# Is our system of education really that bad?

#### JDStupi

Regarding what Astronuc said, I completely agree and have always felt that the education system should teach people to think and learn, so that they are motivated to possibly go out and learn on their own. I greatly enjoyed reading things alll throughout my educational career and people never understood "how I knew stuff". Wellllll, I read a book (or more). But then again as I said in my first post, it is very much a cultural problem. Maybe every thinking young person has dreams of being able to change the culture, but this is what I find key. this is because in any society, but especially in a democratically based society, The governmental, the economic, the legal, the educational, and the cultural are all in such an active dynamic relationship, that to truly change anything we need to blitzkrieg the system. The educational being an important part to start with, but if a culture of not-learning continues, then education can go so far. I, by the way, for clarifications sake was not a "nerd" in highschool (not that there is anything wrong with that) I enjoyed partying, girls, drinking, and all that good stuff, but I also balanced it with a healthy enjoyment of learning. Point being, culturally everybody has this bias against "nerds" and feels that if you know some things, you'll turn into some anti-social, ackward "nerd", this is just simply not the case, in fact, I knew many "nerds" in high-school who were simply not smart, just ackward, but because they were nerdy they were recognized as "smart", because nobody had the capacity to reason for themselves whether or not he was smart, they simply reliedon some cultural stereotype to dictate to them what was smart......blah blah blah end rant

#### FrancisZ

That's not true. Only 67% of all statistics are made up on the spot!
Heretic!

By the way, it's good to see another HS teacher on the forums! So, Everybody:

What he said!
(Except, I'm not completely sold on Gardner)

I appreciate that. The thing with Gardner, that I really do admire, is that he acknowledges the validity of other forms of skill; those outside of Mathematics and Language.

When you take the SATs, for example, it is primarily a measure of your present verbal and mathematical condition. It isn't at any point, an art test. Which makes me wonder: how many kids would pass a test, if a portion of their exam was to see how well they could replicate a cartoon rabbits head. Or, what would happen if we forced people to do gymnastics for their high school equivalency exam. Point of fact: we just don't value those sorts of abilities; so we don't stress them (even though we may actually admire them).

I have time for one supporting comment re "technology in the classroom." School boards have been nuts over technology for two decades at least. The notion that every student gets a laptop has been a huge drain on resources. When $240,000 is spent on 250 laptops for about 2000 students, you have to ponder: that is the salary for 5 teachers for a year; the computers will be obsolete in 4 years; an IT professional must be hired, permanently, to keep those computers working; those computers will be used maybe 1/3 of the time during school. Good investment? you be the judge. You're preaching to the choir my friend. And not for anything, but in Catholic schools at least, they keep firing people all of the time (to meet their supposed budgets). It isn't to say that administrative hands aren't tied in a down economy; understandably, they may get grants specifically for tech, and not for overhead. But wouldn't it be nice, if they also would come up with a grant to keep a few extra people on staff, these days? The work load on those that get to actually keep their jobs, can be ridiculous, as a result of other layoffs. I had to teach 7 classes a day (all different levels); and my boss actually wanted me to teach an 8th class (looked at me like I was nuts to refuse). If I had, I wouldn't have had lunch then (which was spent monitoring the students anyway). It was either that, or I'd have try to behave as a parallel "Quantum Francis" of sorts. Smart boards: I love my Promethean board. I couldn't wait to get it, but I had to. We got three, at first, for all 14 of the science teachers at my school. I said "gimme gimme, I'll start using it tomorrow.' They said, "No, we'll give it to the three Chemistry teachers, so that they all will start using it and learn together." (The fact that Pfizer gave the school money for them might have something to do with that decision.) So, three$6000+ boards stayed stuck to those teacher's whiteboards as they ignored them and worked around them, not bothering to learn how to use them. For nearly a full year. BUT we had TECHNOLOGY in the classroom. One teacher actually removed it from his whiteboard, and the Smartboard sat on the floor in the back of his lab.

I've certainly appreciated my Smartboards (Mnemonics and Techquipment brands) for something like graphing, in particular. I just don't like one thing--one technology--in lieu of another. Why can't I have several varying degrees of technology, as I need them?

For example: I find that if you're doing a lengthy derivation, sometimes it's good not to obscure to students, any portion of the algorithm you're working out. But the Smartboards, I've had anyway, are significantly limited in breadth; and even though the software allows you to scroll sideways, or up-and-down, that still forces me to cover up what I'm trying to show my students, as part of a larger picture. So that's kind of annoying, as a math teacher anyway.

Also, in one place, they permanently mounted my Smartboard to the old blackboard (right in the center); thereby obstructing it, and debilitating me from working with them in tandem (which is also something I like doing).

Another school simply refused to mount the projector. So every time some kid would come in, and even jar the cart it was on slightly, I'd have to recalibrate the pen. Also, with all of the wires leading to the receptacle, it's easy to trip over. Kids know this, and they cause problems anyway they can.

I say: save yourself the aggravation, by mounting the damn camera out of their reach; and use a remote to engage it.

I also prefer an overhead projector, for going over homework daily--because it doesn't force me to turn my back while using it. Best to keep an eye on the students, you know.

Had I lived in another city, town, state, or country, I may not have had the opportunities to do what I did. My education was partly due to the particular teachers, the particular school, but a lot has to do with my own initiative.

This is very true.

Part of what we do though, as teachers, I think is really a form of Social Work. A good teacher is truly one that is: (A) part Comedian (to keep students awake); (B) part Secretary (to keep everything organized); (C) part Boss (to set a good example, keep order, and make everyone know that their contribution is important); and (D) a good Priest (so that they know that you care, and that you're willing to help them).

