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Subject: How to fix US schools? rss

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Report: Half of U.S. schools fail federal standards
http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2011-12-15/scho...


Why are US schools so bad?
What can be done to fix them?
What are other countries doing that works better than the US?

I've wondered this for a long time. I'm hoping people here who know more than I about this can enlighten me.


I'm less inclined than some people to pin all the blame on bad teachers. My wife has been a public school teacher, and I know they often get bad rap. Most teach because they care about kids. They work long hours and spend their own money to supplement their meager classroom budgets. They take a lot of crap from parents, and often deal with bureaucracy that takes time away from actual teaching.

Just giving schools more money isn't the only answer, I'm sure, but I have to think that class size does matter.

 
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Blame it on bad parents who want us to view the Education system as a service industry and the students as customers.
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Jeff Brown
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Very simple, all you have to do is fix families.

Schools will then fix themselves.
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I don't think it's really the schools that are the issue, it's the kids. Seriously, I think Americans have this mindset and we are raising our children with it.

There is nothing wrong with the schools. I know kids with drive and ability to work hard and excel academically and I know some kids that could not care less. Both of those kids go to the same exact school.

It's easy for parents to blame the system, and yet never look in the mirror for the true reasons.
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Paul Doherty
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tesuji wrote:
Report: Half of U.S. schools fail federal standards
http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2011-12-15/scho...


Why are US schools so bad?
What can be done to fix them?
What are other countries doing that works better than the US?


I'd suggest it has a lot to do with other countries weaning their school populations to only college-bound students after 8th or 9th grade. After that you're no longer comparing like with like when you compare against the USA.
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Paul Doherty
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MWChapel wrote:
I don't think it's really the schools that are the issue, it's the kids. Seriously, I think Americans have this mindset and we are raising our children with it.

There is nothing wrong with the schools. I know kids with drive and ability to work hard and excel academically and I know some kids that could not care less. Both of those kids go to the same exact school.

It's easy for parents to blame the system, and yet never look in the mirror for the true reasons.


Agreed - if a teacher prepares and delivers the same lesson to 100 different students and 20 of them get A's and the rest do less well, whose fault is it that those others achieved/learned less?
 
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Obviously if the schools are failing federal standards, it's time to get federal regulation out of the schools. Let each tiny parochial entity worry about schooling its own kids, and pray.
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pdoherty wrote:
MWChapel wrote:
I don't think it's really the schools that are the issue, it's the kids. Seriously, I think Americans have this mindset and we are raising our children with it.

There is nothing wrong with the schools. I know kids with drive and ability to work hard and excel academically and I know some kids that could not care less. Both of those kids go to the same exact school.

It's easy for parents to blame the system, and yet never look in the mirror for the true reasons.


Agreed - if a teacher prepares and delivers the same lesson to 100 different students and 20 of them get A's and the rest do less well, whose fault is it that those others achieved/learned less?


We also need to disabuse people of the notion that all 100 could get an A. Due to luck of the draw, some will just not be able to achieve as much as others. Seems like a dipshit thing to do is blame the teacher.
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Ken
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Methinks you need to focus a bit more on what they're really talking about: the fact that the standard that's being applied focuses on improving test scores in a formulaic fashion:

The article in the link wrote:
The numbers indicate what federal officials have been saying for more than a year - that the law, which is four years overdue for a rewrite, is "too crude a measure" to accurately depict what's happening in schools, said Jack Jennings, president of the Washington, D.C.-based center. An overhaul of the law has become mired in the partisan atmosphere in Congress, with lawmakers disagreeing over how to fix it.


The reason these schools are "failing" is that they aren't meeting annual yearly progress (AYP) targets. Now for some of these schools, that actually means that they aren't moving in the right direction. But for many of them, it means that we're applying a metric in too broad a fashion. If I pull up my kids' school district, the majority of the schools missed the AYP target. Except they're already meeting or exceeding standards for north of 85% of their students, generally.

I agree with you 100% that just giving schools money isn't the answer. But neither is our BS testing scheme that replaces local control over how to teach with a test with such severe consequences for kids & school districts that you're an idiot if you aren't "teaching to the test." We need programs that help districts do the things that will help performance for them. In lots of cases, this has more to do with community outreach, engagement, and issues that have nothing to do with the schools in the first place.

Test results are only good if they provide you with data that helps point you to solutions. These don't.
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The specific article I posted talks about how No Child Left Behind has been a failure.

But schools sucked before No Child Left Behind.

Not everyone will get an A if you grade on a curve. But surely we can design a system to better help those kids who get B, C, D, F grades.

And how many of those A students are coasting, not really being challenged, and even bored? We are wasting their potential too.

 
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tesuji wrote:
But schools sucked before No Child Left Behind.


