What do we need to do?
I honestly don't think its a flaw in the education system... but rather in the kids. If a kid wants to learn, he will learn; if not, well, everybody wants a McDonalds every two blocks.
Parents are to blame as well.
Yes, I would seriously look at the parental involvement in this as well. The school can only help the kids who walk through the front doors in the morning. If the parents let them skip school and don't drag them back in, then there's very little the schools can do about it.
Lower the requirements to graduate?
We could give government school systems a monopoly protected by law. And then make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers. We should then follow up by bloating the administration at all levels.
There are so many more...
When our parents went to HS there were 20 million less mexicans though. Most of those families are dirt poor and poor children in general don't have a great opinion of school. Perhaps a more appropriate metric would be to look at graduation rates within ethnic groups, which the article does not touch on directly, instead it merely talks about graduation rates in some states and doesn't compare them to the past. I'm not saying the article is wrong but I wasn't convinced by it.
You forgot continual testing - you must spend more time testing than teaching.
A very important one.
I was a seventh grade science teacher for three years before deciding that the profession would not satisfy me for the next 30 years of my life, so I chose to pursue astrophysics. I learned through many of discussions with experienced teachers that they had to dumb down the course content over the years, especially within the last five or so years, because the students were becoming dumber and dumber, kinda like the movie--you may not believe some of the crazy stories I have. With my little experience in the field, I really saw this decline that these teachers spoke of with my honors level students; their will to learn and abilities overall diminished from year to year.
Personally, I think school is a reflection of society. In my own opinion, I see our society declining in many regards, and I think this is the fundamental part of the problem. Many students have single parents, so the child's education can be put on the back-burner in regards to the family's immediate needs. This is likely true for students who live with both parents as well. Often both parents must work to support the family; this wasn't true many years ago. I think our values as a society declined as well, and our children are affected in this regard too. Believe or not, many of the parents I dealt with were just big children; no wonder their kids are they way they are.
Simple question, but tough answer. I think many school districts already spend $8000-10000 dollars per student each year. Throwing more money into education is not the answer in my opinion. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has the right idea of making schools accountable, but it is seriously flawed. For example, in my state, the bar of success raises each year, and by the year 2014, 100% of students must be at their grade level or above, even special education students. Does anyone know of any job profession that operates at a 100% efficiency? I don't. Moreover, yearly requirements cause schools to pursue the "hot" new teaching methods "proven" to work and enact district wide. As a result, the school district will throw lots of tax-payer dollars into training a core group of teachers, who are then expected to train everyone else so that they can raise test scores the following year. The whole process is rushed and inefficient as a whole from what I have witnessed, and as a result not very effective.
I think improvement in education will come with an improvement in society, but unfortunately I am not very optimistic in this regard. I think we can see improvements by holding schools accountable, but in a manner different from NCLB. Don't test every student every year. Instead, test some grade levels every five years. This provides what I think is a necessary time-frame for schools to reorganize the curriculum, train their teachers, etc. in a calculated and efficient manner. I think expecting results too quickly is detrimental to improving education.
When I see something like this, I think the problem is with the teacher. I think there is a human tendency to do "just enough" to get by, which means wherever you set the bar, students are going to fall a bit short of it. Of course there is always the one or two amazingly motivated students who will sail past the bar no matter how high it is set as well too, and I certainly don't like shortchanging them of the greater opportunities they could have (or of boring them to death in a class that is too easy).
I see this with the course I'm teaching now (I was hired and given this assignment too late this year to have any say on the syllabus, textbook or content covered, so am just doing what I can with what I've been handed). The previous instructors have caved in year after year to what they perceived as students who just couldn't pass and kept pulling out material. And this year they aren't doing very well either. But, now that I'm lecturing and getting to ask the students questions and pick their brains, as well as from just chatting with them while they are in the labs, I don't think the problem is they aren't smart enough to handle the material, I think the problem is that the other instructor EXPECTS them not to be smart enough to handle the material. They've lost confidence in their abilities, and haven't been taking the class seriously because they're bored.