First, allow me to say that I am but a mere relatively recent high-school graduate, so I find FrancisZ's comments to be much more holistic or informed from what is, for me, the opposite end of the spectrum. I definatley agree with everything that you said, and there was much I would not have known about the inner workings of the teacher-side of things. I definatley wish to say that it clearly is a larger problem than simply on the teacher level of things, I say this because I have had some tremendous teachers who have even complained about how the classes are all about teaching to tests.
I appreciate that; and thank-you.

I had an English teacher who would always stress that he was unhappy about having to teach toward the test and that all you had to do for the tests was "creatively ********", which is the truth. I've had teachers who would try to stress thinking as best they could, but were limited by some type of administrative constraint. As a side note, I will say that the "good teachers" were mostly English and I had a good German teacher who had a Doctorate in Sanskrit literature, spoke Hindi, German and who knows what else, lived in India etc etc (from New JErsey). The Math curriculum, I'm all about complete reform of that.
I have to say, I respect immensely, something one of my Russian born professors was inclined to do: which was to make us do an assignment over and over and over again, until we finally did it right. Russians can be very stubborn, in a good way. She could have done with a little less abrasiveness, in her personality, I felt; but it was still clear to all of us that she indeed meant well.

She wasn't fake at all--she was totally about substance. For her, it wasn't enough to have a vague notion of something; which is something I also feel we are too inclined toward, in the United States.

If any of you are Math teachers, I've had the idea of having students run around with pieces of paper with symbols on them (not even familiar symbols necessarily) and having them perform some type of computational operation with them, based on some rules (kind of like a John Searle Chinese Room thing) and then asking the students if they knew what they were doing, and making a point of how that is MAthematics education.

I'm a math teacher. Or I was anyway.

I think what you're suggesting is very idealistic, and creative. It's the sort of thing that we could do, if we only had more time; such as in a Montessori setting.

To extrapolate: I am reminded somewhat of the notion of "mechanical television;" which was something that was actually being worked on, before and up to the advent of "electronic television." It's one of those things, that had we tried long enough, we might very well have gotten to work. Ultimately, electronic television prevailed, however; probably because it was a more practical idea.

Another example: launching people into orbit. We had in fact the notion of "flying" into orbit (and we might eventually go back to that); which, to me at least, sounds a lot more elegant and graceful, than say "blasting" somebody into space. Still, which did we ultimately succeed at first? We did it, the "brute force" method, because that is what our counterparts were doing, with success, before we could do it better.

The point I'm trying to make is that I believe YOU ARE RIGHT: there isn't always just ONE way to look at something; there isn't strictly, one method that works.

I would like to say though, that one of the things that attracted to me mathematics, was the fact that it has consistent rules--something that we can all know and agree on. And as they used to say in those old public service announcements on GI JOE: "knowing is half the battle." Or perhaps, it would be better to say: "Agreeing is half the battle."

Maybe in more ways than one.

This is why I feel we need to reform, and why everybody hates Math, because all it is taught as is random sumbolic operation according to rules- there is no creativity in math, there is no originality in math, there are no ideas in math, and hose who are "good" at math are essentially good at computing things. This is the message that makes its way across, now personally I know the contrary and find mathematics fascinating, but many many many people absolutley have no clue about "real" mathematics or creativity and originality in MAthematics, no clue. They don't stress "Here is an idea, there once was a time when this wasn't around, what made somebody think about this? How did they develop this idea? Why was it important?

I definitely agree: it would be cool to learn things from an actual historical perspective. Sometimes it isn't enough to say to a student: "well, just because I said so." It takes more patience, dedication and time.

...Wellllll, I read a book (or more). But then again as I said in my first post, it is very much a cultural problem. Maybe every thinking young person has dreams of being able to change the culture, but this is what I find key. this is because in any society, but especially in a democratically based society, The governmental, the economic, the legal, the educational, and the cultural are all in such an active dynamic relationship, that to truly change anything we need to blitzkrieg the system.

People can get hurt though. We have to be less a bull in a china shop sometimes. Even Darth Vader had good intentions once.

The educational being an important part to start with, but if a culture of not-learning continues, then education can go so far. I, by the way, for clarifications sake was not a "nerd" in highschool (not that there is anything wrong with that) I enjoyed partying, girls, drinking, and all that good stuff, but I also balanced it with a healthy enjoyment of learning. Point being, culturally everybody has this bias against "nerds" and feels that if you know some things, you'll turn into some anti-social, ackward "nerd", this is just simply not the case, in fact, I knew many "nerds" in high-school who were simply not smart, just ackward,
...that's a "dweeb" I think.

but because they were nerdy they were recognized as "smart", because nobody had the capacity to reason for themselves whether or not he was smart, they simply reliedon some cultural stereotype to dictate to them what was smart......blah blah blah end rant
There is always a problem--in this country at least--of being socially intolerant and "pigeon-holing."

I wonder, honestly, if it's like that in Japan, China, or modern Germany.

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#### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
Part of what we do though, as teachers, I think is really a form of Social Work. A good teacher is truly one that is: (A) part Comedian (to keep students awake); (B) part Secretary (to keep everything organized); (C) part Boss (to set a good example, keep order, and make everyone know that their contribution is important); and (D) a good Priest (so that they know that you care, and that you're willing to help them).
Yes - definitely - and that is often not understood by the public/parents. If parents think their one, two or few children are a challenge, then imagine 20-30-40 students each with different capabilities, different interests and going in different directions. This includes students who may have physiological issues (e.g., poor eyesight, hearing, . . .) or learning deficits.