No, not so much. Some of them sucked. What we've managed to do is increase the suckage quotient by making schools that actually don't suck look like they do in a fairly spectacular fashion.

Quote:
Not everyone will get an A if you grade on a curve. But surely we can design a system to better help those kids who get B, C, D, F grades.


I think this is the wrong focus as well. It's not about the grades the kids get, it's about whether or not they're actually learning effectively. And, in the case of measuring schools, learning a curriculum that we think properly arms them for the future. I don't care if there's a class of kids that doesn't get a single "A." I care that the kids are actually learning. More importantly, I'd like to see them learn how to learn and think critically about things.

Education isn't "just" about grades and raw knowledge. At least, I don't think it should be. It's also about learning problem solving, research, and thinking. It's about social skills and interaction. We help mess up the whole equation when we pretend that you can measure the breadth of "education" with a test on knowledge.
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Rich Shipley
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The entire model of the US school system is flawed. It needs to be blown up. It is not based on helping students achieve their potential - it is all about making them fit in the correct box and conform. Then we wonder why our people aren't innovative thinkers.

This whole "everyone should go to college" bullshit is making it worse. All it did was make college into high school and make the lower grades even more brain dead.
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MWChapel wrote:
I don't think it's really the schools that are the issue, it's the kids. Seriously, I think Americans have this mindset and we are raising our children with it.

There is nothing wrong with the schools. I know kids with drive and ability to work hard and excel academically and I know some kids that could not care less. Both of those kids go to the same exact school.

It's easy for parents to blame the system, and yet never look in the mirror for the true reasons.


Lake Woebegone ... all the children are above average. Parents simply cannot understand that much of the responsibility of success or failure lies with them, and not the schools. Regrettably, some children are not going to be above average (and none are going to be above average unilaterally).

And it goes further to the economy at large. I think we all get the importance of a secondary education, but the whole mindset of everybody being capable enough and deserving enough and "needing" to go to college (even if they have no interest) has escalated to the point where demand (and other factors) have increased expenses to absurd levels. This undermines the degrees of those who wanted to go to college (and "needed" to for their eventual career) and left those who never really wanted to go to college (or who pursued something that didn't "need" a degree) with an immense amount of debt and career prospects no greater than if they'd never gone (well, worse, as they've lost four years).

The answer? Stop making technical training and apprenticeships seem like you've given up on any sort of success (Germany has a strong manufacturing economy because their trade education is still robust). Parents need to stop raising their kids with a mentality that they deserve to have every opportunity open to them (and even accommodated) by society / government / whatever. When you raise children in this manner and then force schools and such to accommodate this sort of perspective, they will inevitably be "failing" due to that.
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SpaceGhost wrote:
pdoherty wrote:
MWChapel wrote:
I don't think it's really the schools that are the issue, it's the kids. Seriously, I think Americans have this mindset and we are raising our children with it.

There is nothing wrong with the schools. I know kids with drive and ability to work hard and excel academically and I know some kids that could not care less. Both of those kids go to the same exact school.

It's easy for parents to blame the system, and yet never look in the mirror for the true reasons.


Agreed - if a teacher prepares and delivers the same lesson to 100 different students and 20 of them get A's and the rest do less well, whose fault is it that those others achieved/learned less?


We also need to disabuse people of the notion that all 100 could get an A. Due to luck of the draw, some will just not be able to achieve as much as others. Seems like a dipshit thing to do is blame the teacher.


Yes ... if all 100 students get an A the only thing you've accomplished is that everybody feels mediocre and any outside observer has no metric to distinguish the students. The capable students think they're worse than they are (perhaps) but also the incapable students think they're good at the subject matter. And the grade as a metric itself becomes totally meaningless ... just a random, arbitrary seratonin boost ... sort of like a thumbs-up or something on some internet website cool
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Jim C
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The fact that we have two diametrically opposed federal programs: "No Child Left Behind," and "Race to the Top," should tell you all you need to know about the effectiveness of our Dept. of Education.
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Eric "Shippy McShipperson" Mowrer
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One of many problems is that we now care more about this caricature of "self-esteem" that we've created than we do about preparing children for the real world. To protect their tender little feelings, we combine all ranges of intelligence, aptitude, social skills, etc into the same classroom. Only we're not protecting them. The result is a bunch of kids that are under prepared to face criticism and merit-based rewards and opportunities. They're taught to some level other than what they really needed (either above or beneath their ability). Bring back the advanced, rudimentary, and learning disabled classes and let teachers stop worrying about coming up with 12 different lesson plans (including different homework and projects and follow up) for a single class of 30 kids.

