I also think it would be extremely important that any major reforms be untouched (and unthreatened) for at least 15-20 years so we can allow folks to become comfortable with the new system while giving us enough data to properly determine the next course of action. I think major education reform should be done with a 50-100 year horizon in mind and the understanding that most of the drawbacks will be front-loaded and most of the benefits will be back-loaded.


As for when to teach certain subjects, I prioritize math, science, "engineering", programming, and communication classes between grades 1-8. Some ideas for what I mean by communication classes are public speaking, art, english, and creative writing.


I'm not sure if it would be more effective to do a little of everything everyday or some other schedule type...

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Guest Schwab711

I think in this case cloning is the right strategy. There are thousands of education systems out there, cherry pick what works best and hope the end result melds together. Unfortunately, education systems tie into the broader economy more than one might expect so isolating an effective education system is harder than it looks because most that appear "effective" are showered with money from wealthy tax bases and traditionally more involved parents. I don't know enough real world examples where I could point to an education system and say look their ROI is great they're able to put together a quality education system with relatively scarce funds and little waste although I suspect there are some examples of this and it's where I would start looking to clone.


I agree. We should approach this topic like James Madison approached designing a government before and during the Constitutional Convention.

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Guest cherzeca

nice topic.


seems to me, having gone though parenting with a modicum of success, i would deemphasize "studying" before, say, 7 years old, maybe even pursue a summerhill model, and increase academics beginning around 14 years old, with an emphasis on encouraging individual interest, as opposed to a more general one size fits all approach.


so for example, if until 7 all a kid did was play in the woods and observe insects, then beginning at 14 i would encourage that kid to create his own deep curriculum into entomology.  internet/moocs permits this.


so you ask, you have a 16 year old who is an expert in bugs, what's so great about that?  when the kid says i've had enough of bugs and is ready to move onto something else, the kid knows how to go about deep learning on a self-directed basis, and not regurgitate stuff the kid could care less about, like 99.9% of kids today.


that would be an educated kid

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ah, a topic near & dear to my heart!


I have some CRAZY ideas because I've been through some crazy things and seen some goofy stuff.


First thing to do is get rid of compulsory education....Who are we to say that people have to get educated?  Especially if they don't want it or are hostile to it?


I would make an argument that if a certain percentage of kids were simply let go, graduation rates would actually GO UP. The quality of education would certainly go up also.  Think of all the skools where disruptive children are ruining it for children that are:


A). Actually trying to get an education

B). Are on the fence.  They could go either way...but they fall on the "wrong side" because the inmates are running the asylum.


Just think of all the capital & resources that would also be saved if we were not educating children that did not want it.


With that being said, I think that ALL children should be encouraged to get an education.  We could have PSA announcements "Don't be a fool, stay in school!"


On a different note, CORRUPTION HAS GOT TO GO!  Administrators & teachers who are gaming & stealing from the system and engaged in graft need to do SERIOUS JAIL TIME.  Educators absolutely have to be accountable for their crimes.  This is across the board!


There is also a movement to jail educators who are simply derelict in their duty to be educators.  There is a nascent movement to do this in Detroit:




The mess that is the Detroit Public Schools is almost beyond comprehension...They have problems with vermin infestation....lots of schools have problems with heating/cooling.  Some gyms have warped floors and are no longer suitable to be used for classes.  Many schools have outages of soap & toilet paper.  Mold problems.  Lots of classrooms don't have chalk, paper, books, etc.


There is also a discipline problem.  Go to the "YouTube" and type in "Detroit Schools" & "Fight".  Teachers must get control of the class.  Discipline must be meted out.  It must be fast & brutal...not swatting with a broom stick. 






The teacher in that video was fired for breaking up that fight.  Please see:




This type of stuff is not all that uncommon in DPS.  As you can see from the article & video, the teachers & skools are not in charge.


So you've got a physical plant problem, you've got a discipline problem and then that leads to children not getting educated.  93% of children in Detroit are not proficient in reading and 96% are not proficient in Math. Please see:




DPS is spending $18,362 per student.  Clearly it is not a lack of money.


These problems then lead to low graduation rates.  DPS claims to have a graduation rate of 70% up from 65% of prior years.  There are rumors floating around that the real rate is substantially less than this though...