Add to that the occassional kid(s) who was molested, beaten or otherwise abused by a parent or guardian or other adult or peer, or a kid(s) who witnessed parents going at each other. How does a teacher get to those kids.

As children, my parents read to us, to the point where we could read on our own. They bought books for us. My father had a study and library. In my earliest years, two or three walls of his study were shelves of books. At the other extreme are kids whose parents seem oblivious to education. We have quite a few poor families at the school where my wife teaches. Those parents can barely afford to feed and clothe their kids. My wife noticed one kid who would spend time in the library reading geography books and pouring over atlases. At the end of the year, we bought the child an atlas, because his parents couldn't afford to buy such book. My wife wasn't supposed to do that because it's against school policy. A child's education is more important that an arbitrary system.

#### FrancisZ

Yes - definitely - and that is often not understood by the public/parents. If parents think their one, two or few children are a challenge, then imagine 20-30-40 students each with different capabilities, different interests and going in different directions.
Frankly, it's harder than I know it sounds to most people. The difficulty is not so much in getting their attention, as it is keeping it. Now more than ever: respect is earned, and not given. And in my heart of hearts, I value that (even if it would make my job easier had they--my students--always been nice to me). I am too much like them myself, I guess.

A few things that I am certain of, as a teacher:

(1) If they hate the subject already, then they will not like you initially;

(2) If they hate you, then they will likely grow to detest the subject (because, YOU truly--whether you realize it or not--are actually the living embodiment of math to them; or history, or whatever subject you teacher);

(3) You will indeed pay for every sin ever committed against each of your students, before they ever had you (also the sins committed against their parents).

So the most important thing, always, is just to be a good soul, as often, and as much as you possibly can. It heals a lot of hurt (in them), even while it hurts (you) a lot itself. You just cannot be nasty, no matter how cruel anyone is to you.

Come to think of it: that's probably the hardest part; even more than keeping their attention.

This includes students who may have physiological issues (e.g., poor eyesight, hearing, . . .) or learning deficits.

Add to that the occassional kid(s) who was molested, beaten or otherwise abused by a parent or guardian or other adult or peer, or a kid(s) who witnessed parents going at each other. How does a teacher get to those kids.

Truthfully: you tell them about yourself--your own trials and tribulations--in between segments of the lesson; and you never ask personal questions of them (unless you know they trust you). You don't volunteer these things of course; but you do it naturally, during the course of your time together. They appreciate that, I think. Very often they can relate.

One of the most empowering realizations, that I have ever come across in my life, is simply this: No one goes through life unscathed.

People don't like to be perceived as weak ever; especially not to strangers. But we still all really have been damaged emotionally (to a degree), by the trying conditions of simply living on this planet, and around one another. And so, the simple fact of the matter, I have come to believe: is that I know that I'm not okay, really; and I know that you're not okay, really either; but somehow...it's still okay that we aren't okay, because we have each other to understand and to help, when we need it.

And in that, I have found: there is a very sublime notion of equality, that washes over you, when you finally admit that to yourself--that you're basically screwed up somehow, in your own way. It also reminds me not to get too mad at anyone; and not to be judgmental.

As children, my parents read to us, to the point where we could read on our own. They bought books for us. My father had a study and library. In my earliest years, two or three walls of his study were shelves of books.

I was lucky that way too. My mother always read to us, and never denied us educational visits or reading material.

At the other extreme are kids whose parents seem oblivious to education. We have quite a few poor families at the school where my wife teaches. Those parents can barely afford to feed and clothe their kids. My wife noticed one kid who would spend time in the library reading geography books and pouring over atlases. At the end of the year, we bought the child an atlas, because his parents couldn't afford to buy such book. My wife wasn't supposed to do that because it's against school policy. A child's education is more important that an arbitrary system.

I know I hate that feeling: to choose to do the right thing, and then be made to feel guilty for it. Children respect a generous spirit.

#### Proton Soup

I keep getting told by my parents how we grow up learning so much less than they have when they were growing up in the soviet union. Is our education really so inferior? I've attended top schools my entire life (until college) and I don't really think it's fair to say that I'm necessarily stupid.

My main two questions are pretty much this:

Is our education really getting that worse over time?

Is American education really as bad as Michael Moore makes it seem? Or are we just being pushed in a sense to be even smarter?
did everyone in the soviet union get a superior education? what about stupid Ivan who was destined to be a factory worker?

i'm not exactly sure how it is done today, but when i was in school, if we had 150 students in one grade, they would be divided up into 6 groups based on academic performance. students in group 1 got challenged much more than students in group 6. although by the end, it was still painfully clear that all of us were lacking in english and literature skills. but public schools are probably not where you can expect to get the highest quality education.

what i am seeing in college now, that i think has changed in the past 20 years, is that there is more teaching for passing the test, and less critical thinking. and then the tests are of the "multiple guess" variety, usually. this leads to more recognition memory and less recall memory. or, it could be that i've just gotten more critical over time. it's certainly easy to get an "A" now with very little study.

in any case, i do wonder if your parents were among the elite in the former USSR.