Another problem is that giving money to schools isn't usually explicitly broken down into books, equipment, teachers, and programs. Schools in Oregon have all kinds of programs that provide dubious value, especially when compared to the predicted (in my mind) affect of spending that money on more teachers or better payed teachers. I see all kinds of pointless programs such as rules that teachers have to get a masters degree if they want to teach more then X years. What kind of stupid crap is that? Way to force a bunch a good teachers out of the system, prevent other good ones from entering, and generally waste everyone's time and money, Oregon. It's a worthless feel-good program that provides little to no benefit to students (if not even a net harm to students).

All that said, I'll be the first to admit that it's a difficult problem to solve. Objectively measuring how well schools are teaching children is much more difficult than you'd think. For one thing, I don't think standardized testing is inherently evil, nor is 'teaching to the test' if it's a good test.
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ejmowrer wrote:
All that said, I'll be the first to admit that it's a difficult problem to solve. Objectively measuring how well schools are teaching children is much more difficult than you'd think. For one thing, I don't think standardized testing is inherently evil, nor is 'teaching to the test' if it's a good test.


I don't think it's a difficult problem, actually. Eliminate the federal Dept. of Education as an oversight body, hand the problem of education back to the states and local governments, and worry about sorting out the financial mess that's actually putting massive pressures on schools because municipalities can't afford to pay for them adequately.

Then it's a matter of the local governments and communities actually working together to get their schools in order to meet their needs.

"The problem" is that we're treating education as though there's some "magic curricula" at a state or federal level that somehow teaches all of the "right stuff" for our kids to succeed in the world. Which is dumb because the people that succeed are usually ones that learn how to think critically.

You don't teach kids in my town the same way you teach kids in South LA or Beverly Hills. Which means the more we push defining "success" away from the local community, the less successful we're likely to be.
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perfalbion wrote:
You don't teach kids in my town the same way you teach kids in South LA or Beverly Hills. Which means the more we push defining "success" away from the local community, the less successful we're likely to be.


Can't agree with this one. People don't learn differently depending on where they live. Everyone learns differently, so the more techniques that are available the better. And having each local district figure this out for themselves just makes for lots of differently bad education.
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perfalbion wrote:
I don't think it's a difficult problem, actually. Eliminate the federal Dept. of Education as an oversight body, hand the problem of education back to the states and local governments, and worry about sorting out the financial mess that's actually putting massive pressures on schools because municipalities can't afford to pay for them adequately.
OMG LiBeRtArIaNiSm!!!!11!!! Quick, someone kill it before it spreads its awful disease of freedom!

rshipley wrote:
Can't agree with this one. People don't learn differently depending on where they live. Everyone learns differently, so the more techniques that are available the better. And having each local district figure this out for themselves just makes for lots of differently bad education.
... or lets good schools be good instead of dragging them down with the rest of the one-size-fits-all failures.
You say to-may-to... etc.

We just need to figure out what we want schools to be. Do we want schools to be:
A) A daycare for 2-income families
B) pre-college
C) a vo-tech program to learn a trade
D) a place for every kid to receive a classically well rounded liberal education
E) a socialization exercise
F) a place to build self-esteem for whatever the kid decides to do with their life

The answer is not "let's throw more money and regulation at the problem." We've tried that, and the results were even worse educational outcomes WHILE we all had our teachers teaching to the tests! Argh!



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andrewfoerster wrote:

Yes ... if all 100 students get an A the only thing you've accomplished is that everybody feels mediocre and any outside observer has no metric to distinguish the students. The capable students think they're worse than they are (perhaps) but also the incapable students think they're good at the subject matter. And the grade as a metric itself becomes totally meaningless ... just a random, arbitrary seratonin boost ... sort of like a thumbs-up or something on some internet website cool


This is the way UK education is going; there have been rising grades year upon year, with little obvious actual improvement. Universities are complaining that it's becoming impossible to actually identify competent students based on exam results. Due to an obsession with school league tables, there has been a strong suggestion that many (if not most) schools now 'teach the exam' rather than the subject, and actual learning is being damaged.

We also have different bodies competing to provide the exams. Just last week a UK newspaper showed just how pernicious this had become. At least one of the providers was offering courses to teachers, offering 'teaching advice' which it turned out were in part just giving away what would be in this years exam. By making it easy for schools to do better in their exams by leaking the info they became more attractive for the schools to use, hence got more business. shake
 
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From my own limited experience moving into the education field I could already spend days writing a long essay on a number of things that need to happen. It's horribly complicated because schools are in many ways the heart and focal point of our societies, and thus almost every facet of society is bearing down on the issue in its own manner.

There are systemic problems, there are political problems, there are local problems. It's a breathing and heart beating system that takes effort at all sorts of different levels.