Unfortunately, the problems with DPS have been going on for DECADES.


Detroit is bad, very bad, but other inner city skools are not far behind...


It is simply shocking how many people in this country DO NOT graduate high school.


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Something I have also thought about a lot.


In introductory biology I remember being taught that 3 things were essential to sustain human life: food, shelter, and water.  We largely rely on the private sector to provide all those things, and it has done so extraordinarily well (with the help of some sensible regulation of course).


Yet, when it comes to education and health (I live in the UK) we think the private sector is an evil anachronism. 


My view is that while the taxpayer must *pay* for education (because education is key in this world and it is not fair to leave the poor uneducated), most people get confused and assume the government must *provide* education.


I say: get rid of government control over schools.  Get rid of the national curriculum, the national teacher pay scales, national budgeting, regional government say over which kids get to go to which schools, and centralised (standardised) mandated teacher training.  I hadn't thought of it, but I also love Ericopoly's idea of making education non-compulsory.  Let the teachers and head-teachers decide all these things as they do in our (excellent) private schools.


Give parents a voucher from the taxpayer.  Allow them to top this up, but with limits (for example the top quintile highest funded schools have to subsidise the bottom quintile).


Have several independent bodies that parents can hire to investigate and rank their schools.  Allow good schools to take over bad ones, and incentivise this.


In other words: I think humans are at their most innovative when unleashed.  Over decades, a free education system would develop and evolve in unpredictable and exciting ways.  I do not want to lose the taxpayer subsidy for poor kids - hence the voucher - but I hate the effect of the dead hand of the state on our schools*.


* I should say that some state schools in the UK are absolutely outstanding.  But not enough of them are.

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Great comments.


Here are a few debating points:


1. A new education system should be "lean" in the sense that it would be highly adaptable. It should be a system that learns and then adapts with each iteration.


2. It should be a "modus operandi" and applicable in various environments (f.e. USA vs Scandinavia vs Ethiopia).


3. It should be "on-demand" as opposed to "linear". Individuals would learn in a problem solving manner as opposed to following one size fits all curriculum.


4. The system would stimulate "learn by teaching" between students (f.e. older students would teach younger ones). This is both effective and efficient.


5. The effectiveness of the system is determined by how well it serves the needs of the local work environment / industry.


6. The effectiveness of the system is determined by how well graduates perform in life.


7. The effectiveness of the system is determined by the total cost of graduate that the system outputs.


8. The value that a good teacher brings to a system can be greater in orders of magnitude than the value that a less competent teacher brings. The system should be able to incentivise teachers accordingly.


9. There should always be several education systems competing against each other.


10. Education should be free for the consumer (read parents).


11. Parent involvement is crucial to the effectiveness of the system.


12. The teaching environment has a significant effect on its effectiveness (think metal detectors, mold, cacophony etc). I'm guessing everyone agrees with this statement. But the debatable point here is that in general, these things are not getting the attention that they require (thus any investment on this side is high ROI).



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Just to stir the pot ...


Automatic draft at 18 if you don't get enough credits, or high enough credits - to go on to College or University. Little Johnny & Suzie determine their own future, & the military draws from a wider base of population. Scores great on 1,2,4,5,6,9 & 12.


Standard practice in many countries of the world.



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As a kid I always loved to learn, read through encyclopedia's, read ahead if there was anything interesting in the textbooks. Yet I loathed school. I thought then and still think it was a waste of my time. It was the slow pace dictated by the poorest performers coupled with the fact that forcing a 6-12 year old to sit still for most of 7 hours straight is pretty dumb. I certainly learned a lot, but I could of learned a lot more, or learned just as much in a third the time. It would have been tough back then in the 80's to tailor things to my needs and abilities. They did the best they could with what they had.


Fast forward a few decades and not much has changed, like most government institutions there is no incentive to adapt new technology at anywhere near the pace of private enterprise.


I would privatize schools with a voucher system. Competition is a good thing and I trust parents to know best how to measure performance and choose the right schools. There are of course parents who could care less, and sadly it is difficult to help those kids, but I believe best practices would flow to even the worst schools.