They've been given a list of structures that they are tested on... as I was setting up the last couple exams, I was getting very frustrated using that list, because important structures that I wanted to tag weren't on it. I commented to the other instructor that I couldn't believe it wasn't on the list, how can someone be a nurse without knowing it?! Her response to me is that the previous instructor (the one who died and left us his course) had been pulling out more and more content because they weren't doing very well in the course, and she hadn't gotten all the lists updated yet. Aaargh!
So, I'll find out soon. The bar is being raised for the second half of the course now that I'm lecturing, and if they can meet it, we'll know. I think the "bar" analogy is a good one. I think you can set it so low that the students trip over it and fall on their faces rather than duck just under it or leaping over it.
Another thing I hear over and again is that students learn differently now than they did when we were in school. I have not been convinced this is true. I think it's a myth that gets spread around without scientific basis...or at least I have yet to see a study that shows evidence of these differences. I find it really hard to believe, perhaps coming from the perspective of many years of studying neuroscience topics, learning is a biological function; I don't think that's changing in a generation. Maybe something about their early education is selecting for students with a different set of learning styles to be successful at the expense of those who used to be successful, but I don't think that fundamentally people learn differently now than they did a generation ago.
Again, I suspect that could be part of the problem. If learning styles are fundamentally the same as they always have been, and instructors are being told they are now different and adapting their teaching styles based on this, maybe we're not teaching as well as we used to, no matter how good our intentions are.
Another example of "students are different today" that I hear are people complaining they don't like to read their books. When I was in school, students didn't like to read their books then either. Can anyone here say they genuinely enjoyed reading their textbooks? I never did. I enjoyed the knowledge gained, the understanding, the material covered, but sitting down and reading a dry textbook? Definitely not something enjoyable, especially when you had 4 others you had to read and were doing it on very little sleep.
Again, in the course I'm teaching, the textbook that was chosen was chosen because it has more pictures and less text, because "students don't like to read." Well, that just makes the textbook useless in my opinion and reinforces that they don't need to read it. I cover more in my lecture than the textbook includes. Why should they read the textbook? It's not as if there's a better explanation in the book than I gave in lecture, because the book has virtually no explanation, just pictures that aren't as good as the illustrations I used in my lecture. I'd rather use a textbook that goes into a bit too much depth, and ensure they have a quality reference should they need it again in the future. So what if they don't read all of it? At least if they are curious about something in lecture or don't understand it, there would be a solid and more detailed explanation in the text they could use.
Why should kids stay in school if their teachers have given up on their ability to learn and don't even try to provide resources for them to stretch their minds?
I hear a lot of things from older faculty about students today...not as serious, don't study as hard, don't read, don't care about lecture... I look out at my class, and I see students who are still all the same as when I was a student. I think people just forget how young and immature they were once (because of course when you're that young and immature, you don't really realize you are).
I think another problem at the university level (not at the elementary level) is student evaluations of teaching, and the fact this is used as a basis for things like promotion. Let's face it, if you're hard on the students, they will not evaluate you as highly as someone whose course is a fun cakewalk. However, when you think back years later to which courses really helped you out most in your career or which ones you still remember what was taught in it, those were the ones with the hard as nails professors who gave the hardest exams and most work and who you really hated at the time.
You could copy the British success story.
Huge amounts of testing from age 5, modular courses to allow the teachers to pick the parts that 'most interest the students', course grades based on homework with no checking who did it and publish all grades so there is intense competition between schools.
This is so succesful that exam grades have been rising so fast that they have to split the A grade into 5 sub grades because everybody scores an A.
Although you do have to be carefull to stop whatever it is that happens to these uber genii over the summer that turns them into first year undergrads that have never heard of calculus and cannot rearrange an equation.
