Many educational experts believe that the present state of the educational system in the USA and abroad is less-than-desirable. Many agree that the realities of life in our current century do not necessarily align with the manner in which we are choosing to educate our children. Many agree that education is outdated and must be redesigned and re-thunk in order to become more meaningful for our children. What experts do not agree on is how we are going to do this.
EDUCATIONAL TRENDS/ FADS
I worry that education is too often driven by fleeting trends. Somehow education is one of those fields that seems to implement first and research later, only finding out years after millions of dollars have been invested that the new method of teaching (insert any subject here… math, science, etc.) was not any better than the original way (in fact, sometimes it was worse!)
I have a few examples for you. I learned math years ago from a textbook series that today is frowned upon and ostracized – it is looked down on by many educational experts – the series??? Saxon Math. It got me through math, it helped me learn what I needed to learn and I scored the second highest score in my school on the math portion of the SAT. Years later, when I needed to review my math skills for the GRE I believe that the math I learned came back quickly and, ultimately, I remembered enough math to get a decent score (not outstanding, but high enough to apply to the doctoral programs I was interested in). I did okay, I actually did well, with (this now considered sub-standard) Saxon Math – in fact, I LOVED math!!! Many of us did okay with Saxon. Believe me, I am NOT wanting to plug their program, just point out a simple fact. Saxon is now considered boring and obsolete, it was just about math problems, there was too much repetition and not enough real world relevance.
This year we had to choose a math series for our high school. Of course, Saxon Math was not even on the table as an option, but what worried the math teacher and me was the quality of the options that were available to us as a school. We were appalled to realize that many math books were missing the point – teaching math skills. One series was so bad that the teacher brought the book to me and said, “Do you see the problem with this one? There are more words than numbers on every page! They are supposed to be learning math, not reading!” She was right – there WERE more words than numbers and the math textbooks were focused on cool “bunny trails” regarding the application of math in real life circumstances, but did not really focus on math today. Hmmmm, it made me wonder how that would really be helpful – and I thought about my daughter who is currently learning to play the piano.
My daughter has a piano book that teaches her music in a logical manner. She started off with simple songs and each week she is challenged to learn new notes and rhythms. She uses an old piano series, in fact, it is the same one I used 30+ years earlier (perhaps the photos are a bit updated). The method is exactly the same: master the basics and then find yourself with increasingly more challenging material. Nothing has changed because in order to learn music, one must practice music. Is math not the same? The math books have changed incredibly – and now instead of doing as many practice problems, our students read about math. I wonder what would happen if my daughter were to read about music, instead of practicing songs in succession – would she learn music faster??? Probably not! Why do we know that in order to master music our students must practice, but we have decided that students do not need as much practice to master math? Calculating is not that different from music – it takes practice to really understand and internalize the skills.
How many of my readers remember the DARE programs in the schools that started in the 80’s??? DARE to keep kids off drugs – remember now? Local policeman came to the schools to teach drug prevention programs. There was no data proving the efficacy of the program, but parents wanted the programs in their children’s schools as word spread. In the end? DARE has been cut from many schools, but it remains today and, with the help of Penn State, has become more relevant with new curriculum. Ironically, I believe that the research did not indicate that the program had any correlation with lower rates of drug use. In fact, if I recall correctly, a few studies proved that participation in DARE increased curiosity and may have been correlated with slightly higher rates of drug experimentation.
Some schools are still engaging in character education, a program that I always appreciated. When character education was the big trend, adults wanted their children’s schools to add this program, which focused on a different character trait each month, with the hopes of infusing these particular traits into our children’s being. I remember one school I worked at spent an entire year (yes AN ENTIRE YEAR) deciding which 10 character traits they would focus on throughout the school year. There was a committee that met for 1-2 hours every month to work on the traits. There were 10 people on the committee – in the end we spent between 150 and 200 hours of staff time (the equivalent of one person working full-time for five weeks) to choose these traits. We then purchased curriculum and we were ready to go. Just two years later we never heard of the traits again – it faded into nowhere – taking all the time and money we had invested into the black hole with it.
I am all for implementing new programs that work – I have taught parenting courses at many of the schools I have worked at and they have all survived since I left. The parents needed support, empowerment, and skill building – the course met a very real need and has had a very positive effect.
The question is – when do we choose new programs for the sake of new programs (or feeling that we are missing something because the marketing is so good…..)
IB and AP Programs
The IB programs – all of them: PYP (Primary Years Program), MYP (Middle Years Program), and the IB (International Baccalaureate Diploma have all come with very mixed feelings and results. Many parents are DEMANDING that their school districts offer the IB diploma, a rigorous diploma that places an incredible amount of pressure on the teens that complete it. Some teens thrive in the program, as they love the challenges of learning. Other teens feel that they are drowning, but will not be able to get into a college without the diploma – so they spend every waking hour during their junior and senior year dedicated to this diploma program, at the expense of their childhood. This often has a backfire effect when they hit college and then let loose and party constantly, at the expense of their schoolwork (after all, they are now in college, nothing left to work towards – and the courses are easier than the high school ones, so they really can afford to party… until partying is too much).
