May 1, 2008

On education...

During a recent email list conversation, I spewed forth some of my thoughts on education. I decided to share them here:

A few years ago, we had this conversation when I worked at South Central. If memory serves, there was research that showed 'no significant difference' in reading levels between children who were being taught to read at 3-4 years old and those taught later (1st grade and up) by the time each set of students reached high school.

I have to say the most accurate and telling part of (another poster's) comment (IMHO) was this: "I think I turned out OK"

I have yet to understand why we are forcing our kids to do everything at a younger age, testing them 900 times a year, etc, when none of that mattered for us, and, as you said, "I think (we) turned out OK." In fact, I'd say many of us on this list have turned out much MORE than "OK." The problem, I think, is that we are still using the 'factory worker' model of schooling yet expect more and more students to go to college. Let's use the methods and procedures that factories use to make motorcycles but expect those factories to produce cars at the end of the line! Oh, and let's test the workers on how to make cars when all they know is motorcycles. Huh!? Does that make sense? No.

It is no wonder there is a rise in charter schools, home schools, and private education centers. How many people WORK in/for public school systems (or their entities) yet send their children to private school? The problem, again IMHO, is not the schools themselves but in the systems in which those schools must operate. Oh, but how do we change the system when we don't know what will work or what won't?

For starters, public education has got to be willing to stick with a program or design long enough to see its effectiveness. Sorry, but two years with one direction, switching to another program for two years, then switching to another in two years, only to switch back to the first program two years after that only serves to frustrate parents and teachers and confuse the tar out of the students. But, the system must be willing to LET GO of a program that does not work. I know, it's a hard line to walk. Walk it anyway.

Second, it makes NO SENSE to look at how students in 4th grade (or any grade) are doing each year without LONGITUDINAL studies. Every teacher that has ever graced a classroom can tell you that some years students are more successful and other years, not so much. How can you compare one group of students to ANOTHER, DIFFERENT group of students and expect to see improvement!? You can't! Now, take those 4th graders, and see how THOSE students do in 5th, 7th, 9th, etc and make your conclusions. AH! Now, we are comparing apples to apples, as it were... In fact, not just apples to apples, but Mackintoshes to Mackintoshes and Granny Smiths to Granny Smiths! Holy equal evaluations, Bat Man!

Finally, teachers need to be allowed to TEACH. I would love to see (or perhaps conduct myself) a study done on how much non-instructional time is required (or is "demanded yet not explicitly written") of our teachers. Yes, yes, I've seen the "teachers rules of 1812" or whatever that thing that circulates around the 'net is called, but that only serves my point... Ever since the profession began, teachers have had more and more 'other duties' assigned that have nothing to do with actual DIRECT classroom instruction. And people wonder why the drop-out rate among young teachers is so high...

I would love to see a national standard introduced that forced EVERY employee (from the CEO down the organizational chart, including the President, senators and reps, etc since they are employed by the taxpayers) to take standardized tests as often as we force our children to take them. Seriously. Why shouldn't we be expected to endure the same punishment as the children we are 'educating?' Stop and think about it - every 6-8 weeks, you are given a standardized test (a target assessment, if you will) showing what you know and where you stand. And, if you don't pass these tests, you don't get a raise. Or, maybe you lose your job altogether. Or maybe you lose a pay grade until you can become proficient or advanced on your job-related, nationally standardized test? Oh, what's that? You don't do some of the things that are on your test? You're not familiar with some of the terms on the test? Sorry, you boss would like to help you, but s/he can't because they aren't allowed to help you with what is on the test exactly... They can supply you with a reference manual, though, and you are free to read the whole thing on your own time. Of course, you don't have time for that because you have your own work to do, plus the next test is coming up next week anyway. Oh, you didn't have time to improve from the last test? Perhaps we should hold back your pay scale then.....

What does all of that have to do with my original point? We didn't have to put up with anywhere near the testing and assessment that our children are subjected to, we learned ABC's and tying shoes in Kindergarten, and we learned reading and math later in life, and you know what? We turned out more than OK....

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