I believe the technology is available to teach each kid at their own pace, in their own learning style, with stories and examples that resonate with them. We need to move past the one sized fits all education system. It should be highly individualized much of the learning would be khan academy style or via recorded lectures. A recorded lecture from an outstanding teacher beats a live lecture from a poor one, and the youngest generation learns all sorts of stuff from instructional videos on youtube as it is.


Lastly we should put a little more focus on our best and brightest. We will get much further by helping the top quartile reach their potential then by helping the bottom quartile reach theirs. I think if you broke it down you would discover that more money and teaching resources are poured into the lowest quartile.


I like the idea of making education voluntary. I'd hate to see any kid drop out, but also realize a kid who doesn't want to be there and whose family doesn't value education can truly slow down the learning of a whole class.

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People invest a lot of private money to go to university.  Often they go into debt.


In theory this capital expenditure will produce a higher future income, but it may not.  Regardless, there is much future personal revenue to be earned just to recover the sunk costs.


Now, if people were corporations, (the reverse of corporations are people argument) they would be able to amortize the cost of their education -- enabling them to pay it off with future pre-tax income.


Presently, the tax law allows for a relatively meager deduction for interest payments on student debt.


My thoughts:  The entire cost of the education (whether debt financed or not) should be recouped with pre-tax dollars.


Progressive taxation -- it's really only a fair system if education had no cost.  Some people might not really be making all that much money if you think about how much expenditure (cost of education) is associated with that higher income stream.


Under this system, everyone paying for an education would get tax relief... presently, only those who have established 529 plans get partial tax relief (the contributions to those plans are done with after-tax dollars, which is why it's only partial relief).


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Just to stir the pot ...


Automatic draft at 18 if you don't get enough credits, or high enough credits - to go on to College or University. Little Johnny & Suzie determine their own future, & the military draws from a wider base of population. Scores great on 1,2,4,5,6,9 & 12.


Standard practice in many countries of the world.




How Lee Kuan Yew-ian

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Just to stir the pot ...


Automatic draft at 18 if you don't get enough credits, or high enough credits - to go on to College or University. Little Johnny & Suzie determine their own future, & the military draws from a wider base of population. Scores great on 1,2,4,5,6,9 & 12.


Standard practice in many countries of the world.




Jesse Jackson -- can you guess what his comment would be on that one?


Something about enslaving those from low-performing inner city schools -- disproportionately targeting a particular minority.


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The new education system already exists and your children most likely already use it. It's called Playstation, Xbox, Grand Theft Auto, Second Life and so on.


Add some VR goggles into the mix and some gloves that allow you to manipulate objects in your virtual world and you already have all the fundamentals you need to learn anything you want.


The only thing that still needs to be done is that the tech needs to become more widespread and better in order to accurately represent our ability to manipulate our environment with our hands, and then the data that already exists around the world about how to apply psychology, mathematics, design, chemistry and so on need to be uploaded onto the platform and presented in such a way that whatever your ability you can access easily understandable information that will allow you to learn what you want in a virtual world that copies the real world in terms of consequences.

Excepting permanent damage of course, though it'll be interesting to see how those sorts of consequences get addressed in a virtual world.


Yeah though, the only reason a 5 year old can't learn to fly a plane or build a house or design something for the most part today is that their imaginations get shut down by limited funds, time, ambitions or whatever. In a virtual world where for a few hundred bucks every kid can have access to the equipment needed to follow wherever their imagination leads them, you will have kids doing the craziest things via what are essentially giant computer game/AI mashups and if they get stuck all they need to do is ask their assistant what they still need to address or obtain and they can go and learn that and then get back to whatever thing they were building and the adventure they were following.


Like Gibson said, the future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed.

All those things already basically exist, the only thing is the gaming and learning right now is limited to Grand Theft Auto which is pretty much mission-based instead of being a world where your imagination allows you to do or build anything within the realm of what's possible, and it's psychology relates to that of people in poor social circumstances who need to deal with drugs, violence and criminality more than anything else. It's outlaw nature clearly makes it compelling in that way, but there's no reason you can't program adventures that involve designing buildings and cities for wannabe architects, or working in a lab working with new chemistries for those who like that, it's just a matter of uploading the data that's needed and then building a platform that allows people to express themselves and choose their own adventures.


The thing is though, it's here now as we write, but most people are just to set in their ways or busy to recognize it.

