The 5 Reasons the United States Education System is BROKE & How to Fix It!

The United States of America – home of the brave and land of the free.

In a country that upholds freedom, it’s quite ironic how our educational system functions.

Considering the fact that roughly 2.67% of the federal funding is directed towards education, placing educational funding just ahead of transportation, housing, and environment/energy, it is no wonder that some problems just don’t ever seem to get fixed.

…especially when it pertains to education!

At some point, as a societal whole we have to ask ourselves, what are we investing in?

Most of the short comings in not just the public education system, but the educational system as a whole can be fixed in just a few simple ways.

Today, we will explore the problems with the educational system in the United States, but also simple solutions to fix some of these issues!

Opinion Piece: It's important to note that this is an opinion piece and all views are mine. That being said, this is a perspective from a Special Education teacher with a wife who had $300,000 in student loans because of the United States educational system that is fixated with grades and college.

How to Fix The Education System in America

The old adage, “If it's not broke, don't fix it,” is certainly true and in some regards it's important that as collective whole, the American system isn't THAT bad.

This is essential to point out before we explore educational issues (from a 180 perspective) so that we always keep positivity at the forefront. Keeping this in mind provides hope to fix the issues that do exist, without taking away from progress and the good!

However, that being said, here are common issues within the educational system:

1. Square Pegs in Round Holes
2. Industrial Revolution of Education
3. Testing & Educational Companies
4. Instant Gratification & Parenting
5. College Tuition Costs

Sure, maybe both sides can argue about the allocation of a few dollars. One side has one idea, and the other has another.

But based on spending, clearly, that is not the case, with 60% of funds going towards medical expenses and social security (Simple fix – be healthier and save more, notice I said simply and not easy).

In fact, all the recent political news has been nothing about the positive changes a candidate aims to make, but only about WINNING.

However, that is a rabbit hole I won't go down. What I would love to discuss today is our educational system.

Our educational system is broken.

Both literally and figuratively. But we can make it better.

And as a personal finance writer money is part of the issue, but it is not like funding has to be dramatically increased. A few problems need to be addressed.

Related: Parents, Grades Don't Matter

My Perspective as a Teacher of 11+ Years

I don't claim to be the messiah of education. I don't have all the answers nor can I say what is best for one kid, is best for another.

Truthfully, I am not the best teacher, but I am not the worst either. My strengths – charisma and relationship building – are truly undervalued because of the CONTENT/GRADES 1st approach adopted by the education system.

And when I see students struggle with grades, the apathy that ensues and also plagues our society as a whole is not really alarming.

Imagine not being good at something, yet having to it every single day because you work in an environment that PREACHES perfection over a growth mindset.

Students don't decide what is taught or how it should be taught.

Sure they could take more responsibility and when a teacher asks them to write a paragraph, they can write more than, “I D K,” down on the paper.

But many of the problems with an apathetic education starts with what I call the “Square Peg Problem.”

The idea that all students must go down one path…

Problem 1: Square peg in round holes

I'll never forget a particular student.  

He had what I liked to call lollipop “I's”. That is when the dot on your lowercase “I” was a large circle, like a lollipop, an indication that this student had hardly written more than a few words down in one sitting.

As this student sat in my 9th grade WH1 class, where I taught him about the different types of Greek Columns or the difference between the early River Valley Civilizations, I realized we were doing him a huge disservice.

You see, Sean (fake name) just loved cars and his life goal was to be a mechanic.

His behavior and family life wasn't the best, and he really lacked the skills necessary to succeed in the rigorous high school setting.

Yet we were pushing him down this academic path – that he must graduate high school and spend the next four years learning about history, math, science, and English.

In reality, he could be learning how to work on cars, how to bid a job, and how to respond to an email from a customer.

Sean could have taken a personal finance class that taught him how to use software for accounting so that maybe one day if he owned a car business he would have some experience.

But instead, he was sitting in history class learning about Rome's trade wars.

That is problem 1 – forcing all kids regardless of abilities down the same path.

Problem 2: Industrial Revolution Education


5 days a week.

40 hours a week.

You catch my drift.

Mark my words, in 20 years the perspective work world will look a lot different in my opinion.

The industrial revolution ended some 100 years ago yet we still have bells to let students know when to go from class to class. We form lines and we ask little boys full of energy to sit down at a desk for 6 hours a day.

And while yes there is merit in behaving, following rules, and learning structure, there is something to be said that our educational system is old school.

Because of this industrial type system, learning is not very integral. Just show up sit down and do what is expected. Throw in problem 3, which is standardized testing, and well kids have trouble thinking.

Then we ask kids to think and they look at teachers cross-eyed…

Related Content: Parents Don't Ruin Sports

Problem 3: Standardized Testing & Educational Companies

Khan Academy. This and that strategy. Individualized learning. Group work. Never mind individual work.

Come up with enough 3 letter acronyms and you might be able to start your own educational tech company.

Throw in some arbitrary data and you got yourself a great product.

On the other hand, you suck at testing… so what do you do?

