What does the American educational system (K-12) teach well?

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StatGuy2000
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Hi everyone! One of the things I read and hear about is how poorly the American educational system teach math or science (here I'm discussing about the K-12 system, not post-secondary education).

I would like to pose the opposite question: what does the American educational system (K-12) teach well? What, to your knowledge or experience, do students graduating from the American educational system in general come away knowing best?

Please note: Please keep this discussion about the American educational system as it is now. I do not want to read or hear about how great the schools were in the past -- no nostalgia allowed in this thread! (Nostalgia by its very nature is not an accurate reflection of "the past", whenever that past may be)
 
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StatGuy2000
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Moderator's note: I had placed this thread under Academic Guidance (since I'm asking about education), but please feel free to move this to a more appropriate sub-forum.
 
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Vanadium 50
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What, to your knowledge or experience, do students graduating from the American educational system in general come away knowing best?
Self-esteem, perhaps?
 
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StatGuy2000
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Self-esteem, perhaps?
I take it that you are assuming that (genuine) self-esteem can be taught.
 
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Dr. Courtney
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Football?

I think the question is miscast.

A system doesn't teach much.

Individual teachers teach. Some teach well. Some teach poorly.

The weakness in math and science is the lack of sufficient numbers of good math and science teachers.

If a student gets a few good teachers, supported by good parents, students of ample diligence will learn well. Students who do not learn will not pass.

By definition, a teacher who passes a student who is not proficient in the learning objectives is not a good teacher.

The system mostly teaches that students can get by without really learning much. It teaches students how to game the system, and it teaches those lessons really, really well.
 
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StatGuy2000
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Football?

I think the question is miscast.

A system doesn't teach much.

Individual teachers teach. Some teach well. Some teach poorly.

The weakness in math and science is the lack of sufficient numbers of good math and science teachers.

If a student gets a few good teachers, supported by good parents, students of ample diligence will learn well. Students who do not learn will not pass.

By definition, a teacher who passes a student who is not proficient in the learning objectives is not a good teacher.

The system mostly teaches that students can get by without really learning much. It teaches students how to game the system, and it teaches those lessons really, really well.
You are certainly correct that a system by itself doesn't teach much, but it is a system that ensures that the good teachers (i.e. those that can impart the knowledge and inspire confidence and learning to students) can thrive in a given school system and that bad teachers get rooted out. It is also a system that ensures that a curriculum is taught appropriately.

If a large number of students are (a) not learning what we as society think students should learn, and (b) there is evidence that students are "gaming the system", then that is a flaw in the system.
 
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You are certainly correct that a system by itself doesn't teach much, but it is a system that ensures that the good teachers (i.e. those that can impart the knowledge and inspire confidence and learning to students) can thrive in a given school system and that bad teachers get rooted out. It is also a system that ensures that a curriculum is taught appropriately.

If a large number of students are (a) not learning what we as society think students should learn, and (b) there is evidence that students are "gaming the system", then that is a flaw in the system.
Well, to avoid these ambiguities, let's find some data. Is there data that supports the idea that the U.S. is behind in math and science? Who are we behind? Who are we ahead of? Is this same data useful in answering your question?

-Dave K
 
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Dr. Courtney
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If a large number of students are (a) not learning what we as society think students should learn, and (b) there is evidence that students are "gaming the system", then that is a flaw in the system.
Ya think? One has to be fairly incompetent at Algebra 1 and Geometry to manage a 19 on the math portion of the ACT, yet about half the students in Louisiana who have passed Algebra 1 and Geometry score a 19 or below. And yet those teachers who passed them keep collecting paychecks.
 
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StatGuy2000
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Ya think? One has to be fairly incompetent at Algebra 1 and Geometry to manage a 19 on the math portion of the ACT, yet about half the students in Louisiana who have passed Algebra 1 and Geometry score a 19 or below. And yet those teachers who passed them keep collecting paychecks.
But is the problem really (solely) to do with the teachers? After all, one could argue that, say, if a math teacher finds that a large number of his/her students do not have the necessary background or prerequisite to be in his/her class (math knowledge, after all, is cumulative) due to the impact of poor teaching in the past, what can he/she do? Fail most of the class? If he/she does so, then how can he/she explain this to the principal?

