Something I scribbled on a piece of scratch paper in a hotel room last spring:
"Education system should provide youth with ascending status that never has ending points that transition from high to low status, such as grade 12 in high school to freshman in college. Grade 12 should lead to grade 13, and so on. College should not offer any courses that were taught in high school, as that nullifies the point of even having a high school system."
Where did that come from? Well, it snapped into my mind, very suddenly, so I made sure to transfer it to paper, lest I forget it. Twenty years ago, while on break at work, I was questioned by someone as to how I would improve the education system, after I stated that "there is a better way to do it". I didn't have an answer right then and there, and I thought about it (unconsciously) for many years. The answer came without warning and without any work on my part.
I believe the first paragraph contains part of the answer that could solve the education problem in the U.S. There is a great deal of redundancy, as evident in the fact that college offers many of the courses that were required in high school. Since people coming out of high school obviously took those courses, why do they have to take them again? The answer is almost certainly related to money. If colleges can make people repeat courses from high school, and pay for them, then they get more money. This also explains why, after declaring a degree, one is required to take credit hours not related to the degree. It gives the college or university more money.
Another part of the answer is related to status. Status should go up as one ages, yet, right when one is legally declared an adult, assuming they completed high school, they find that they are reduced to low status upon entering college. Why does the name game of freshman -> sophomore -> junior -> senior occur all over again? After finishing high school at grade 12, you should go up in status, to grade 13. You should feel as if you have definitely made progress and are not reduced to the starting gate again. At grade 13, you should be granted access to classes completely unavailable to anyone at grade 12 or lower. Furthermore, by the time one reaches grade 13, introductory classes would be a thing of the past. All the fundamentals and introductions would've been taught in grades 1-12.
There is one last point I want to make and that concerns progression. Traditionally, age and grade are closely related. If you know what grade someone is in, then you also know their age, and vice versa. I'm going to throw this out there:
5% or less of all people should successfully make it to grade 12 without being held back.
I would have not been in that top 5%. Based on what I know about myself, I would have made it to grade 12 around age 20 or 21. Bear in mind that we are now talking about a different kind of system, in which there are grades only and no such terminology as "high school" and "middle school" and so on.
To progress through this system, which consists purely of grades, one must prove mastery of the material to make it to the next grade. You have to literally "make the grade".
Now I'm going to throw this out there:
95% or more of all people will not make it to grade 12 by age 18.
And this is completely ok. Everyone is different and learns at different speeds and in different ways. IQs are all over the place. People are unequal. Why do we expect EVERYONE to progress at the same rate?
In summary, the education system needs to eliminate redundancy, allow progression when it is earned, and not reduce status.