How do we fix education in America?
  • In the Affirmative Action thread, I was involved in a discussion with GEFM, initially about whether or not Affirmative Action is correct or not, which moved into a discussion of equality and various issues regarding "equality." One issue that was brought up was children and education, and so from there I've decided to ask, how do we make education better for children? Is there one solution? Many? Is it a money problem? Is it an issue of too many mandates, regulation, and not enough emphasis on actual teaching? What are your thoughts? Also, feel free to talk about education and how it can be made better in other parts of the world.

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    The video above talks about school choice, and about how putting the decision of education in the hands of the parents (and not the Government) is the first step in leading the way to giving children a better education. I tend to agree with this point of view as I went to a Magnet School. It was located in my district, but I still had to audition to be accepted, and the fact that I was given that choice led me to a far better schooling/educational experience. Also, it granted me a lot more opportunities than I would have had in any other school I could have gone to.

    With all that said, what are your views, how do you think education should be dealt with? How can we make it better?
  • A change in the education system is a monumental task. It's costly, experimental, and it takes a long time to produce measurable results.
    A couple of weeks ago I read this: http://diakiwsdigest.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/winners-dont-compete-soren-ponenen-finnish-author/
    It talks about why Finnish education is so successful, and why Americans would probably not be able to emulate that success. Apart from the sheer size of the country, and heterogeneity of its population; it becomes clear that it is primarily core American values that might stand in the way of success in education.
    The video you posted, lapham, shows this as well. It's a guy who talks about choice: In a very American capitalist way. Essentially, he proposes that more choice means better education, more suitable to everyone's needs. A choice of schooling systems brings competition to the "education industry" and thus better quality and efficiency. And maybe that is true. I don't know anything about recent developments in the US, or specifically in New Orleans (if anyone has any links about that...). Though, it's good to hear that you felt like you had good education, lpaham.
    I am always very critical when I hear such talk when it comes to public services, such as education. It strikes me as either disillusion or disingenuous. Do they do that because they think the American public would shun it as Socialist, or are they unaware of some of the realities of what public education is? It's something you could probably classify as a quasi-public good, and that would mean that the normal free market approach is likely to be detrimental anyway... At the same time, I think it's good to experiment with different ways to solve the problem, and as I understand it education is a state matter in the US (should definitely not be a federal matter anyway), so the states could do a lot here to test different approaches and learn from each other's experiments.

    Anyway, enough for now, good topic!

    Here some more reading on Finland.
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html
  • Nice thread. I can’t speak to the situation in America but I am qualified to teach in the UK and hate the way things are currently handled over here. Where to start? When doing my PGCE back in 2001 I quickly learned that any autonomy teachers had when I was a lad at school was gone. Regularly missing out on great learning opportunities because of literacy and numeracy hour commitments was an unfortunate norm, as was the overly prescriptive, inflexible, impersonal, target driven directives introduced by the last government. I'll continue my rant later (dinner time)!
  • I'm a high school social studies teacher, so I may have some bias here, but I'm on the inside of the system so I might have some insight as well. I also consider myself a very liberal teacher, which I'll touch on in a bit.

    For the video, I completely agree with the idea of School Choice and like the Charter School movement that is going on in America right now. For those of you who don't know, there are 3 major types of schools in the USA; Public, Private, and Charter.

    Public are free schools, where you go to the nearest one based on your zipcode (like the video suggests). They are funded by local, state, and federal government money. They are given money based on local taxes as well as how they perform on national standardized tests. Their budgets are calculated with government budgets and in many states, they are at the mercy of the government with little representation to fight for their funding.

    Private schools require payment in the form of tuition for schools. Usually, parents of these students pay for their child to go to Private schools with the understanding that their education will be more dedicated and higher quality than public schools. These schools are under less pressure than public schools because they usually fund themselves and don't need to rely on government money to exist.

    Charter schools are "off brand" schools that are appearing everywhere in the USA. Charter Schools have special contracts for the government where they promise a unique and different teaching environment, but with the same promise of educating students. Charter schools are given more freedom to teach in different ways, but are usually smaller and require heavy invesement from other resources in the community. They are measured differently by the government, but still can produce results. Some charter schools are taking to "Virtual" classrooms, or online schooling, which is slowly becoming popular in the US.

    Ask any teacher in the US why their students are failing and they will usually say 2 things; funding and poor parenting. Usually the kids who struggle in schools come from homes where their parents are not good at parenting. Distractions like drugs, alcohol, and other less-good things that immature parents engage in serve as distractions for their students. With the government so heavily involved with public education, when funding is cut, resources for schools to use are cut as well, making it hard to provide a quality education to students. Any teacher can teach on a blackboard with chalk, but in order to engage students and given them an inspiring education, you need to have other resources, like technology and access to better teaching materials to get students interested in the material. On top of that, teachers arent payed that well in the USA either, which causes many to be frustrated, and many aspiring teachers quit the profession within their first 5 years on the job.