There is also the issue of race and class as well, since African American and Hispanic students are much more likely to attend public schools where the majority of their classmates qualify as poor or low-income, based on a study by Stanford University looking at federal data. And I think it would be fair to say that students who come from poor or low-income families will face many further barriers in terms of academic achievement versus students who come from more advantageous backgrounds.

http://cepa.stanford.edu/content/pa...and-socioeconomic-academic-achievement-gaps-1

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/02/concentration-poverty-american-schools/471414/
 
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StatGuy2000
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Well, to avoid these ambiguities, let's find some data. Is there data that supports the idea that the U.S. is behind in math and science? Who are we behind? Who are we ahead of? Is this same data useful in answering your question?

-Dave K
With respect to your question, these links may provide some answers.

http://www.oecd.org/pisa/

The methodology used, as well as the results for 2012 for the US, can be found in the following Wikipedia article.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment#Method_of_testing
 
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But is the problem really (solely) to do with the teachers? After all, one could argue that, say, if a math teacher finds that a large number of his/her students do not have the necessary background or prerequisite to be in his/her class (math knowledge, after all, is cumulative) due to the impact of poor teaching in the past, what can he/she do? Fail most of the class? If he/she does so, then how can he/she explain this to the principal?
Actually it is worse than this. Teachers are strongly discouraged from failing students no matter how bad they are doing.

It was about this time that I was called down to the principal’s office with a terse e-mail that read only, “I need to speak with you.” Clueless, I took down my grade sheets, communication logs, lesson plans, and sat down as an adult still summoned down to the principal’s office. “I need to talk to you about these students.” She handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. At the time, I only had about 120 students, so I was relatively on par with a standard bell curve. As she brought up each one, I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work—a lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further. Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education:

“They are not allowed to fail.”

“If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.”
Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news...uld-love-to-teach-but/?utm_term=.7eafb487852f

Again the quote “They are not allowed to fail" is worth noting. It doesn't matter if it's because they aren't showing up, studying, or turning in work. They are not allowed to fail. I've had friends quit teaching over stuff like this. It's bad.

-Dave K
 
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  • #12
Dr. Courtney
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But is the problem really (solely) to do with the teachers? After all, one could argue that, say, if a math teacher finds that a large number of his/her students do not have the necessary background or prerequisite to be in his/her class (math knowledge, after all, is cumulative) due to the impact of poor teaching in the past, what can he/she do? Fail most of the class? If he/she does so, then how can he/she explain this to the principal?
As honestly as possible.

But of course. Students who are not competent in the learning objectives should not be passed. How is passing them blessing them or the next teacher along the line (or the employer)? All the teacher who passes them has taught them is they do not really need to learn to pass. Once they learn that lesson, how can the next teacher expect to be successful? They know they will pass either way.

When I was an engineer, I developed test systems for wireless products. If a unit failed, it did not get shipped. Knowingly shipping it and billing the customer would be fraud. Blaming the quality of the incoming components is no excuse for fraud.

Likewise, sending students along and billing the taxpayer is fraud, regardless of the quality of the materials one begins with.
 
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  • #13
symbolipoint
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What a district or an institution teaches well, depends on where and when, regardless of the specifications asked for in the first posting in this topic. A good portion of teachers are very well qualified to teach something such as Algebra 1, because of their having studied and learned so much Math beyond just "Algebra 1", as part of their earning some degree in not just Mathematics, but in Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, and like that. These teachers can understand and apply their course outlines, their syllabus, advise their students beyond just what their textbook shows, and still, some students will be confused about Algebra 1.
 
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jasonRF
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Individual teachers teach. Some teach well. Some teach poorly.