#### D H

Staff Emeritus
I keep getting told by my parents how we grow up learning so much less than they have when they were growing up in the soviet union.
There can be no doubt that having to walk ten miles to school through the snow, uphill both ways no less, somehow improves the quality of one's education.

did everyone in the soviet union get a superior education? what about stupid Ivan who was destined to be a factory worker?

i'm not exactly sure how it is done today, but when i was in school, if we had 150 students in one grade, they would be divided up into 6 groups based on academic performance. students in group 1 got challenged much more than students in group 6.
That agrees with what I have read on education in the Soviet Union. Russia and several other former republics in the old Soviet Union have more or less retained that education system. Key point: From the first grade on up, educational inequality was a hallmark of that old Soviet education system. Students who managed to make it into the top group, whether by merit or by bribery, did receive a superior education.

My opinion: If anything, public education in the US suffers from trying too hard to be "fair". As a result mediocrity is the hallmark of education systems in the US. Moves to mitigate that emphasis on mediocrity have been met with sometimes fierce resistance. Resistance comes from parents whose kids are not gifted, talented, or challenged; from teachers who ofttimes are over-worked, underpaid, and under-skilled; from bureaucracies that don't want to mess with the nuances; along with misguided people of all ilk who think that offering a better education to those who can handle is somehow unfair. Those education systems in the US that do have some type of gradation only have three levels: Gifted and talented, plain jane, and special needs. The Soviet Union had many more than that.

"American" Education? As a professional teacher, I (very regrettably) can plainly tell you, that there's really no such thing. A lot (too much I would say) is left for the individual states to outline and implement; and in many instances, that merely amounts to a lot of self-regulation, number fudging, potential embezzlement, and other oodles of corruption ...
Careful what you wish for, Francis. I suspect that the end result of moving toward a single, nationwide education system would be mediocrity gone wild. How to teach someone well remains more of an art than a science. Education is chock-full of fad techniques of the day as a result. Your example of kids from New Jersey not knowing the multiplication tables is a case in point. Rote memorization when taken to excess is bad. Some fool took this to the foolish extreme that rote memorization is bad, period, and foisted this silly notion on some school (schools?) in New Jersey. Instead of being isolated to schools in New Jersey this stupid notion could easily become national policy if we truly did have a national education system.

#### Proton Soup

speaking of rote memorization, we learned times tables (thru 12x12) in 2nd grade. :/

and i can normally still remember them all instantly, except maybe when suffering from lactate poisoning.

#### FrancisZ

Careful what you wish for, Francis. I suspect that the end result of moving toward a single, nationwide education system would be mediocrity gone wild. How to teach someone well remains more of an art than a science. Education is chock-full of fad techniques of the day as a result. Your example of kids from New Jersey not knowing the multiplication tables is a case in point. Rote memorization when taken to excess is bad. Some fool took this to the foolish extreme that rote memorization is bad, period, and foisted this silly notion on some school (schools?) in New Jersey. Instead of being isolated to schools in New Jersey this stupid notion could easily become national policy if we truly did have a national education system.

I'm not saying that there isn't the potential for corruption at the Federal level (I'm sure that there is now anyway). But I really have lost all respect for state control; having lived and learned and taught, in even two that are immediately beside one another. It's disgraceful really. Moving to New Jersey from Brooklyn, NY should not have been like going to another country as a kid. There ought to have been greater continuity, in school at least. And there still ought to be.

I sense where you're going with this. And quite frankly: it scares the beegeezus out of me, what has been going on with curricula and textbooks in Texas (among other places).

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html

I'm saying this as a reasonably educated person, and a Catholic: I wish that people, in a position of authority (such as being on a School Board) would simply leave the WHY to Philosophers and the HOW to Scientists.

I had several nuns in high school, myself. 2 of them taught our science courses; 1 taught music; and virtually all of them taught us religion, in one respect or another. One sister was a Biologist, and another a Chemist. We learned about Evolution and The Big Bang. It was never an issue.

Something like mathematics shouldn't really be up for debate though, anyway.

So long as the states maintain their varied curricula, I don't think we'll be able to compete academically with other nations like Japan. We ought to be doing what they're doing.

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#### D H

Staff Emeritus
I'm not saying that there isn't the potential for corruption at the Federal level (I'm sure that there is now anyway).
Francis, your focus on corruption as the root of evil in the education system indicates to me that you have spent too much time in New York and New Jersey. You are forgetting the famous adage: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Take your example of students never learning the multiplication tables. How does corruption explain that? Stupidity certainly does---and it is exactly the same kind of stupidity that leads some teachers to mark student errors in purple ink rather than red, or even worse, never mark errors at all.

It is stupidity and a massive bureaucratic mess that scares me a whole lot more about the concept of a national education system than does corruption.

#### D H

Staff Emeritus
So long as the states maintain their varied curricula, I don't think we'll be able to compete academically with other nations like Japan. We ought to be doing what they're doing.
What, specifically, do you think Japan is doing better than us? What, specifically, do you think we should we do to change that? How would a national curriculum help?

Japan envy is so last millennium. Japan now has the same kinds of problems as does the US such as declining standards and students and parents who do not value a good education.

#### FrancisZ

Francis, your focus on corruption as the root of evil in the education system indicates to me that you have spent too much time in New York and New Jersey.

That's where I'm from. Where do you live? If I may ask.

You are forgetting the famous adage: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Take your example of students never learning the multiplication tables...
It was said, that the community wanted to stress analytical thinking instead of rote. What it ended up being instead, however, was throwing out rote. Perhaps it was merely a miscommunication, or misinterpretation, of some big shot's perspective on the issues. I don't know. It does seem a huge oversight now.

Honestly, though, I think people use stupidity as a excuse too much. Take that whole McDonald's coffee business.

