At least in the field of education, ideas are almost always better than products, and ideas can be free. The mentality that something has to be developed, produced, purchased, and then physically added to the classroom to improve education is based on path dependent thinking that material improvements are always beneficial. The reality is that the marginal benefit from new classroom technology is small…. Technological barriers are not really what is preventing better teaching- it’s the lack of good ideas and teaching strategies, and the failure to find these ideas and implement them across the country (in fact, technology can sometimes be distracting and therefore counterproductive to pedagogical goals).
And unfortunately for lazy or financially motivated policy makers , it won’t be as easy as simply throwing money at the problem. Things like changing the hours of the school day, serving healthier meals, and having more physically interactive classes to keep students engaged will make the most difference. The idea that simply extending the school day and having more “math and science” (whatever that means) will lead to better education is not realistic and intellectually lazy.
Eliminating social and psychological blocks to learning, such as feelings of inferiority or unwillingness to seek help and ask questions can make an enormous difference by getting kids more involved and excited about learning. If school age kids can see ways that they can personally improve themselves from what they are learning they will certainly be more motivated. One way to do this is by creating opportunities for field specialization, which at the latest should occur at 8th grade. By this point, the core curriculum's have essentially been repeated at least 5 years, and most kids have a good idea of their academic strengths and weaknesses.
This has a personal meaning for me too. I realized by age 8 or so that I was terrible at math. I hated it and could never seem to learn it as fast as the other kids. Although I was pretty good at writing, reading, and social studies, being forced to do math for every year of my K-12 education made me hate school as a whole. The stress and anxiety from having to take math classes (which I was terrible at) spilled over into the rest of my course work and made me hate school in general. In economics, this is called a "negative externality; a phenomenon that all economists know is detrimental to societal improvement. And all that stress turned out to be in vain, because to this day I have yet to use anything more than simple multiplication in my daily life.
I always desperately wanted math to be taught to me in some sort of relevant context. One of the reasons I had such mental block towards mathematics was that it was taught as a bunch of abstract rules and theorems that never seemed to have any real world applicability. So instead of just teaching more out of context equations, what the mathematics curriculum going forward should do is be included in real world problems. Basic personal economic education, such as balancing checkbooks, paying taxes, saving money/investments etc. is not only severely lacking from modern K-12 curricula, but if made mandatory could act as a fantastic supplement to traditional mathematics.
Forcing all students to take the exact same coursework, regardless of their talents is foolish, wasteful, and demoralizing. Instead, allowing the prolific writers, the creative artists, the inquisitive scientists, and the few and the proud mathematicians to pursue their talents and differentiate themselves will be a boon to education nationwide, especially with students in their teenage years, where identity formation is so important psychologically.
And what could bring light and warmth to those dark teenage years better than a new realization of ones future potential. In the teenage years where prevailing self-doubt and confusion so often serve to demotivate and undermine academic efforts , giving students the ability to truly see themselves having a successful career and adult life could serve to motivate classroom effort at a time where it is needed most. It is often said that the key to happiness is simply the feeling of progress. And for America’s unmotivated and faltering schoolchildren, a feeling of individual progress will lead to collective progress nationwide.