The weakness in math and science is the lack of sufficient numbers of good math and science teachers.

If a student gets a few good teachers, supported by good parents, students of ample diligence will learn well. Students who do not learn will not pass.
I couldn't agree more, although I would add that there are also effective schools and ineffective schools. I went to a mostly ineffective high school but had a few good teachers (including one very good math teacher my jr and sr years) and great family support. I now live in Massachusetts, and find that at least some of the schools here are much more effective than the one I attended. The level of essays my children are expected to write, and the amount of experimental science they get to do (at least from grades 8-12) is really wonderful.

But if we are going to lump the entire educational system of the country together, I would say that overall we probably don't do anything really well across the board.
jason
 
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Stephen Tashi
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I would like to pose the opposite question: what does the American educational system (K-12) teach well?
It's interesting how the thread has digressed to a different topic!

I'd say the USA school systems teaches individualism, in the sense that it doesn't not impose a narrow set of cultural attitudes. Naturally, individualism is not an unmitigated virtue, but I find it preferable to educational systems that emphasize cultural uniformity or reverence for some dictator.
 
  • #16
vela
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I would like to pose the opposite question: what does the American educational system (K-12) teach well? What, to your knowledge or experience, do students graduating from the American educational system in general come away knowing best?

I know this isn't what you are really asking about, but one thing that American education system seem to be very good at teaching is that math is to be feared. At one school I teach at, there's a math anxiety workshop offered every semester to help students overcome their fear of the subject. I hear it from my astro students how having to work with numbers and simple algebra freaks them out (though they all seem to do well enough).
 
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phinds
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You are certainly correct that a system by itself doesn't teach much, but it is a system that ensures that the good teachers (i.e. those that can impart the knowledge and inspire confidence and learning to students) can thrive in a given school system and that bad teachers get rooted out.
Exactly. And this is precisely what the US education system is NOT and that is the fundamental reason why it teaches pretty much NOTHING well on a consistent basis. As has been said, individual teachers, particularly if working with motivated students who have a good home environment, can do wonders but even a good teacher is hard pressed to to much with a student that has been brought up with no respect for learning and it is particularly hard to do much in a system that does not reward good teachers or punish bad ones. AH, nuts. Don't get me started ...
 
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Don't get me started ...
From the movie "Clue," all surviving cast in unison, "Too late."
 
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Stephen Tashi
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The USA educational system has done a good job at encouraging people to be critics!
 
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Dr. Courtney
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I couldn't agree more, although I would add that there are also effective schools and ineffective schools.
Absolutely. In my experience, the Air Force Academy is a very effective school. Hiring all of your graduates motivates quality like nothing else.

When I interviewed for an internal promotion to an administrative faculty position, I told the committee that my philosophy would be to "Hire good faculty, give them everything they need, and stay out of their way." The inability and unwillingness of most academic institutions to do these three things guarantees they will remain ineffective schools.

An effective school is nothing more than a collection of effective teachers. Most ineffective schools undermine the authority and the ability of potentially good teachers to do their jobs.
 
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With respect to your question, these links may provide some answers.

http://www.oecd.org/pisa/

The methodology used, as well as the results for 2012 for the US, can be found in the following Wikipedia article.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment#Method_of_testing
Well it's only broken down for math, science, and reading. You can compare with other countries or the OECD average (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

As of now, we are apparently above the OECD for science, slightly below for reading, and really far below for math. The OECD includes a lot of very poor countries that are very low in all areas. It is not surprising to me that we would be better than this average.

Also,I don't know what "science" they are testing. I think it's possible that kids can do well in tests that require recalling factoids about science (biology, chemistry, anatomy, whatever it is they teach).

Compared with ourselves, it is really interesting and perplexing that science is above reading. I thought surely we were at least gaining on literacy if nothing else. Apparently the literacy rate hasn't changed in the last 10 years. I've never met (that I know of) someone who couldn't read, but I would classify 95% of the people I have met outside of academic circles as being scientifically illiterate. (I probably judge harshly. I classify someone as scientifically illiterate if they do not accept climate change or if they believe in homeopathy or ghosts, for example.)