People who want to 'fix' the existing system are ignoring the obvious, which is that people and the system already designed the fix when Space Invaders and Pacman were invented. Everything after that has just been about gradually making it more and more ready for prime time.




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Just to add to what I wrote above: creating a virtual world in the cloud that resembles Grand Theft Auto but for any life experience you can imagine, so that architects and artists and anyone from young kids to pensioners can simply log on with a pair of VR goggles, a mic and some gloves to manipulate stuff with and learn or experience whatever they want, walk into any situation, be it an operating theatre, lecture hall, prison, and learn from a virtual experience that reflects everything we know about the real world.


Your education would be available for any employers to see and if interviews still existed they could simply allocate you some real world tasks in the virtual world and see how you do. Further, you would need only the one system for the whole planet because all human scientific and cultural knowledge would be continually built in to the interface.

Then it'd probably just cost a few hundred each year to outfit every person on earth with some goggles and gloves and anyone can learn by observation or experience without ever being denied access, or being unable to afford something, or being told they're not talented enough.

Your imagination and our ability to influence our own lives and environments would determine what we achieved.


Also, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that 100 years from now (if humanity's still around) we'd have robots or exoskeletons which we manipulated remotely and so 5 year olds might theoretically be building real projects in their own spaces simply because they'd have the resources and capacity to do so.

I don't think it's a coincidence that most ground-breaking tech companies are founded by 18 year olds. Maybe people think 10 year olds would turn the world to shit if given the chance, but my guess is that might not actually be true.


Having said that, I'm not an expert on human brain and psychological development, but if Mozart or Beethoven could be doing so well at such young ages and not killing themselves or others, then my instinct says that really what kids (and older people) are missing are the tools to learn whatever they want, whenever they want in a patient, realistic environment and maybe for a few hundred bucks a year you could give everyone that opportunity with a system like this.



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http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2006/07/wizard-school.html (I disagree with this, but yet another POW)






Or in other words, if it's good enough for Elon Musk, it should be good enough for anyone.  :P




On a serious note, I don't know what Sportgamma's goal is for this thread. Rational, experiment-evidence-based approach to education might work well. But in reality changing the education system wholesale is huge and pretty impossible task compounded by the fact that a lot of issues are societal/financial rather than the system itself. In other words, in a lot of cases you would produce much more results by changing mentality and economical situation of parents and kids rather than changing the school system. You are welcome to try though.


Regarding gamification and anecdotal stories of very bright kids who frequent this forum and think that their experience is applicable to 99% people out there - I don't think that's the case. Of course, bright kids could have their special schools/systems - and in some places they already do.

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The system cannot be fixed because we have moved from the Industrial Age to the knowledge age. Everything has been designed for the Industrial Age and is now harmful. No one knows what to do so the best thing to do is to stop vested interests from obstructing change and to free up resources.


I would simply end all government funding of both the medical and school systems and cancel all regulations related to both especially all government accreditations. I would ask google to make all scientific knowledge and all books available online for free and anyone who takes a single penny of government money would be required to give Google access to all their research and papers without charge. Copyright on scientific and technical knowledge would be reduced to one year and general copyright to 5 years. The reason for this is that knowledge is worth more the more people that have access to it. We now suffer from massive waste of resources by restricting access to knowledge.


It will never happen but the closer we get to this the better so expressing the goal is useful.

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You can't "design" an "education system".  That is like going to North Korea in 2005 and asking "how can we design a smartphone and an app ecosystem?".  A top down design isn't possible, especially in education, which is something that is different for every single individual on Earth.  I know how we can end this horribly top-down designed system we now have, a lot of what I has been written above is a good start. No one knows how to design an education system and if they tell you they do they are delusional.  That is like "designing an economy".


To un-design our horrible system.  You need to:


  • End compulsory schooling.
  • Close all public schools of all types.
  • Reduce or eliminate all taxes of all types, at all levels of government, by the exact amount that previously went to any aspect of "education".
  • Get rid of all rules, regulations, and laws at every level of government, in every agency, that has anything to do with education.
  • Get rid of every government agency that has anything to do with education at every level of government from the local city/town to the federal government. Fire everyone and shut it down.


That would be a good start.


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