It is stupidity and a massive bureaucratic mess that scares me a whole lot more about the concept of a national education system than does corruption.
Well, the inmates should not be running the asylum. Similarly, neither the schools nor the school boards should be permitted to self-regulate. Regents in NY for example, are actually graded by the teachers who proctor them; and if a portion of their school's budget is ultimately decided upon by the outcome of these exams; THAT, to me at least, seems like a MAJOR conflict of interest.

What, specifically, do you think Japan is doing better than us?
Well for one thing, they still make better automobiles.

But here are some statistics of academic outcomes...

http://www.geographic.org/country_ranks/educational_score_performance_country_ranks_2009_oecd.html

Respect to Korea (I'm guessing South Korea), and Canada. Still, in each case, the United States ranks significantly lower than Japan.

Say what you will about the Japanese, but their industry has consistently made superior product for most of my life. Their video game design, and robotics--these are impressive accomplishments to me.

Computers, I don't know that we in the United States ought to remain too cocky about (seeing as how many of our engineers hail from elsewhere). In the Physics Department at Seton Hall, at the time, I would say 1/2 or greater were (no disrespect to them) foreign born.

Also, it is one thing to design the components of some fantastic device; it is another to actually manufacture them. We, in the United States, have forfeited most of our industry to parts of the world where we can also conveniently forfeit any responsibility to either labor or the environment.

But I digress.

What, specifically, do you think we should we do to change that? How would a national curriculum help?
We could standardize the amount of hours per subject per week. Where I worked in New Jersey, Language Arts was always allotted greater time than Mathematics. And isn't it funny: the students there usually performed better in Language Arts.

I also don't think that sends the message that these two different subjects are equally important.

Japan envy is so last millennium. Japan now has the same kinds of problems as does the US such as declining standards and students and parents who do not value a good education.
Why do you say that?

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#### D H

Staff Emeritus
I honestly cannot give you a purely logical reason for it; except perhaps it was a miscommunication or misinterpretation, between a big shot and his underlings.
How do you know that it was not a stupid fad, like grading with purple pens or not hurting the student's precious feelings?

Honestly, though, I think people use stupidity as a excuse too much. Take that whole McDonald's coffee business.
I am not using stupidity an excuse or rationale for anything. I am using it as an explanation. How else can you explain things such as grading with purple pens or Texas books standards?

The inmates should not be running the asylum.
And a federal system will make this better?? Such an education system would be run by inmates and inmates only. At least with our system we do have some outside influence on the system. That that outside influence mostly comprises lunatics from the far right and far left is a different problem.

Regarding Japan:
That does not answer my question. I asked what specifically we should do differently. Japan does do better than the US in terms of standardized tests. Some of that is attributable to cultural differences, some to the fact that Japan lost World War II, some to the fact that standardized tests are in a sense stupid, and possibly some to the fact that they have a better education system. From the end of World War II to the end of the 20th century Japan strove for excellence. The US once strove for excellence too; we started giving that up in the late 1960s because it wasn't "fair". That trend picked up a full head of steam in 1970s, culminating in the formation of the Department of Education in 1979. Japan used to have a less than equitable education system. Education reforms begun in the late 1990s are fixing that problem. Now Japan is starting to see the same problems we see in the US.

At least Japan is not hobbled by the rather strong anti-intellectual fervor that has pervaded the US from day one.

Say what you will about the Japanese, but their industry has consistently made superior product for most of my life.
That's because you are young. When I grew up "Made in Japan" was synonymous with, well, cheap lousy crap. That cheap lousy crap that Japan manufactured from the late 1940s to the mid 1960s was their gateway into the world of high technology. That said, there is no doubt that Japanese products are (or were; think Toyota gas pedals) of very high quality. This is a curious combination of Japanese culture and American know-how. The US helped rebuild Japanese industry after World War II. One of the US' efforts was to bring industrial engineers such as William Deming to Japan. Japan embraced Deming's concepts much more so than did the US. His teachings fit their mindset. It does not fit ours so well; our trade unions did not and do not like Deming.

#### FrancisZ

How do you know that it was not a stupid fad, like grading with purple pens or not hurting the student's precious feelings?

Sorry, but I can't measure "stupid." I never agreed with the pen thing; and I don't abide by it either. You can thank a child psychologist for that, I'm guessing.

That having been said: I do always try to maintain a positive atmosphere with my students (and I do recommend that). If you're a negative person, it'll rub off on them; and vice versa.

I am not using stupidity as an excuse or rationale for anything.

And I'm not accusing you of it ; I meant in general, that I think people play dumb, when it's convenient (as in law suits).

I am using it as an explanation. How else can you explain things such as grading with purple pens or Texas books standards?

Well, in all fairness, it was an attempt at being sensitive, I suppose. Is it stupid per se, to be sensitive? We are dealing with humans after all; and children at that. Please don't make me defend this (I really wasn't in favor of it). Was it going too far? Yes, I think so. But I do think it was well intentioned, as much as it was impractical.

And a federal system will make this better??

I honestly believe it would, if the Federal Department of Education actually set the standards that all must follow; and also did not permit the States to grade their own standardized examinations--the scores from which they then use to beg for money from their State government, and the Fed.

As it is right now: working in Catholic schools, it seems like the standards go through at least two or three rewrites before they actually get to me or any of the teachers.

Fed Standards-->State Standards-->Dioceses Standards-->School Standards.

TO use a Chemistry term: there's, shall we say, a lot of "mechanical loss" in that transition.

