What changes really need to happen in the way US primary & secondary students are taught?

I get the impression in reading and listening to lot of parents, educators, and employers dealing with the products of the US public high school system, that US public school education in 2010 is kind of an inefficient mess, with tons of money and effort spent on testing to tests, trying to mainstream seriously remedial and special needs students, and herculean efforts spent trying to bring up the back end of the bell curve, but without much significant progress in the overall academic and intellectual quality of the students.

If this true?

If it is true what needs to change?

Every year, the bottom 5% of the class should be executed.

Get rid of the whole summer vacation thing; I don’t see why young kids (who can soak up huge amounts of knowledge) should be off school for 3 months each year. There’s still plenty of room for holidays but learning should be a year-round process.

While I agree that summer vacation could be shortened by up to 50% (with some shorter breaks scattered throughout the year) it serves other purposes besides giving students a break. It enables schools to do all sorts of heavy maintenance & remodeling that would be too disruptive during the school year, it gives students who fail a subject or two a chance to make up for it before the next year without falling behind, and faculty can (at least in theory) use the time to upgrade their qualifications and/or do continuing education. It also gives teenagers a chance to work (up to fulltime) without interfearing with their schooling. When I was in high school I worked fulltime during the summer as well as part-time during the school year.

I’d push back on some of those things. The local high school by me did a bunch of major construction and they did it during the school year (I don’t think they had much choice - nothing beyond painting a room seems to be doable in less than 3 months anyhow). Temporary classrooms were set up, some students might have gone to other schools for a year, etc. They worked around it.

I don’t think that we should set our educational system up with a massive hole in it in order to accomodate a small number of students who fail some classes. I say this having failed a math class when I was in 8th grade and taking a summer class to catch up later. Remember that the point of this is to figure out how to make our educational system better so we don’t have as many kids failing to begin with. If it meant, for example, that I had to take a double-dose of math classes one semester, that’s workable (they’re not all literal prerequisites for one another - you can certainly take algebra and geometry at the same time, for instance).

My mom was an English teacher in high school and junior high school, she did continuing education during the year, not just over summer break. People in other professions do continuing education, earn graduate degrees and so forth while working their regular jobs too.

While I think that teenagers can certainly learn a lot from summer jobs I think that on the whole we would be better served by having more of them graduate with a better education. College students work while going to class fulltime, too. With a more continuous school year there’d even be room for “on the job” learning courses.

I think the biggest problem is that you’ve got people treating education like a corporation…but then not having any idea how to run said corporation. At least, this is the impression I get from the majority of my friends in education (high school, if that makes a difference).

I don’t necessarily believe education should be treated like a business; philosophically, that sort of bothers me. At the same time, I understand the need for a business aspect, so I’ll just leave this bit alone.

But even if we do treat education like a business, the business is so bass ackwards that it’s bound to fail. I look at 10 friends who are teachers and of them, only one wants to be a teacher. That sounds silly, but only one actually wants to spend her life teaching high school English, as that’s what she’s always wanted to do, she’s happy with her 50-something-a-year salary, benefits, etc. Every single other one of those friends wants to move into administration. They treat teaching as a stepping stone to some 100k$ a year job, not as a means to educate kids. Most of these folks are good enough teachers, I suppose, but their focus is entirely on moving up the ladder. In fact, one was having me help her study for some interview that was part of her Master’s in Academic Admin. Not one single question had anything to do with the value of education or how to educate to the maximum potential-- it was all the politics of promotion and how to work the system. Seriously. I was horrified.

Back to the business idea: in a good corporation, there is always a place for upward movement- but the fact is, that only one person can be the CEO of McDonalds. But for the company to succeed, they need thousands of low level fry cooks and janitors and landscapers. Not everybody is going to be an executive and not everybody should be an executive. But looking at my friends, only one of them wants to do that “lower” job (and I should say, I don’t think there’s anything lowly at all about teaching- it’s incredibly honorable, one of the hardest jobs in the world, and I have nothing but admiration for the folks I know who do teach)-- everybody else is clawing their way to the top of the heap, with virtually no regard for the value of education and what it means for the kids.

