Given its origins in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that our Prussian-style school systems focus on a one-size-fits-all approach. The order of that day was to mass produce interchangeable cogs for factories, a job description that's becoming less and less common as our economy focuses on more specialized labor. Unfortunately, our school system is dead-set on producing only a single class of specialized labor, robbing students of precious job skills and forcing them down career paths to which they may be ill-suited.
The evidence of our failure is repeated on an annual basis. As we continue to spend more and more per pupil, we fall further and further behind other OCED countries in student achievement. Japan, Singapore, Belgium and others seem to be able to do a lot more with a lot less. Looking at Sweden, we might get a glimpse as to why. Prior to the beginning of the 9th grade, students are tested to see where their aptitudes lie. Those who show proficiency at academics move onto a track leading to college and information-based jobs. Others are often steered towards vocational training for fields such as auto mechanics, electricians or plumbers. These vocational tracks guarantee that students who would otherwise fail in academics will be guaranteed job skills and a strong future earning potential.
So why is it that a system that seemingly makes so much sense can't catch on in America? Blame our egalitarian roots. The United States was built upon the notion of equal opportunity for everyone, that everyone has the right to achieve their true potential. This noble ideal, however, has been perverted into meaning that everyone should have the same opportunity and outcome regardless of natural abilities. We now pretend that different people do not have different potentials or different strengths. No, all students must be pushed on an academic track with the goal of obtaining an advanced degree.
There is, however, no shame in learning a trade. A good painter can easily support a family on a single income. The same is true for a good landscaper, an excellent cook, or a skilled welder. Despite the strong earning potential of these blue-collar professions, the educational establishment seems to sneer at such jobs as demeaning or unworthy. Somehow, any profession that doesn't require a college degree is substandard in the eyes of too many (nevermind that electricians go through 4-5 years of training to learn their trade). I fail to see, however, what could be of greater worth than a job that provides for posterity regardless of if your office is a cubicle or a greasy and dusty garage.
We need to stop cheating our children out of pursuing careers of worth that best suit their abilities. Our strategy of attempting to spend ever-increasing shares of education funding to try and suppress our children's natural talents has failed for far too long for us to allow it to continue. This madness of our existing education system must be stopped. We must diversify our education system to institute new and exciting vocation programs to equip students with real job skills and thus substantially reduce our drop-out rates. Educational excellence is much more than test scores; it's equipping students with the skills to succeed once they have moved on from the K-12 system.