And amazingly also, somehow, we've managed to make the NJ Math Standards "Catholic" in the bargain. Really, what one particular Diocese did was actually just followed the same numbering system from the State, only start with the numbers that the State left off with. So instead of standards 4.1-4.5; the Diocese started with 4.6 (skipped 4.11 arbitrarily for God only knows what reason) and ended at 4.15.

But beside all that shannigans: it just doesn't seem honest with ourselves, to say that we actually have an "American" system of education then. Really, as of right now, we have more likely a "New Jersey" system; which is different from a "New York" system; and which are each potentially different from say an "Alaskan" system.

We need an AUTHENTICALLY unified system of education; and not a confederacy, which is what it appears. The likes of which also, I dare to say, is no better organized than each of the States' Department of Motor Vehicles (and that place is a freak'in zoo).

Such an education system would be run by inmates and inmates only. At least with our system we do have some outside influence on the system. That that outside influence mostly comprises lunatics from the far right and far left is a different problem.

Well, what can I say, but that if I weren't just the peon I am now: it would be a risk I would be willing to take. If it had good leadership, it might just be better than it is presently. If such a department had a person that wasn't simply a friend and political appointment of the President or whomever else--if it had a competent person, who actually cares; and that person was given and could wield great authority justly--then I it would work.

Where to find such a person? Well, I wouldn't start looking at the top--because Superintendents are where they are, usually, because they stopped giving a damn long ago. There not really with it, a lot of them. They are simply there for the salary and pension.

One thing I'm NOT afraid of doing, is actually physically writing down and establishing some consistent ground rules (that requires a lot of research and consensus).

Really, I think it would be a better idea though--even if you're not willing to imitate the methods of another country--to simply get together with some brains at the university level, AND ASK THEM what they think about incoming freshmen.

"What do our kids need to know to succeed at your respective institution, through their first year? What do YOU find are their weaknesses? What would you like US--at Junior High and High School level--to do differently, in the way of our curricula and practices?"

And I say that, because, it's those deficiencies, that are ultimately keeping people out of college; or encouraging them to leave, even after they get there. That is, in addition to the expense of actually going to college.

And to be fair--getting back to my playing dumb theory--I don't imagine that idea (of communicating with people in the know) is such a difficult to conceive of, or brilliant notion; that it's somehow totally impossible for someone else to have thought of it, before I just said it. The truth is: I don't really believe that most people, in positions of authority, really want our citizenry to be well educated. Because then they might think for themselves.

It isn't compulsory, going to college, after all. So somebody has to pay for it. And very often, the government pays for an insufficient portion of tuition, in the way of grants (which I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone here about).

It's all about money really. And again, personally: I think some of us really prefer stupid people, over informed citizens, in this country; because then--rather than address something important, like the potential consequences of our own country's laws on world economics; critically, and with a truly independent mind--we can instead keep people squabbling over irrelevant and nonsensical questions like: "What color and religion is God?" or "Is the President a hard line socialist (yet somehow simultaneously) fundamentalist Muslim from Africa, who hates white people (even though he's half white, and was raised by white people)?"

Frankly, that's politics in a nutshell: keeping the average person (and less than average) regularly off balance, with distractions of stupid crap; so that other people in positions of authority, can remain in charge; and, potentially, continue to climb the ladder of authority (while making ever greater sums of money). It's better than a ponzi scheme really, because most people go through their whole lives then, never even realizing they've be had.

And why? Because--unlike the people in charge whom merely, conveniently pretend to be stupid--they have instead successfully maintained the status quo for the masses (of being actually stupid) by KEEPING them UNEDUCATED.

And how? The short answer: there is no order.

Let me tell you about myself: I've had a lot of jobs already in my mere 30 years of life. And I've also worked in lot of old, well established places with a lot of equally old, dysfunctional items lying about in plain sight, that no body does anything about. But sometimes, I have discovered: it isn't merely because someone doesn't care, or is around long enough to notice; sometimes, it's on purpose. And then when you finally take it upon yourself to fix this thing--or set something right that apparently isn't--only then do you finally realize, that it really was never meant to be anything but broken. And then you've gone and opened up a whole can of worms you wish you didn't; because who ever broken the item in question, finds out.

Regarding Japan:
That does not answer my question. I asked what specifically we should do differently.
You mean: different than Japan? If not, I honestly thought I addressed this otherwise. My initial suggestion was simply to imitate the good practices of another country. I specifically said, Japan--and I still think that is a fair and feasible idea; at least in the way of industry--but apparently Canada and Korea also have some respectable numbers, in the way of academic achievement; so maybe that's truly a better idea (to try to imitate them).

Japan does do better than the US in terms of standardized tests. Some of that is attributable to cultural differences, some to the fact that Japan lost World War II, some to the fact that standardized tests are in a sense stupid, and possibly some to the fact that they have a better education system. From the end of World War II to the end of the 20th century Japan strove for excellence...That cheap lousy crap that Japan manufactured from the late 1940s to the mid 1960s was their gateway into the world of high technology...This is a curious combination of Japanese culture and American know-how. The US helped rebuild Japanese industry after World War II. One of the US' efforts was to bring industrial engineers such as William Deming to Japan. Japan embraced Deming's concepts much more so than did the US. His teachings fit their mindset. It does not fit ours so well; our trade unions did not and do not like Deming.

That's fascinating. I truthfully wasn't aware of Deming at all.

