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

Agreed, especially for basic math and formulas (area of triangle, algebraic identities, arithmetic, memorizing roots, squares and primes). In timed standardized testing, it gives a ridiculously huge advantage. I could blow through SAT-type exams with time to spare and near perfect scores, not because I was “good at math”, but because being able to recognize a rotely-memorized 30-60-90 special triangle at a glance and solve the question in 2 seconds (while others would waste minutes) meant my test-time management (not ability or education) became my most valuable academic skill to succeed or fail upon.

Someday, in a magical-unicorn world where metrics evaluate intuition, insight, reason and logic, holistic schooling will have a positive benefit to later educational progress. But the way higher education is structured and measured, it is a detriment when trying to compete with traditional methods.

Our elementary school has a full time math specialist - and one for reading. We are a failing school

We are not a failing school because none of our kids learn. As my daughter’s teacher says 100% of our kid’s you expect to pass are making - and exceeding - adequate yearly progress. We are failing because we cannot force kids to learn where there is no family structure or social support to learn and where the kid himself doesn’t value learning.

We feed them breakfast and lunch so they aren’t hungry. We keep them after school to encourage them to do their homework. They get an hour of extra school a day. The district has been reimbursing tutors. Some of these kids were getting SIX HOURS A DAY of math (and this is an elementary school - we aren’t talking pre-calc) to be able to PASS THE TEST.

We won’t know if it worked until August.

Face the fact that some children will be left behind. Make school competitive from a young age, reward the ones that succeed, and start putting them into tracks well before high school. I wouldn’t execute the bottom 5% though …

How does this prove that she learned less at the second school? All it actually proves is that the first school corresponded more closely to the test than the second school did. The test and the first school’s education were probably both garbage.

I mean, I can name most of the state capitals. And the only use I’ve ever gotten out of it is in playing trivia games. If someone gives me a really fancy trivia contest and calls it a standardized test, then knowing state capitals will give me a better result in that trivia contest, but it’s still just trivia.

History dates have at least some use, since they enable you to notice that (for instance) Spain sponsored Columbus’s first expedition shortly after the Moors were mostly defeated, or that the Great Depression ended more or less with the start of the Second World War. But even there, it’s not the dates themselves that are relevant, but the relationships between them: If I were brought up in a devout Jewish community that taught history entirely in the Jewish calendar, I might not know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but I’d still have all of those relationships.

On the subject of vacations, yes, it’s true that children are always ready to learn, but who says they can’t learn anything on camping trips and hikes and bike rides and roller coasters? In fact there’s some valuable lessons that can’t be taught in schools, and there needs to be time for those lessons.

On math teaching, I think it’s important that students take math every year, but it would be perfectly reasonable to have a wide variety of math tracks. The key is that the primary thing being taught in a math class isn’t algebra or trigonometry or whatever specifically; it’s logical thinking skills. Not everyone will use any given area of math, but everyone does need to be able to view things logically.

Young kids’ brains are wired to learn language. Pour all the languages into their little heads you can get while they’re in elementary school. Don’t even bother trying to teach them science and algebra until their little heads are ready for it in high school.

I should have known there’d be more to reply to once I came back from lunch. Quoth Clothahump:

Absolutely. The real irony here is that it’s precisely this “every student advances to the next grade” policy that does leave students behind. The current method is “Oh, you didn’t pass second grade, but now we’re going on to third grade, and you just have to keep up”, when of course the student can’t, whereas not leaving students behind would mean that we keep on teaching them the second-grade material until they learn it. But back when my mom was teaching, they literally could not hold back a student a grade without the parents’ permission (and good luck finding a parent who cared enough to say anything on the subject, much less to agree to let their kid fail).

Why our school systems aren’t working:

  1. Behaviorism: when psychology was invented by Jung, Freud, et.al, BF. Skinner took his damn dogs and created the school of thought called “behaviorism”: reward good behavior, punish bad behavior. This became a fad just in time for Roosevelt to create the public school system, which also forced teacher training programs and curricula to adopt behaviorism as the main philosophy behind education.

