American education is messed up

posted by Jeff | Friday, July 16, 2004, 3:11 PM | comments: 5
In responding to a post by Alex, I realized that American education is screwed up. It's not that there aren't many great teachers (among them my wife and many friends), it's that the standards they have to follow are stupid.

The first is this stupid "accountability" based on proficiency testing. These scores go up because the kids are being taught how to beat the tests, not to learn real skills or information. Teachers hate this, and they hate spending time on it.

What's worse is that many board-imposed curricula prohibit anything even remotely experimental or new to be taught. For example, my brain developed thinking in somewhat more abstract terms. When I had to add 47 + 19, my brain saw it as 47 + 20 - 1, which would allow me to quickly arrive at 66. This was unacceptable to my teachers, when I wouldn't show any work. The funny thing is, when the authors of workbooks gave you something like 723 + 99, they were thinking in the same terms I was! Add a hundred then subtract one!

I fear for our educational future.



July 16, 2004, 7:50 PM # Those board-imposed curricula requirements and proficiency tests are the reason my sister left teaching.


July 17, 2004, 12:12 AM # Yeah, heading into the education field myself I have noticed some of what you say Jeff. We are taught in Education programs to allow for students to think. For example, I would be very happy with your math above. In fact, that is probably how I did it myself. However, school districts really don't care much about anything but test scores. It is a difficult balance. I would like to think that if I can help my students understand concepts that they will do fine on the tests and all will be well.

The biggest problem with education is that everyone feels like they are an expert in the field because eevryone has spent so much time in school. This makes it difficult when trying to integrate new concepts and new technologies into the classroom. Parents don't feel that what their kids are doing is worthwhile. They want their kids to be little number crunching, fraction adding machines. There are much more important concepts for students to learn. It doesn't help that the standardized tests do not test as much on concepts as they do on skills. On the bright side, Ohio is much better off than California which has the most archaic curriculum standards in the nation.


July 17, 2004, 2:54 PM # Oh, Jeff, I seem to remember you were looking for books to read. Try Savage Inequalities by Jonathon Kozol. It is a few years old but things haven't changed much since then.


July 18, 2004, 4:58 PM # I was totally disgusted with our school system when Ian was in early grade school, and then realized by the time he was in 3rd grade that not all of it was the system itself. It depends on the teacher and how rigid they are, and what they have to work with.

I agree teachers have a tough job. They have to make sure their students can pass the standardized tests, so they spend more time "following the curriculum" than teaching kids how to be creative and learn to think outside the box. But the very bright kids are often left alone.

Ian's second grade teacher sent home notes daily about his behaviour with a "behaviour folder" that listed each infraction on each day. She included giggling, falling off chairs, disrupting class, not paying attention to lessons and an unwillingness to complete his assignments. When questioned, I discovered she had no idea, two months into the school year, that Ian was reading and doing math problems at the 4th grade level. When I suggested he was bored and needed to be challenged, she insisted she had a curriculum to follow and could not give him special attention. In fact, she, the school counselor and the principal suggested I have him tested for ADD!

Our family counselor said he wasn't ADD, but bored in school. When I took the results to the school and asked to have him tested for TAG, the teacher, counselor and principal all refused to sign the consent form because Ian was "too immature".

Yet, his third grade teacher was more than happy to work with him. He was rewarded with more challenging/fun things to do when he completed his more "boring" assignments. He was allowed to express himself in his own way instead of sticking to "the curriculum". And after scoring in the 100th percentile in math and reading on the MEAP tests, we received notification to have him tested for TAG. His behaviour problems suddenly disappeared.

Over the years, I discovered there were teachers that "followed the curriculum" to the letter, and those that let their students think outside the box along with following the curriculum--the english teacher in middle school who downgraded Ian for choosing off the wall subjects for his writing, and the social studies teacher who gave him props for imagination. The physics teacher who marked his students down if they used calculus for determining answers to problems because "not everyone can grasp calculus", and the calculus teacher who pushed and showed how calculus can be used in many different areas of life.

All of these teachers have to follow standards. They have to be sure all of their students learn what is required on the tests, but nothing is holding them back from doing it in a more broad and imaginative way. It was those teachers who had the most influence on Ian and on me when I was in school. The ones who bent the rules, used imagination and applied what we were learning to our daily lives that made the biggest difference. The ones who sparked the will to learn. Once a kid is willing to learn, they soak it up like sponges.


July 19, 2004, 2:48 PM # That last paragraph is golden.

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