So, besides those three things, what else are we even teaching? I really don't know what goes on in schools these days.

-Dave K
 
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  • #22
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I think it's possible that kids can do well in tests that require recalling factoids about science (biology, chemistry, anatomy, whatever it is they teach).
Adminis"Trivial Pursuit."
 
  • #23
Dr. Courtney
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The American system is very good at teaching students to cheat. Since teachers cheat the system by collecting paychecks while passing students who are not proficient in the learning objectives, students learn by example. This is a horrible lesson because:

People expect their doctors, their pilots, their engineers, and their military officers to have genuinely earned their professional credentials and to meet rigorous standards in areas of knowledge and conduct necessary for public trust in the performance of their duties. Cheating is wrong because academic dishonesty in the training of these professions undermines both the expected level of expertise and the expected level of trust. Educators have a duty to society to ensure the quality of graduates, and this duty includes good faith efforts to prevent academic dishonesty.

See:
https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1102/1102.1506.pdf

How many teachers lecture against plagiarism or use of unauthorized resources while cheating the system by collecting their paychecks while failing in their job of quality control?

Students are not fooled. They know teachers are lying when they say how challenging a course will be and how they won't pass without hard work. Students know the teachers will pass them to avoid the battles with their parents and the administration that failing them would require.
 
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  • #24
Andy Resnick
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I would like to pose the opposite question: what does the American educational system (K-12) teach well? What, to your knowledge or experience, do students graduating from the American educational system in general come away knowing best?
This question isn't easy to answer because of the structure of K-12 education: the resources (teachers, materials, infrastructure) available to students depend very much on the local tax base, which is a reflection of the local socio-economic population. Different school districts differ in their effectiveness.

Your question seems to ask "what does the US K-12 system teach better than the world average?", and even this question is difficult to answer, since the US population is very heterogeneous as compared with other countries and the K-12 curriculum in the US is very different than in other countries. For example, US students can choose 'elective' classes starting in middle school or even earlier- there are even pseudo-elective choices available in some elementary schools. Intramural/varsity sports teams, social clubs, and other 'extracurricular' activities (student newspaper, for example) are generally sponsored by and provided by the school, and generally any student can participate in any school activity. US K-12 students are exposed to a comparatively greater variety of 'stuff'.

So a few things I think the US K-12 system teaches well is operating in a diverse environment, self-sufficiency, and personal responsibility. In my limited personal experience, american undergraduates differ significantly from foreign undergrads in that US students are more able to work independently: less detailed instructions need to be given, for example. But that's a self-selected sample: not all K-12 kids enter college.
 
  • #25
StatGuy2000
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I know this isn't what you are really asking about, but one thing that American education system seem to be very good at teaching is that math is to be feared. At one school I teach at, there's a math anxiety workshop offered every semester to help students overcome their fear of the subject. I hear it from my astro students how having to work with numbers and simple algebra freaks them out (though they all seem to do well enough).
From my standpoint, this has less to with the American educational system and more to do with a problem in mainstream American culture. As I see it, mainstream American culture (I notice this particularly among non-immigrant white Americans, such as my paternal relatives) portrays mathematical ability as an inborn trait (i.e. a skill that you are born with or not). So many Americans believe that no amount of effort can help someone who does not "get" math at the first go.

Among various Asian societies (e.g. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indian families) and immigrants or first-generation Americans from these backgrounds, the attitude is very different. From what I've observed about these cultures (I'm half-Japanese, and live in an area with a large Asian population, so I can testify to this), mathematical ability is equivalent to reading ability and it is expected that, with hard work and effort, that anyone can develop basic and even advanced ability in mathematics. Hence it is not altogether surprising that students from these cultures tend to outperform in areas such as math.
 
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