11/03/2013 05:57 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

If You Could Start an Education System From Scratch, What Would It Look Like?

What would you design if public education were only now being launched for the first time in our state or country? Assume, for the moment, that you could fiat whatever you wanted into existence. And really assume that nothing has existed before, so you aren't trying to change an existing public education system. You are starting from scratch. Some questions that come to mind follow.
  • When would you have high schools start and end their day, given what we now know about a) when teenagers are most alert; and b) what happens to teenagers during their largely unsupervised hours between 3-6 pm? Okay, that one wasn't fair--I've obviously got an agenda!
Let me try again, this time with nothing but blue sky in front of you.... Remember, you are starting from scratch, and designing a system based on the needs of kids!
  • Would you start public education at kindergarten? Or earlier? Or later?
  • Would your public education system assign homework? For what grades? And why?
  • How would you organize the school calendar, and why?
  • How would you assess progress or performance, or would you do so at all? Why or why not?
  • How would you distribute resources across the system, assuming that you had a finite amount?
  • And maybe most importantly, what would be the purpose of your public education system? To prepare kids to govern? To give them the tools for success in career? In college? All of the above?

I wish we could find the space to wrestle with these questions more often, as I think that the system we would build based on the answers to these questions, and others like them, is actually what we want.