The teachers I was thinking of and referring to were on my team, so I know them very well. I can assure you that these teachers aren't at fault for the decline of their students' academic achievement due to the dumbing down of the content--many of these teachers received numerous accolades from parents by helping their children succeed in ways that they never have before. Many of these same teachers report a significant decline in the students' overall behavior as well over the years, which could be due to the decline in family structure of a typical U.S. family. Perhaps, other teachers of these students during previous years contributed to the end result of these teachers dumbing down the content. With one out of two teachers leaving the profession within less than five years, inexperienced teachers can often, though not intentionally, negatively affect a child's education, especially during primary school when foundational concepts are to be acquired for advanced learning in secondary school. I think the high turnover rate of our teachers plays an important role in the current state of our education system. So I do agree with you that teacher's can definitely be at fault, whether it is intentionally or unintentionally.
Another problem I see and didn't mention earlier is the poor resources available to science teachers to use in their classrooms. The standard middle-school science textbook is of poor quality. The AAAS performed an analysis of science textbooks as part of their Project 2061 and determined that many of the textbooks are of poor quality:
I have to agree with their results concerning the textbooks that I used in my classroom. During my first year as a teacher, the textbook was, unfortunately, the backbone of my course due to many time constraints, and I soon saw how horrible it was. It and the accompanying worksheets mainly focused on science vocabulary, not learning actual scientific ideas. A lot of the worksheets did not make the students think, but rather made them hunt for answers to a fill in a blank here and one there. The children were mice looking for a piece of cheese. When they would ask questions, they would not ask scientific questions, but would ask where they can find this vocabulary term. My second, and especially, the third year of teaching went much better because I was able to do all of my own research and create custom-made lessons and activities with little available resources and add the right structure to permit the students to achieve authentic scientific goals--the textbook was used sparingly and only when most beneficial. Moreover, all of the actual work done during a typical class period was done by the students, not me, like during my first year--my day really became a breeze and I left at the end of the day still full of energy although there still was much work to do (the most important point was that the students were succeeding and doing it all themselves). Nevertheless, although I changed my behavior as a teacher I still saw many other teachers rely on the textbook as the basis of their course. It's hard for me to severely criticize them for doing so, because it takes a lot of sacrifice on the part of the teacher with an already heavy workload to make such adjustments. When it comes down to it, quality resources for science aren't readily available, but they are slowly becoming available--good kits that focus on science inquiry are being marketed by a few companies. During my last year as a teacher, I had the opportunity to write curriculum and adopt new science learning materials--unfortunately, the textbooks of poor quality dominated over the adoption of science kits due to budget constraints and the typical life-span of the materials.
First, don't panic. I have not seen the study and so cannot accept the conclusions at face value. I have 2 kids in the public school system and have been very pleased with the quality of instruction they have been receiving. So whatever the study claims, it is not a universal truth.
Second, I think the underlying issue with education has not been properly addressed- the underlying issue is simply "what is the value of being educated"? Forget the airy-fairy utopian ideal of having a well-educated populace (that's a straw argument); why should someone go into debt to pay for an education (either tuition or via property taxes) that doesn't proportionally increase that person's standard of living? Be practical- why would you insist that very person have (for example) a high-school diploma? What is the practical value of that piece of paper?
Like it or not, two neighboring kids, one from a family that pays $19k in property taxes every year to go to a 'good school system' and one that pays $5k in property taxes will not *a priori* have markedly different career prospects. And why would childless families who no longer have kids in the public schools be willing to pay since the "schools are failing". This situation is simply more stark when the student is paying the education costs out-of-pocket.
Europe has had a multi-tier education system for a long time- some students are selected out for vocational training early, while some are steered towards university. This is an explicit acknowledgement of a class/caste system, but the reality is that one exists in the US already.
Last, claims that that US is 'losing the race' to other countries; maybe that's true, maybe not. Again, the reality is that we live in a very fluid environment- the entire globe is in play, not just a few rich countries. There's a lot of uncertainty and also a lot of opportunity.
I think there may be many underlying reasons for this problem. The biggest one is likely that teachers often don't have an adequate science education themselves, so don't know the subject enough to not use the crutch of the textbook. I certainly have no recollection of my middle school science books. I'm not sure we spent much time reading them. I've even encountered this problem at the college level. For the lecture I gave today, about half the material did not come from the textbook; I had to tell the students to basically ignore some sections of the text because it's so oversimplified as to be wrong. And, then I had to spend a LOT of time creating new illustrations for my lecture, because NONE of the books I have on my shelf had one that showed what I wanted to show.
