I know that the little black kid in the slums is every bit as intelligent as the rich white kid in the suburbs so I tried to figure out why the white kid could easily end up with a scholarship to college and the black kid will be lucky to graduate. I decided that the difference is homework. The kid in the suburbs will be sent home with hours of homework and his parents will make sure he gets it done. The kid in the slums will be sent home with hours of homework and never do it. His dad disappeared years ago and his mother is working two jobs and will come home late and very tired. It is my firm belief that school work should be done at school and no one should be sent home with more school work to do. I know for a fact that many projects are done by the parents and if you run into problems with math most parents can't help you anyway so why not do your homework at school where you can get some help if you need it? Many of the younger rich kids are also enrolled in after school programs where they get even more help on their school work and so they have an additional advantage over the poor kids.
If it were up to me, school would go until 5:00 just like most adults jobs do. Your formal classes would end at 2:00 or 3:00 and then you have two or three hours of homework time. This is when you write your essays and study your math. If you run into problems there will be teachers there to help you. If you are an "A" student you can participate in other activities like school sports or band or drama etc. but if you're struggling in any of your classes you stay in study hall. This way the inner city kids who never do their homework will have the exact same opportunity to study as anyone else. Staying until 5:00 would actually help the single mother or families where both parents work (which seems to be most families now days) and for anyone who does school sports, getting home after 5:00 is already normal.
Speaking of the "A" student, I would also get rid of grades. To me, a "C" in a subject simply means you don't know the subject very well. I would only have a "pass" or a "fail". If you know your material you pass, if you don't, you keep studying until you do know it. Ben is taking calculus in college and he is struggling not because he doesn't understand calculus but because he doesn't have a good grip on the algebra. How did he ever get to college without learning algebra?
I would also get rid of grades levels such as grade one, grade two etc. and break all of the subject matter down into units or concepts that can typically be taught in a few weeks. When you pass the test for one concept you proceed to the next concept. For example, teaching the times tables could be a concept. Until you know your times tables you do not proceed to the next stage of math. For people who are struggling with a concept you can take an extended version of the concept over a longer period of time. If you find yourself struggling with a concept and you fear you may not pass you can simply switch into the extended version and take it at a slower pace. The way the system is now, if you struggle with a class you could lose an entire semester. You could also challenge the test at any time and test out of the class if you want. This would allow the brighter kids to advance quickly and it would allow the kids who are struggling to get the help that they need. Once you have passed all of the concepts then you graduate from school.
I would also get the government out of the education business. The government should set the standards but leave the teaching up to the private schools. I would do this with the voucher system. Do you realize that some states spend more than $13,000 per student per year? In a class room with 30 kids that is $390,000. The teacher gets a mere fraction of that and the rest goes to support an inflated bureaucracy. Tell me that a private school couldn't give those kids a better education for a lot less money. I would give each parent of a child a voucher that they can give to any school they want to educate their child. This would force the schools to compete with each other and the poor performing schools will simply die away. If the public schools want to compete with the private schools they're welcome to try but they will have to trim down their overhead. I firmly believe that this system will reward the good teachers with a lot more money and give the students a much better education.
--------------------trivia------------------Finnish school kids have consistently scored first place in standardized tests for the sciences even though the cost per student is a fraction of what it is in the states. This is largely due to the freedom given Finnish teachers who have a high degree of freedom in what they teach and how they teach it.