Is the political aspect avoidable? Of course not. I’m not so naive as to suggest that, but my point is just that it’s a little bit horrible to think that education has become a big huge political mess, with many of those involved only interested in making money.

Also, there definitely is a problem with things like No Child Left Behind, teaching to the test, lack of money, etc. But I think fixing those things is just treating the symptom, not the disease. And the disease is this whole on going devaluing of actual education.

I would love to see added days to the year but it would be very expensive to pay the teachers and all the other workers who would need to be there.

I see a bigger problem with having to parent in the schools on top of teaching. When my daughter was in school I recognized that the teachers had no time for teaching because they were so busy dealing with behavior issues on top of children who tried hard but were so sleepy or hungry or overstimulated. How can schools handle that? I don’t think they can. Maybe smaller class size? Maybe get rid of “grade levels” and advance children by what they’ve accomplished academically? I mean at some point they have to draw the line with the whole self-esteem building. Giving all the kids trophies in sports is as ridiculous as advancing children based on their age and not their skill level in individual subjects.

I could write on this all night long but I don’t have the education to know why my ideas aren’t feasible or may be detrimental to educating children. I only had to educate my own child, not millions.

Over the course of my year-long English Teaching seminar, we were taught four modern methods of teaching writing. Two of them involved making no corrections to student work until the final draft because it would “inhibit the creative process” and, of course, damage self-esteem. Both methods were big on student work-shopping and group work too, the goal of which is apparently to help foster teamwork rather than independence.

Our professor told us that most teaching trends take a decade or more to run their course. Most of my career after college has been in educational assessment, so I say the following with confidence: it’s high time these trends run their course. By my approximation close to 10% of high school kids can’t even spell the word “maybe” because no one has ever bothered to teach them proper spelling. And I’m not sure what the writers were on about when they talked about “creativity,” but perhaps the inability of some students (fortunately only 5% or so) to piece together a coherent sentence was what they had in mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of creative writing, but the place for that isn’t in word usage, grammar, sentence structure/paragraphing, or basic syntax.

Anyway, I’d like to see more instructions on how to write rather than for teachers to worry about damaging students by correcting them. It’d also be nice if they did more work on their own, so teachers can tell who is doing well, and who needs more instruction. We shouldn’t allow schools to churn out tenth graders who think mabye is a proper spelling, that the opposite of “to lower” is “to hirer,” that all words that end in S take an apostrophe, or that all conjunctions need to be preceded by a period…

Things I’d like to see:

  1. Better methods of assessment. “Data driven” is all the rage these days, and I agree in theory that used data to determine best practices is a great idea, but GIGO is a problem. Most assessments of student learning are deeply flawed: they only sorta test what they are supposed to test, and even that is only sorta what the teachers actually teach. Add that to smallish and irregular sample sizes, and you get a mess (I’ve seriously had to write up a report on why my 2nd period class had a 10% higher success rate on objective X than my 6th period class on one test and explain how my teaching was different and how I can replicated the more successful approach later in the day).

  2. Lower expectations. (two parts)

a. Lower for each class. I don’t know about in other states, but in TX we take the “kitchen sink” approach to expectations. I am supposed to teach them EVERYTHING. It’s like they included anything anyone on the committee thought worth learning at all, with no regard to finite time and resources. So everyone teaches what they personally feel is most important. This leads to a lot of the problems with standardized assessment.

b. Lower for each diploma. Everyone wants to sound like they have high expectations. So we now demand that every high school student take 4 years of math, starting with Algebra. A lot of kids are simply not ready for algebra at 14. They crash and burn hopelessly, and have to take it again the next year. But they can’t wait on geometry, because they have to get in 4 to graduate, so they take it at the same time. A kid who couldn’t pass algebra is now in two math classes. Maybe they stumble through them, but now they have to take algebra 2, which they can’t begin to understand, and god help us when these kids have to pass pre-cal to graduate. The whole thing is a mess. It would be much, much better if we could stretch Algebra I over 2 years, then geometry as juniors, and Alg II as seniors. Would these kids really be poorly served if that’s all the math they had?