What the research says: Learning doesn’t work under the threat of punishment, and rewards have an even worse effect on motivation.

Problems: As teachers get older, they are less likely to want to go back to school, get re-trained, or do anything differently than what they are used to. The problem though is that older teachers have the power, are the administrators, and become union leaders. Young teachers who know better don’t have any say, until they become old teachers, and the process repeats. This also affects teacher training programs: to keep students, they have to teach students what they need to know to pass state exams, which are usually made by the old guard. So even though the research and theory has changed drastically in the past 50 years, the education remains the same, or even worse as everyone become disillusioned teaching a method that everyone knows, conclusively, doesn’t work.

  1. Nobody knows how “learning” works: While we are getting close to an answer, nobody yet has a definitive cognitive model of how people learn. To me, this was the biggest failing of NCLB: if you fire everybody and bring in an outside group to “fix” everything, there’s nobody you can conceivably bring in, because nobody knows the “magic formula” for learning.

  2. Board of Education as an elected office: as anyone knows, if you want to do something practical, the last person you want doing it is a politician. What’s happened is that the people making the most crucial decisions about schools are beginning politicians who look at the BOE post as a stepping stone to a higher office. Few, if any, have teaching experience or understand enough about the field to make informed decisions. Many of them blunder their way through their term just to begin their political careers.

  3. The Blame Game: Imho, who’s ultimately responsible for children’s welfare? In the past 50 years, it’s become convenient for parents to blame schools for behavior, moral character, failure, etc. on top of a lack of education. Schools, who should know better, have little or no power over what students do outside of school, and therefore turn to TV shows, video games, rap music, etc. Imho, parents need schooling far more than their children. The complete lack of instruction about child rearing is becoming almost a natural disaster-level crisis.

  4. The Illusion of Money: If you ask a lay person about how to improve schools, the easy answer is “give them more money.” And what will this money buy? More teachers teaching antiquated and ineffective lessons? More books that students can’t read? More computers for teachers that don’t know how to use them? Throwing money at bad pedagogy is not the answer. Just look at the federal DOE budget. And then, you can also look at successful schools in low income areas.

Personally, I think that the entire society has the wrong idea of what schools are for, what they should be doing, and how they should be doing it. The whole system needs to be recreated, from teacher training programs, to parent expectations, to government funding. No one part can be changed independently, because the other parts won’t allow it. It all has to be changed, or none of it will ever change.

I daresay that at the level that she is, she won’t learn a lot about anything that you wrote. It will teach her about Jackie Robinson, since she will be forced to read a couple of books about him, and how to participate in a Living Museum. She will not be graded piecemeal, she will be in a group activity, and the group gets graded.
Also, giving the boss a presentation is valuable, and the basics of that can be picked up in about 5 minutes by sharp people, 15 by dull people. As can most of the skills that one can learn by what she will learn in the scenario given.
Participating in a living museum is a terrible, terrible way to teach, unless you just want the student to learn how to participate in one.

Best wishes,

The problem is there’s no single solution, and everyone argues about separate parts.

Take young children, and give each of them an object they’ve never seen before.

Some of them will turn it over and over. Some will put it in their mouths. Some will try to take it apart. Some will ask “what is it?” Some will shake or throw it.

Each of them is trying to learn about the object, but they’re each using a different approach.

Now take 20 of those kids when they turn 6, put them in one room, and have one adult work with them to get them all to learn the same set of things at the same rate.

My solution is a little of this and a little of that. Some memorization, some experiential, some storytelling. Mix and match. Some kids will be bored during some parts, but the goal is to try to connect with every kid using at least one method.

We’ve had this for four years now in our school - a full time math specialist and pull out math classes. We will see if after four years they are going to be closing the school in August.

Some of our kids were getting math six hours a day to pass the NCLB tests. Many of them still don’t get it.

(We also have a full time reading specialist. All classrooms spend one hour a week with her, the rest of her time is spent tutoring).

Do you have an expert in math, or an expert in teaching math?

This is another issue, imho: the lay person thinks a math expert and a math teacher are the same thing.