    Overall, in my opinion, I believe public education is becoming a sham. The government should not have such control over school funding. When schools struggle, the government punishes them by taking away funding, which I believe is wrong. In the USA, we spend so much money on stupid shit ("Defense" aka the war on Terrorism), but we are cutting funding to education all the time. I hate it.

    Public education doesn't have the resources to create a perfect nation of inspired learners; the public education system is out of date. Nations like Germany use a tiered education system which I tend to like more in that it allows schools to excell in different directions, rather than give every single student the same mediocre education here in the USA. I think the US education system will always be weak before we start putting our system into tiers for different learning areas, like the Gymnasium and guild/trade schools. In a sense though, if we do that, we're talking about things like Charter schools are already doing in the US right now.

    I believe Charter schools are the best possible way for the US to fix their education problem right now; it isn't the final solution, but it's a step in the developing direction. Charter schools allow teachers to create lessons under less-strict standards, so teachers don't have to "teach for the test" and can allow students to be more creative as they learn. As a teacher who likes doing his own thing, I want to teach in a charter school where I can sit down with students and say "What do you want to learn today?" In a public school, where a high school diploma is awarded only when students complete a lenghty mutiple choice test, a teacher is affraid of the clock; they only have a certain amount of time to get their students the info they need, and if the student fails then the teacher looks bad.

    In summary, I think the entire US education system will suffer as long as the government exherts so much power over them. The government wants accountability, but they're doing it in the wrong way. The stress they create is souring the system and lowering the overall quality of education. We could have a country where students like school and are fired up when it comes to learning, but we need to be able to work in different directions to allow them to be inspired in the first place.
  • The Charter movement is too problematic to be any kind of large scale fix. Some are doing great things, some are borderline criminal entities. Because each is basically an individual entity, it's impossible to judge them as one homogenous group. Some are very cozy with big business and big charity, some aren't. Some are unionized, some aren't. Some are for-profit, some aren't, and some are highly selective, while others allow anyone and everyone. The problems come in the bureaucracy, scalability, and funding sustainability of charter schools. Because every charter school is different and allowed to be so, having, say, 50 of them in a city essentially creates 50 different school districts. This makes transferring of students and staff extremely hard and time consuming. They also have limited public accountability.

    What makes a charter school a good school, however, is not exclusive to charter schools alone. It's important to note that numerous wide-scale studies have shown that charters schools on average do no better than public schools on average.

    Plankton touched on the difficulties of education reform. What it is essentially doing is making the education of kids the test subject. This is never an easy sell for anyone.

    There are a lot of steps that need to be taken. I'll make a simple list of what I think needs to be done:

    1) Stop making schools do what they shouldn't be doing. Public schools in the US often provide social workers, psychological counseling, litigation expertise, and many, many more social services that they are forced to use their funding to provide because the federal government does not. This ties their hands in many ways. America is the only country in the world who expects its public schools to do so much with so little, and when the funding is being taken out of the actual learning and into non-classroom staff, it makes the classroom suffer. This is one reason the school system is expensive when compared to other countries.

    Sort of a continuation; work to eliminate the problems that poverty causes with education. I.e., eliminating poverty, making schools more inviting and accommodating to poorer students, etc.

    2) Abolish the unequal funding via property tax.

    3) Abolish No Child Left Behind.

    4) Start working on the achievement gap in early grades. Most all of the education reform in recent years has affected middle school, high school, and college. Problems in education start way before that. We need to address the problems that occur right when kids start school.

    5) Improve teacher training and reputation. America is notorious for having some of the least trained, least paid, least appreciated, and lowest educated (in terms of college GPA, degrees, etc.) teachers in the developed world. Teachers need longer professional training, a more selective profession, and more assistance in paying for the education they need to have to know how to teach in school. Teachers can earn more money at more prestigious jobs very easily, this needs to be fixed. Heck, in South Korea, teachers make equal or even less than teachers in the US, but they are much more respected and the profession is treated as highly sought after. In the US, they are paid poorly, and treated poorly. That will never attract top-tier talent. Teaching as a profession right now is also unfair to new teachers - who are routinely thrown into the toughest classrooms because of the lack of desire from others, and to test them. This makes young, new teachers hard to come by, as the retention rate is poor (rock out with your cock out all you NT teachers. Well, not in class).

    6) Work to gradually shorten summer vacation drastically, with constant reviews of the effects, understanding that removing summer vacation is a definite possibility. Stop the reduction at any signs of trouble.

    7) Strict federal oversight regarding funding equality, special ed teaching access, AP course access, and other areas that can be assessed outside of standardized tests. Having the government's primary source of power being tied to test scores is beyond ridiculous.

    As Plankton pointed out, the Finnish system is really the class of the world right now. They get better bang for their buck and much better results. They have equated the existence of poverty and broken families with successful education, and worked to make sure that every child gets a good education.

    Sadly, the political discourse in America is blaming the educational system shortcomings on things with essentially no effect. Things like unions, school prayer, and other small issues. It's a problem. We need to be addressing the social issues that cause educational mishaps, as well as ensuring quality education equally for all students.

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