  1. Real consequences. Right now, we have no buttons to deal with kids–no real incentives beyond strength of personality.

  2. This is particular to NCLB and districts with large numbers of immigrants: kids who come here after their 13th birthday need an extra year to finish high school! Right now, if a kid comes to our school from Mexico, never having been in school at all since he was 8 years old, works his ass off, passes all his classes and the same graduation exam as all the other kids, but takes an extra semester to do so, he’s a drop-out on our records. We actually are better off driving him to drop out earlier, before there is a chance of him failing the state assessment.

Due to the same non-disclosure agreement that means I don’t share funny answers here I’m also not allowed to say which states we do assess, but we don’t do TX. (and now I’m kind of glad of that…) Do you mind me asking what format it is: open response, aka written, or multiple choice? Many states do a combination of the two, but it’s rarely a 50-50 split.

State assessments are MC for social studies, mostly MC but with a handful of calculation open response grids for math and (I believe) science, and MC + 3 short essays + one long narrative essay for ELA.

But I am not just talking about state assessments. I am also talking about classroom level assessments–we are supposed to be moving towards standardizing those per school or district, and we have district benchmark tests. These are NOT sound assessments. I know. I write them! They are prepared by teachers, yes, but not by people trained standardized assessment. But they want us to rely on that data like it’s gospel. We need better assessments every step of the way. I actually think the state ones are pretty good. They should be. They cost millions. They pay teachers $20/hour to write district assessments in the summer, and they get what they pay for.

  1. Most primary school textbooks are a huge waste of money and belong deep in the trash can. Some foundation ought to sponsor a series of basic, free textbooks that anyone can access online, download, and order printed versions of for the cost of materials.

  2. Do whatever is necessary to put at least one real math teacher in every primary school. Make math a pull-out class like art or music, if necessary. Most primary school teachers have no interest or aptitude for math. They think math is essentially arithmetic - repeated rote operations stacked higher and deeper a la long division. That completely misses the point of mathematics and in these days of inexpensive-to-free calculators is a waste of time. Yes, kids need to know the times tables, but for God’s sake don’t make them do 243,453/563 by hand. The kids, and probably the teachers, don’t even know why long division works - it’s just a series of operations to them. Teach them that it’s about 240,000/600 =approx 400. The calculator can do the rest. Then go on to the really important basic concepts of geometry, probability, algebra, and calculus. You don’t have to be a genius to understand calculus and you certainly don’t have to have spent eight years doing increasingly convoluted arithmetic problems to progress to algebra.

Some kids just need a break because they hate school. I might have killed myself if schooling went on uninterrupted for years.

If you read John Taylor Gatto, the system needs to be torn down completely and rebuilt, because it was not designed to optimally-educate the individual. Rather, it was designed to create obedient workers. Hence the emphasis on schedules, punishemnt, standardization of behavour, and colouring inside the lines only.

I’m not sure how much I believe him, but I do know that school messed me up bigtime. I am not an optimal worker. :slight_smile:

  1. Longer days, Saturday classes, more classes in the summer: Any combination of these three would help.

  2. I know it’s old-fashioned and cruel and hopelessly outdated, but I still can’t see what is so bad about Rote Memorization for some subjects: States and capitals, Countries+continents+capitals, multiplication tables, history dates, etc. I think this is especially good for younger children, then as they grow older then you start to teach them what to do with this knowledge. Teaching them how to think when they don’t know anything is kind of backward, imho.