Our schools offer AP classes, but have opted to NOT embrace the IB program at this time. What I have found interesting is that our students are getting into Ivy league schools at the same rate as those schools with IB programs – so why are the IB programs in such demand?
BUCKING THE SYSTEM
Some schools are starting to buck the system – they want to teach their teens to embrace learning and give them a true learning experience – they are leaning towards dropping IB and AP programs. What is in their place? Learning – no more teaching to IB or AP exams and prescriptive curriculum guides – they are now allowed to be more creative in the classrooms and work with students at their level and follow their interests. If a class is more interested in World War II than anticipated and great learning is occurring the teacher can extend that unit and not be pressured that they will not finish the material necessary for a test. The students learn more as they are able to tackle subjects in more thorough ways. And, the beauty of these schools is that they are able to focus more on fostering creativity and adaptability – two of the skills that future employers consistently list as necessary for workplace success.
CHANGING THE SYSTEM???
I do not have the answers when it comes to how we need to change our educational system today, I just know we need to start asking the questions. I am concerned that some subject areas are evolving in ways that seem to teach our students less (such as the aforementioned math textbooks) and some that are teaching more, but only teaching to a test (ie: AP and IB exams). I want to see students engaged in learning that is exciting and relevant – and that is balanced. Too many high school students are overwhelmed with the pressure to succeed in high school for the purpose of college admissions. What happened to the balance? Is there a way for them to succeed without being pushed to their breaking points?
In order to change the system, at least at the high school level, dialogue will need to occur between high school teachers and university admissions professionals, as university entrance requirements are a leading force in the high school education trends for today. In order to change the high school system, we will have to partner with universities to look at the way we judge students for university entrance – perhaps we are doing THAT all wrong too!
Today, 18 days ’til 40, I find myself wondering how we are going to shift our current educational system into something far more meaningful and relevant for our children. They are counting on us to figure it out.
February 3, 2013 at 17:37
Very good questions. Hopefully more and more educators will get their voices heard. The students are the ones suffering, and they are our only hope for a brighter future.
February 3, 2013 at 20:39
Yes, I do have the same hopes – we need to be heard and the students need to be our main focus and concern.
February 3, 2013 at 17:57
One thing is for sure I’m glad I’m in school those days – a couple of years ago I was going to help a friends daughter with the math … when she showed my the books, I was totally lost … didn’t understand one thing. What was wrong with the system we had???
February 3, 2013 at 20:39
Yes, the new math books can be very confusing for parents when they try to help our students – this is one of their common complaints – they want to know where the “old math books” are – that they felt were much more user-friendly.
February 3, 2013 at 18:05
When I was a homeschooling Mom, we used Saxon Math. The DARE program was still being utilized in our school system, and I sent my son. One of the perks of being homeschooled, is that my son received a ride home in the patrol car when class was over. Unfortunately, the program was terminated shortly after and I could not send my daughter. It is reassuring that there are educators, such as yourself, that are currently working to provide the best possible for our children.
February 3, 2013 at 20:38
Thank you for your kind words. I suppose the good news is that it turns out that your daughter did not miss much, since the efficacy was not proven with the program. It will be interesting to see how everything evolves over the next 20 years.
February 4, 2013 at 01:16
True enough…the DARE program may not have had as big of a positive national impact as we would like. On an individual basis, however, the personal interaction between law enforcement and children is something worth pursuing; especially in this age of fear and disrespect. I would’ve loved my daughter to have had the interaction that my son was blessed with…to develop friendship and trust with a good police mentor.
February 3, 2013 at 18:05
you bring up good points…this will date me but, if it isn’t broken why fix it?
February 3, 2013 at 20:37
This doesn’t date you that much – I say that to my staff more often than you would think!
February 3, 2013 at 18:08
Excellent post. I certainly agree with your comments. If you look at the stats, our country seems to be falling further behind relative to others in the world. I primarily concentrate on STEM issues and not liberal arts; although important, my background is in engineering and math. The only way I learned math was to work and work and work problems. Same for mechanical engineering–do the work. I think we have possibly gotten away from that in some educational systems. Again–great post.
February 3, 2013 at 20:41
Thank you so much for your compliment – I agree, we do need to do what you did, return to an appropriate amount of practice to truly master skills – I do not want our students writing reports about math, I want them DOING math! 🙂
February 3, 2013 at 18:38
I love reading your posts and I’m happy to be part of your blog readers. I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
February 3, 2013 at 20:35
Thank you so very much! This made me smile today!!!!! 🙂
February 3, 2013 at 23:30
😀 I am so happy 🙂
February 3, 2013 at 18:59
My son was invited to join the IB program in our school district before he started the 7th-grade. His mom and I decided against it because we didn’t want him turning into a twitchy, nervous, obsessive student. he has always gotten the highest marks in school; in fact, he got the highest honor in his 6th-grade for Academic Excellence.
We decided, instead, to put him in the HA (high achieving) program that leads to the AP program in high school. He is a straight A student in all honors classes. He doesn’t need the IB program. He is getting great marks in a good program, and he still gets to have a childhood.