Teachers should NOT be government employees. A school district should hire a contractor to supply it with teachers.

My irony meter asplode. Poor Zachary Taylor has been wiped from the face of the earth.

This is probably the big one, in my opinion. Exercises need to be properly motivated in order to be interesting. That’s why, in my conjecture, we have so many philosophy majors in the first few years of college - philosophy problems, in the fuzzier sense of “Why is there evil?” (as opposed to the harder-core modal logic and such), are things students want to understand and have the tools to work on independently.

Agreed. Without much in the way of evidence, I’m envisioning a system in which the Education major is replaced with a short, minor-length (~18 credit hours?) pedagogy certificate that gets appended to a real degree. I think that strikes the balance between on the one hand knowing something about pedagogical techniques, and, on the other hand, having an education in a core area of knowledge.

That’s what we have in secondary education, and have had for at least twenty years. All the states I know of do it this way for secondary ed. Anyone have a different experience?

Remember that there is a considerable lag between the teachers you had X years ago, who were themselves in school 20 years before you had them, and the teachers entering the field today.

That said, I agree that advanced degrees in education are, at best, useless.

We have someone who has her undergrad degree in math and a M.S. in math education.

Until parents have a vested interest in their student’s results, a lot of plans won’t be effective. So my idea is to make school taxes based on student grades.

For example, everyone would be some base amount. If you didn’t have children in school or were a business, you would pay the base amount.

At the end of the school year, an additional amount would be assessed based on the student’s grades. So if the student made a B, the parent’s would pay an additional 1%, a C would be 2%, etc. Failure would be 10%.

This would be in addition to a lot of the other good ideas mentioned in the thread (vocation ed, etc.)

The problem I see with that is it creates a very powerful incentive for students to cheat and for parents to constantly petition teachers for better grades. Both of those things already happen (you should have heard the conversations my mom had with angry parents who would not accept that their kid just wasn’t doing “A” work) but this would exacerbate it.

You know, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that.

You definitely need parent involvement - but regressive taxation is not necessarily the way to go about it. As I said above, we are a failing school.

100% of the kids who you’d expect to pass are passing - i.e. the one’s whose parents have money and who don’t have special needs. My kids have no issues - they blow the top off the statewide scores. In fact, our AVERAGE score is higher than the state average score, and higher than our district average score. But despite having an average higher than the state, we are still a failing school

The kids who aren’t passing are the ones where their parents don’t speak English. They work two jobs. They are single parent households. They are already on free or reduced lunch - there is no money in the family to pay to fail.

Plus there would be even more pressue to “dumb down” course content and inflate grades placed on teachers.

geez, 6 hours per day of math? That’s a pretty good way to toss any chance that the kids will actually learn to enjoy math, or learning.

As a parent who sent three kids through what was once the top high school in the country (and is now #52 on the list) I think there are a few things that would have improved things:

math tracks, yes, not every student needs more than basic skills, algerbra and some statistics.

History books that have been updated in the last 30 years, most tend to stop right before the Vietnam war. My kids were learning exactly the same U.S. history that I did ages before them. If you want kids to get interested in history teach it backward-here’s what’s happening today, and this is what brought us here, and this, and this…

Later start time. Everyone is smarter and better prepared for learning after a good sleep, but they never get one because they stay up so late doing all the useless homework. 8 hrs of homework per night is just stupid.

Please please start teaching hard line writing skills. If your grammar sucks your school has failed you.

I went to a very 70’s “school without failure” where every summer we got a letter inviting us to “explore the next grade level” for the following year, and we got to take enrichment classes like trampoline or photography. As a result I didn’t learn fractions until middle school because when I had the chance in 4th grade I wasn’t interested and hung out in the tree house instead. Nothing bad happened because I learned fractions later than some other kids in my district, but I did learn to really enjoy being at school and that served me well down the road. I also learned how to figure out what my interests and strengths are, and those things are still serving me well today.

Maybe instead of 6 hrs per day of math to get the kid to pass a test we could try offering 6 hrs of math to the kids who have discovered that they love math, and something different for the kids who can’t stand it.