That said, there is no doubt that Japanese products are (or were; think Toyota gas pedals) of very high quality.
In all fairness, I don't think that would have been the fault of the assembly line worker (what was it a 1/4" piece of metal they used to fix the problem). I also don't think the software issue (also a braking problem) was anyone on the line's fault either. The whole thing was unfortunate.

I also don't believe that person couldn't have stopped their runaway Prius, if they thought it through. Again, maybe that's just another example of playing dumb for a law suit.

The US once strove for excellence too; we started giving that up in the late 1960s because it wasn't "fair". That trend picked up a full head of steam in 1970s, culminating in the formation of the Department of Education in 1979. Japan used to have a less than equitable education system. Education reforms begun in the late 1990s are fixing that problem. Now Japan is starting to see the same problems we see in the US.

Do you know what I think would be truly fair? If there wasn't a disparity in the budget of one school versus another. Then maybe schools would at least be equal opportunity.

But budgets are contingent upon property taxes. So if you live in a nice area, chances are you pay higher property taxes; and the local schools are well maintained, stocked, and staffed.

Unfortunately also: most people aren't wealthy, so they tend instead to crowd into apartment buildings. Or if they do own a home, their property is less valuable; so the schools--which are over crowded--ironically do not receive a proportionate enough money to operate as efficiently, based solely on property taxes.

That in turn makes them dependent upon State aid; and also Federal aid. Which is contingent upon the Census, of course; but also (and more importantly) test scores.

Generally speaking: students that attend schools in districts, run with insufficient number of textbooks, teachers, and/or actual chairs, are less inclined to do well on standardized test.

In some instances, if test scores are low enough, school with under-performing students get more money; and in still other instances, they are simply denied a lot of money, and instead are threatened to close. Or become a charter school--which is the State's way of pawning off the responsibility of public education on private industry.

That is exactly why, I DON'T believe we should be allowing schools to ever grade their own standardized tests--because they'll potentially fudge the numbers, to work the system.

I don't trust any industry to regulate themselves.

In my opinion: the "Good Old Boys" need to answer to somebody completely outside of their realm of influence. And it isn't impossible of course, for a federal inspector to be any less corruptible; but you'd have to have an established relationship already with people in the area you are inspecting.

At least Japan is not hobbled by the rather strong anti-intellectual fervor that has pervaded the US from day one.
I agree.

That's because you are young. When I grew up "Made in Japan" was synonymous with, well, cheap lousy crap.

Not for anything, but I do actually remember that sentiment, as a little boy--especially with the 70's cars of my early childhood. Of course, eventually I grew to realize that American cars sucked equally well (albeit in a distinctly American fashion). Ford, for example, in a vain effort to increase fuel efficiency, actually started using things like plastic breaks in their cars, in order to lighten their burden. That's not really progress though, you know, as much as it is parlor tricks.

#### mugaliens

By the way, it's good to see another HS teacher on the forums!
I substitute teach - does that count?

I've seen much said on this subject, so I'll simply say this in answer to the OP's thread title and question:

Yes. We spend far more, and for far less results, than any nation on Earth.

Case in point: When my son began his summer visitation with me in May of this year, he'd just finished the fourth grade and was slated to enter the fifth grade in the Fall. At the time, he tested as academically being suited to the sixth grade. He's also both big and tall for his age.

We "played games" (academic) all summer long, and just before he returned, I called the school and asked that he be tested. They said he was now academically ready for the seventh grade, but they were concerned about his emotional maturity not being that advanced.

He's currently in the sixth grade, and doing very well (better than he was in the fourth grade, as the sixth grade is challenging, and he likes a challenge).

Yes, my son is bright. Still, if I can advance his test scores by an entire grade after simply engaging in playful learning over the summer, then, yes, something is wrong with our system of education.

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#### Chi Meson

Homework Helper
I substitute teach - does that count?

I've seen much said on this subject, so I'll simply say this in answer to the OP's thread title and question:

Yes. We spend far more, and for far less results, than any nation on Earth.

Case in point: When my son began his summer visitation with me in May of this year, he'd just finished the fourth grade and was slated to enter the fifth grade in the Fall. At the time, he tested as academically being suited to the sixth grade. He's also both big and tall for his age.

We "played games" (academic) all summer long, and just before he returned, I called the school and asked that he be tested. They said he was now academically ready for the seventh grade, but they were concerned about his emotional maturity not being that advanced.

He's currently in the sixth grade, and doing very well (better than he was in the fourth grade, as the sixth grade is challenging, and he likes a challenge).

Yes, my son is bright. Still, if I can advance his test scores by an entire grade after simply engaging in playful learning over the summer, then, yes, something is wrong with our system of education.
God bless subs! And I'm atheist!

SO, I'm a public school teacher and we homeschool our 3 kids. Does that tell you anything? "Simply engaging in playful learning" with an interested adult in a one to one setting, while progressing at the child's own speed of learning, is the most educational of all scenarios. You could carry him all the way through 9th grade like that and he would excel, with lots of free time.

The trouble is when you put 25+ disparate kids in front of one teacher, tell him/her to make sure each and every child succeeds, no exceptions, and whilst moving the goal posts, and then take away as much authority as possible...

I forgot my point.

#### mugaliens

God bless subs! And I'm atheist!