I know that the AP program in high school will be rigorous, but I know he will be prepared to balance his various priorities by that point.
February 3, 2013 at 20:35
Wow, what a great decision you made. I am sure it was not an easy one! He will have every opportunity to get into a dynamic university, but will do so without the extra pressure (though AP courses will not be easy and will bring some pressure). I think it is wonderful that you took the time to look at your child’s needs and place them first.
February 3, 2013 at 19:15
Lots of good points and thoughts. I agree totally about the educational fads; yes, evolution is a natural process, and there ARE improvements that have come along, but at the same time, who’s paying the price for these sometimes frivolous experiments?
February 3, 2013 at 20:34
Yes, so very true! We waste millions of dollars each year by jumping on educational bandwagons that we often get off of a year or two later.
February 3, 2013 at 19:28
I’ve enjoyed your journey and your comments on education have been enlightening. I have one grandchild in middleschool and two in highschool. They are all honor roll students, but one thing bothers me. When I went to school, especially highschool, there was a challenging bit of homework, projects, etc. Now it seems these kids do all such things at school. They do have homework, but not much. On the other hand, they’ve taken AP classes, that pile on too much homework. Can’t the schools challenge the kids without overloading them?
February 3, 2013 at 20:33
Thank you so much! You make such a good point about the balance – that we have schools giving too little or too much homework, but somehow have lost the ability to find that proper educational balance that reinforces the lessons without causing a child to drown.
February 3, 2013 at 20:18
Great questions and observations. I taught in the public school system for 15 years, private for 3, and we currently homeschool our three children: high school, junior high, and elementary. We are currently heavily involved in a classical model, which I would love to see brought back into public schools. I too sat on a math text book adoption committee and was frustrated by our options. As homeschool parents, started with Singapore math and have transitioned to Saxon in middle school. We have been pleased up to this point.
My experience is that we are no longer teaching our kids to think or evaluate and then challenge ideas. Nor are we adequately preparing them to communicate well (verbally and on paper) when they do think. Much of the focus, at least where I taught, was on standardized tests. Ugh.
February 3, 2013 at 20:32
Yes, this is so very sad. When I became head of our current school site the teachers were surprised when I told them I did NOT want them to teach to the test. I told them that if good teaching was occurring in the classrooms, test scores would raise automatically. I wanted the focus to be on the education. Guess what happened? They did, and our test scores went up WITHOUT teaching to the tests! 🙂
February 3, 2013 at 20:37
Not surprised in the least. Keep up the good fight.
Another Thousand Words
February 4, 2013 at 17:47
This post is a real ‘eye opener’, 400, and I certainly hope it gets passed along to parents and grandparents of school-aged children. Each time I am out and about here in Chicago, I see the ‘results’ of poor methods of education in the young people I observe. If it’s ‘all about the children’, I wonder why all these experimental (and failing) programs are even brought about?
A child needs love, needs to learn through experiences, needs to grow via enhanced thought processes…yet it seems the schools just want to get them through the grades as quickly as possible, whether they’ve learned anything (such as reading, math?) or not.
You, and others like you, are fighting a ‘good fight’…and I feel you will ultimately win…keep going!
February 4, 2013 at 23:29
Yes, so very true! I do hope that myself and others can come together and effect change!
Another Thousand Words
February 5, 2013 at 03:47
I truly feel that would be one of the best things that could happen…and the students would have a much more well-rounded curriculum! It may take some time though, so be patient, 400…and I know you’ll do your best…you always do!
February 4, 2013 at 21:39
I love the Saxon math series. My sister decided to homeschool her son because of the crazy way our schools were presenting math in the 3rd grade. Learn by doing is an old adage, but a good one.
February 4, 2013 at 23:27
Yes, sometimes we do need to step back and remember we learn from doing!
February 5, 2013 at 09:14
Yes, it’s the same in the UK too, we’re now changing our exams back to the ‘old’ style of one exam only not modular! Seems things constantly change to and fro, and not always for the better as you said.
February 5, 2013 at 23:37
Yes, I wonder why education seems to be the field of constant experimentation, at the expense of the children the system is supposed to be serving.
February 6, 2013 at 02:50
I think the current form of state assessment exams is ruining the motivation to teach and learn. I remember we took Iowa tests in school and they were used to place us in classes that would meet our needs in each subject. The idea of having to pass a test over knowledge you will never use after college in order to obtain a high school diploma is asinine. Just saying.
It’s no surprise to me that most students don’t acquire a love for learning because they aren’t taught things that they could learn to love. And passing the test becomes a conversation as early as 3rd grade. Really? What possible benefit is there to this mode of education?
Thanks for another excellent post. I wish we could fix the system without burning it down, but I’m not sure we can turn back the hands without government interference (they seem to need to regulate everything).
February 6, 2013 at 23:32
Yes, I agree with you – I have seen this happening. The teachers feel burnt out from teaching to tests and the pressure involved. It makes it much harder for them to put their heart, soul, and passion into teaching. Yet, we desperately need dedicated and passionate teachers, as they are the ones that will work to ignite the spark of interest to learn in our students.