From my experience class size does matter. Fifteen students is radically different from 25 students. As a teacher you only have so much bandwidth and if you're going to be able to isolate the challenges various students have in class so that you can address them then you need a ratio that is manageable. One thing that was interesting to see is that going below 15 students was actually problematic. The smaller you go the more "intimate" the vibe was in the class and students would actually focus less. Fifteen students was right in the sweet spot zone where crowd psychology seem to kick in.

One thing that also hit me with class size statistics is that these values generally are lumping in all of the educational support staff, like literacy specailists. When you do that it can mess with the numbers and make it sound like the classroom ratio is lower than it is. If you got the class ratio statistic so that it really did mean classroom teachers per student ratio then that would be more clear.

Separating those numbers out is also important because different schools have different needs. I worked in a school that was on the low income side and that resulted in more poverty issues which cascades into all sorts of extra support being needed to address challenges. I also did observations in a different school that was a middle to upper middle average background. That school, while it still needed support services, had a population of students that overall didn't need as much as the other school.

Back to the school that I worked at. Admittedly I don't have much experience, but my impression of the flow of things was that the support services were underfunded and the school was making do with what they had. From what I saw what was at the very least needed were two more professional specialist instructors hired per grade level that could take students struggling in a regular classroom environment and have them in small group settings. A small group setting can help overcome a lot of the stress and anxiety that a regular classroom can generate for someone facing various educational challenges. Note, this would be a fluid pull, students are strong in some areas and weaker in others and so they wouldn't be relegated out of the classroom all day.

So if you added these staff onto the payroll, you'd need to expect maybe $50000 per employee to start. Say $35,000 for salary and another $15,000 for benefits. Over time their pay would increase, but just to start you've got a minimum of $300,000 right there to the budget for a three grade middle school.

I have no idea if that is the best way to spend $300,000, but I do know that it would reduce a lot of issues that were happening within the classroom, which in turn would give the teachers the bandwidth they need to do a better job. They can diagnose educational issues in their classroom and deliver a better overall experience.

So in terms of "throwing money at the problem" those are two ways that I can see as valid budgeting that would help improve education. Reduce real class size and then make sure there is adequate (not legally mandated, but real adequacy) support for support services.

Where does that money come from? Taxpayers. Communities have to see the value of education and roll with it. There is no way around that.

After saying all of that, it's still isn't enough. Many other issues have to be address, including simply the way education is performed in schools. We live in the 21st century and older models of education aren't up to the task for a globalized and digital economy. Evidence based best practices have to be implemented which show some markedly different ways of teaching children.

This video gives a good primer:

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rshipley wrote:
perfalbion wrote:
You don't teach kids in my town the same way you teach kids in South LA or Beverly Hills. Which means the more we push defining "success" away from the local community, the less successful we're likely to be.


Can't agree with this one. People don't learn differently depending on where they live. Everyone learns differently, so the more techniques that are available the better. And having each local district figure this out for themselves just makes for lots of differently bad education.


People learn differently based on many, many factors. Many of them relate to demographics. Those are best understood and addressed at the local level.
 
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fightcitymayor wrote:
OMG LiBeRtArIaNiSm!!!!11!!! Quick, someone kill it before it spreads its awful disease of freedom!


No, not really. One can be for better government and while holding political views that don't come close to libertarianism.

Quote:
We just need to figure out what we want schools to be.


Really? I think that they need to be schools. The objectives of a particular school should reflect the objectives of the communities that they serve. I do agree that having a goal that our education system should prepare literally every kid for college is silly - but then we've become so focused on the value of the college degree that we're actually doing a good job of reducing its value by creating huge numbers of colleges that aren't so good but make lots of money being colleges.

We need to get over the idea that education is "one size fits all." There's no one target, one objective, or one purpose to education. If we remembered that, we'd be better off.
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perfalbion wrote:

Really? I think that they need to be schools. The objectives of a particular school should reflect the objectives of the communities that they serve. I do agree that having a goal that our education system should prepare literally every kid for college is silly - but then we've become so focused on the value of the college degree that we're actually doing a good job of reducing its value by creating huge numbers of colleges that aren't so good but make lots of money being colleges.

We need to get over the idea that education is "one size fits all." There's no one target, one objective, or one purpose to education. If we remembered that, we'd be better off.


I think I just disagree. This could especially hold students in more poor areas back. For instance, I went to school in a very rural area. The needs of the community are almost 100% agricultural in nature. A school that reflected this would then funnel students into such programs as FFA, 4H, etc. Indeed, my school only had trigonometry as the highest math class (no pre-calculus, calculus, etc.) Even though the virtues of trigonometry have been extolled in other threads, not having access to more advanced classes put me at a serious disadvantage.

The world isn't limited to communities any longer. Taking such a narrow view can have unintended consequences and the potential to reinforce a class system that is closely wed to geographic influences.
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