SO, I'm a public school teacher and we homeschool our 3 kids. Does that tell you anything?
Oh, gee! Really? Wow. God bless, you atheist, you. :) (meant as a play on words and tongue in cheek, of course - no offense intended)

"Simply engaging in playful learning" with an interested adult in a one to one setting, while progressing at the child's own speed of learning, is the most educational of all scenarios. You could carry him all the way through 9th grade like that and he would excel, with lots of free time.
That's pretty much what I thought. I got the idea from having spent one-on-one time with a music teacher (Yale graduate) who believed that an hour spent with a student at the ice-cream parlor was better than a month in class. He claimed it was his "classical education," wherein instructors directly engaged their students with occasionally intense question and answer foreys intended to get them to THINK!!!

It worked for me. Works for my son. Public education is REALLY missing the boat these days.

The trouble is when you put 25+ disparate kids in front of one teacher, tell him/her to make sure each and every child succeeds, no exceptions, and whilst moving the goal posts, and then take away as much authority as possible...

I forgot my point.
Ah, no worries. I remember. :)

#### Proton Soup

the japanese seem to have some bizarre ideas about children and how to teach them.

there is a lot more there than the title implies, but apparently, some of the kids crack under the stress

#### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
Calls for longer school years face budget reality
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_more_school [Broken]

I think the emphasis should be on the quality of content rather than number of days.

Since I went through the US system, I know it can work - if done correctly.

I hired a the valedictorian from the local high school. He turned out to be an excellent programmer. He also ended up doing math at Harvard, where is made straight A's. He now doing a PhD.

However, the vast majority of students at the local high school seem adrift as I observed when I visited for a career day. I was with a group of professionals, mostly engineers, and most of what we saw and heard from students was rather dispiriting. Apparently the 5 or so % of top students were in class. The students who stopped and spoke to us about a career in science or engineering seemed to be headed for mediocre careers. A number wanted to go into finance and make lots of money - and party. Hopefully, some will get it.

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#### mugaliens

A longer school year would also spell the death of my visitation with my son. We currently get half the summer together. Half of nothing, however, is nothing.

#### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
The teachers I had were really great!

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20100928/us_time/08599202195100 [Broken]

There are good and bad in every profession.

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#### Proton Soup

i'm not sure we need a longer school year, but i'm nearly convinced it needs a shorter gap. i always felt like i was trying to get back up to speed after a summer break. more short breaks throughout the year would be great. teachers might not like that idea, tho.

#### Chi Meson

Homework Helper
i'm not sure we need a longer school year, but i'm nearly convinced it needs a shorter gap. i always felt like i was trying to get back up to speed after a summer break. more short breaks throughout the year would be great. teachers might not like that idea, tho.
I like the idea. I think the year should be cut into thirds, or quarters, with three or four weeks vacation between them. I'd rather have more time off in the spring, winter and fall, than 10 or 11 straight weeks in the summer. It's not like we have crops to bring in these days.

#### FrancisZ

Well, if they don't extend the school year--which personally, I think could be ironed out a little bit better, even as is (say actually from Sept 1st to Jun 30, which it never really is)--then I am in favor of extending the day from 8am-4pm (rather than to 2:30 or 3). That seems more like a normal work day, anyhow.

Teachers usually start working at 7 am though; and also usually go well passed 3 o'clock. I used to go at least until 4 or 5 on a regular basis myself. At one insane job (getting ready for re-accreditation) I literally worked from 8am to 10pm or midnight in the school building, frequently (at least once a week). There just wasn't enough people on staff. But I did it because I loved my boss, and I believe in what we were doing. She worked just as long as I did (if not longer).

I have a sort of on fence feeling about unions. I've always worked in Catholic schools. And for the most part, they aren't unionized or have crappy unions.

The union never did much for us in the way of medical benefits or retirement; but just having the union did increase my salary to something slightly more bearable.

My personal work history compensation in Catholic schools, went like this (no lie)...

Subbing (last semester of college): $50/day. 1st full year:$21,500 (NJ; no union; terrible insurance; and we did not get paid through the summer--had to look for other work).

2nd year: $22,??? (NJ; no union; terrible insurance; and we did not get paid through the summer--had to look for other work). 3rd year:$23,???
(NJ; no union; terrible insurance; and we did not get paid through the summer--had to look for other work).

4th year: $25,000 (NJ; no union; terrible insurance; and we did not get paid through the summer--had to look for other work). 5th year:$27,000
(NJ; no union; terrible insurance; and we did not get paid through the summer--had to look for other work).

6th year: $44,000 (NY; weak union; terrible insurance; and I did get paid through the summer, but the school actually stiffed me--I got something closer to$38k or $39k). 7th year:$52,???
(NY; weak union; terrible insurance; but did not get paid through the summer, and also got stiffed--something like $39k again). Subbing again:$75/day
.

Teachers in public schools make more I'm told. Coincidence? They have a strong union. I also think people who don't really deserve it--because you can tell that they're lazy and uncaring--get paid very well in many cases.

#### b_gardner74

My personal opinion is that American education is quite fine. Its just that I feel most of the kids while growing up get more interested in things like music, acting, sports etc. Whereas in lot of the other countries, the kids are genuinely interested in math or science or building a career outside the entertainment industry. Just my personal opinion.

#### Jack21222

My main problem with school is that sitting still and quiet while being lectured to is the hardest way for me to learn. Or more accurately, it's the way that makes me least likely to WANT to learn. Yet, that's most of high school. Very few teachers at my high school really engaged the students, but this might be because very few students wanted to be engaged.

I also think a lot of the homework assigned in school is pointless busy-work. I'd rather see just a couple challenging problems in a math or science class than 30 easy problems.

I did terrible in high school because I was bored out of my mind. Memorizing facts, applying easy algorithms, and otherwise being still and silent killed my morale.

It took me 7 years after high school to recover.

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