Though, there are always other opportunities too. For example, we just had a high school class come visit our anatomy labs yesterday. These were all students with an interest in some sort of health profession after they graduate...anything from paramedic to med school some day. We gave them a mini-anatomy lesson, and it was a lot of fun to do for us and them. So, not sure what to teach on a subject and the book isn't helpful, call up the local university and find out if there's someone there who is willing to do an outreach program of some sort, either to come to your classroom or for your classroom to come to them. It took me five minutes to throw together a 20-min lesson for these students at an age-appropriate level. When the teacher was on the way out, I mentioned to her that we should do this sort of thing for more classes and to have some of the other teachers contact us. I'd be equally happy to go visit the schools as have them come to us.
Of course, this is something we can also use this forum for. I'd love to see middle or high school teachers in here saying, "I have to give a lesson on this topic, and our book is terrible, but I'm not sure what else I can include to present this more clearly, can anyone else suggest some ideas or resources that will help?"
From my experience by the time students get to highschool about 90 percent are apathetic about their education. The same small portion of the school will be in all the advanced or ap classes with the exception of a few, not merely everyone studying their subject of interest. The rest dont care or dont have educational interests. It amazes me how many students with their 4.0 gpa's or close to it have difficulty spelling their own name because they took 2 TA classes, home ec, and like office assistant...
I am not sure what exactly leads to educational apathy. I'm sure it has alot of contributers, but too many students dont seem to care.
The students who have very little educational oportunity but are eager to learn manage to learn inspite of any obstacle. The minority who excell are generally passionate about learning. If that passion was evident in more students i dont believe we would have this decline in education.
Off the top of my head, tenure is a major problem in it's current state for public schools. You get an excess of mediocre/poor teachers that quite frankly are uninspiring to students. It's also the parents faults for not striking interest in learning for children it seems.
As mbisCool stated, it seems like maybe the 10% of students are in all honors/advanced classes, while the rest just waste approximately 7-8 hours of their day. The dumb part is is that it's partly the teachers fault. I remember in high school the teachers who taught advanced classes were usually the good interesting, and inspiring teachers while the rest were mediocre at best.
There's an awful lot to read here, so be assured that I didn't and forgive me if I say something already mentioned.
I can't help but think of the saying: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."
I think society's attitude towards teaching is geared wrong. Education of those still up and coming should be taken a lot more seriously than it is, i.e. all efforts must be made to ensure that the teachers are of the highest standard.
I'm not going to Google the stats, but teaching is notoriously underpaid. How about creating an incentive to draw better-qualified people to the industry (or even just greater interest) by upping the wages somewhat?
Of course, there's also the arguments for parental input etc etc, but those things, in my opinion, are a lot more difficult to control or influence than creating a better teaching environment both for the students as well as the teachers.
I teach high school math and I'm starting to think that mathematical ability is like language- if it's not developed early, it never will (I have no evidence for this, just my thoughts). I don't know what these kids are doing in middle school, but they come here not knowing how to do arithmetic with fractions or even negative numbers in some cases. They slowly improve, but only by parroting what I do at the board. They don't know how to check their answers and even after I show them numerous times, still ask me "Is this answer right"? I explained the difference between the inequalities |x|< 2 and |x|> 2 about 10 times at the board, both geometrically in terms of a number line (I still can't figure out how this didn't stick) and even algebraically. The majority of kids still failed their test.
I'm not necessarily blaming the kids, but we're failing them at some point in their math educations (probably by NOT failing them when they deserve it). I see the point of both sides here. If we go easy on them, of course they'll do worse, but how is a teacher supposed to teach algebra to a student who can't do -5-2?
While it certainly isn't the case every time...there are very talented teachers in the schools...I agree that there aren't enough of them.
I think part of the problem is that people are reluctant to pay all those tenured, mediocre teachers more while raising starting salaries for those who are better teachers, but the unions get in the way and expect that if you raise starting salaries, you have to raise all salaries.
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