Well, check out this SAT prep program for $700. With such an emphasis on testing parents and students know their scores must measure up. And while there is a college out there that will gladly accept your tuition dollars, emphasis on testing has never been higher.

The no child left behind act basically pushed education down a path of standardized testing to collect data to report student progress.

Quite honestly, these two, in particular, are more complex then maybe some of the other problems. A 3.1 issue might be the reliance on technology which decreases some learning opportunities.

Nonetheless, the impact of standardized testing and educational companies  

Problem 4: Instant Gratification & Parent Involvement

Helicopter parents.

Even worse… lawnmower parents.

You know, the kind that just pushes and plows straight ahead, never deviating or stopping to make sure their child actually picked up a skill or two.

There is a classic comic – education in the 1950s and education now. It shows parents asking their student about their bad grades (1950) and the parents yelling at the teacher about their child’s grades (now).

They have micromanaged environments that hurt guided discovery and learning from pain. And not physical pain. Pain in the sense that not everything goes your way.

Giving a child everything he or she desires hurts their ability to think long term, work through problems. Are we raising kids or adults?

Because if we want successful long term focused adults giving in when they are 6 or 16 can dictate a lot of what happens.  In fact research shows that so much of a foundation is created by age 7 that “rewiring” takes an extreme amount of effort.

Some of that early wiring revolves around the idea that if you fail… you won’t go to college. Which fits in perfectly with problem 5… the fact that college costs a $hit ton of money!

Problem 5: College is $hit ton of money.

student loan debt

What’s that you want to go to college? Well we can help you finance that higher education.

The college debt story stems from a few problems.

  1. You need a college degree to get a job. You were told and you believed.
  2. Colleges are aware of this, simply supply and demand.
  3. Blame the government. Pell grants used to cover up to 77% of college. In 2011 it is less than 40%.
  4. 1972 – Sally Mae aka Student Loan Marketing Association, (Did you know that Sally meant that?). Then Sally went private. She went wild and rates jumped. And student loans got HUGE.
  5. Universities. More loans, more money, more problems. The fear that if you don’t have a degree you’re doomed is simple consumer psychology.
  6. Everyone now goes to college. We don’t let 18 year olds buy a house if they don’t have a job, but they can get a student loan. Throw in swanky colleges and food, and the fact that more tuition goes to admin costs and food then actual education… well then!

And with most financial education coming from our parents, you know spending habits, how we save, the careers we choose, and so on, we honestly have no solid input about college financing.

It is very new for everyone. Heck, some people don’t even know how to start, I know we struggled to figure it all out in 2004/2005.

But most people think college is a must, so just figure it out. Even if that means being 18 and taking out globs of student loan debt.

(Maybe a 5.1 issue with financing college and student loans is the general misconception amongst many borrowers that student loans will somehow disappear or be forgiven)

Throw in the fact that terms like unsubsidized confuse most people… well you can see how lending can cause some issues.

Some of this starts with a better financial literacy within the schools – which isn't so easy to come by. I took zero personal finance classes in high school and college. Only a few handful of states require it now.

And this statement might ruffle some feathers, but instead of reading Beowulf, The Crucible, and Shakespeare – why aren't students reading books about finance and growing your skill sets?

But if college is a MUST, then there are alternative paths to go. I wish everyone could experience the 4-year college experience, but that cost is not worth the reward.

So that leads to the big question:

What is the solution?

The solution to every problem: Personal Responsibility.

Hear me out.

Hypothetically, if my future son or daughter does something wrong that is disrespectful towards an adult or another student it will simply not be tolerated.

I won't make excuses or blame the teacher, or anyone for that matter.

And sure, you might be rolling your eyes saying, “Wait until you have kids.”

But I know me. I know how my mom always made sure whether I was right or wrong, if I was even close to being wrong it was not going to be tolerated.

Let’s be honest, there are enough entitled 20 somethings running around. We don’t need it anymore.

Sure students might need to take standardized tests and there isn’t much we can do about college tuition, (actually there is if people start making a stink out of it), but that is beside the point.

You can only control what you can control in life.

And if family values are placed above grades, and if parents recognize their children’s strengths and don’t pigeon hole them, and if we realize the old formal days of education are changing – it wouldn’t even matter if funding was at 1%…

Most of the problems would be just fine.

Imagine if college graduates just lived at home for 2 years and paid off their loans.

Imagine if kids didn’t have a lid because of test scores.

And while the personal responsibility approach seems to easy, I just can’t seem to find out another solution.

So I will end with this.

Most parents and kids would choose this option:

No learning, straight A’s.


Endless learning, C’s & D’s.

Yes that is a hypothetical question it just shows we are so results-focused instead of process-focused that so much is missed.

So on this cloudy Tuesday, I hope you learned something and got something of this post. I know that I will do my part, but will you?

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Q: How can we all help improve education and financial literacy?

Josh writes about ways to make money, pay off debt, and improve yourself. After paying off $200,000 in student loans with his wife in less than four years, Josh started Money Life Wax and has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post and more! In addition to being a life-long entrepreneur, Josh and his wife enjoy spending time with their chocolate lab named Morgan, working out, helping others with their debt and recommend using Personal Capital to track your finances.