My little girl (2nd grade) had to perform in a “Living Museum” exhibit (She was Jackie Robinson) where she had to do the following:

  1. Make an invitation to the event, highlighting her subject.
  2. Dress as the subject.
  3. Write a 1-minute speech about the subject (include date of birth, death, quote from subject, highlight of life).
  4. Read two books about the subject.
  5. Put together a posterboard about the subject.
  6. And for one-hour, participate in the “Living Museum” where she had to recite her speech repeatedly as people went from kid-to-kid.

And for the dozens of hours in which she worked on this, she could have been learning her States and Capitals. Or multiplication tables. Or whatever. Instead, it’s like she’s learning how to make presentations for the boss.

Although I’m a science oriented person, I actually agree with this. Most kids are forced through at least pre-calc by the end of high school. Unless they’re moving on to science or engineering, when are they ever gonna use that? Really, the only math you need in the real world is basic arithmetic and some idea of statistics. If the kid does well in math then let them advance, but the way high school math is taught apparently amounts to a waste of time based on what I see in my college level course. If the students need to learn how to graph a function or analyze angles, they can learn these skills as it directly applies to whatever career they end up in; learning them in the abstract is only useful or interesting to mathematicians.

Instead, the more advanced math classes should be taught like what math really is: a tool for logical reasoning. Kids grow to hate math because math class forces them to memorize equations for an exam. You don’t just tell a student the area of a triangle is one half base times height, let them derive it and figure it out. Go over some of the old geometry problems of Archemedes. Talk about the history of math, and some of the wacky characters involved. Why is pi such a big deal? And so on.

That’s a pretty valuable skill these days.

Memorization is totally appropriate for younger kids (not for older ones). They like to memorize. How many 6-yo’s do you know who can name every dinosaur or every Pokemon or whatever? All of them! You might as well use that power for good and have them spend a little time memorizing parts of speech and times tables.

Otherwise–heck, I don’t know how to fix the school system, that’s why I homeschool.

Yeah, lets keep their noses to the grindstone. We don’t get to enjoy life, why should our kids? :rolleyes:

Apart from multiplication tables, why does anybody need to know any of that stuff? Historians don’t memorize lists of dates. Geographers and politicians and generals don’t need to have states and capitals memorized. It is useless mind-numbing drill.

This sounds like an excellent educational activity to me. I expect she learned a lot (although maybe if her dad was grumbling about how useless it was while she was working on it, she might do her best to forget everything she learned).

Boring and useless. A sure fire way to make most kids hate learning.

As has already been noted, that itself is a very useful, practical skill for the modern workplace. But, quite apart from that, the activity will have taught her a lot about history, organizing her thoughts on paper, organizing her work and time, speaking in public, graphical layout, etc etc., and there is a reasonable chance that she might actually have enjoyed it, been motivated by it, and come to like and value school a little bit more (at least if her dad wasn’t openly running it down in front of her).

Perhaps a lot of the problem isn’t in the schools.

You’re kidding me, right? You think the knowing of basic facts is irrelevant? You think that the purpose of second-grade level education is to provide children with “practical skill(s) for the modern workplace”? Why don’t we teach them Powerpoint, while we’re at it - I’m sure Sophie’s mad Office 2007 skillz will be useful when she gets her first real job… in about 2023. :rolleyes:

Since you made this personal, what, pray-tell, are your little dearies thinking about if they don’t actually know anything? If the concept of “Springfield, capital of Illinois” is as vague and incomprehensible as the concept of “12th President, Abraham Lincoln”, then how are people who don’t know either fact going to connect the two in any way?

My God, it’s thinking like that which gives Jay Leno’s Streetwalking segment such ammunition. :rolleyes:

Lastly, how dare you make such condescending remarks about my relationship with my daughter. You don’t know me, you don’t know her, you don’t know us, and as far as I’m concerned, somebody who approaches a discussion such like this with such vicious attacks on an unknown persons family is not worth listening to, especially when they admit that children knowing facts is less important than their going through corporate prep.

Please, do not bother to apologize. I doubt you have it in you, but if you do, please don’t.