Why Our Children Isn't Learning

Because their educators waste time on crap like this:

To soothe the bruised egos of educators and children in lackluster schools, Massachusetts officials are now pushing for kinder, gentler euphemisms for failure.

Instead of calling these schools "underperforming," the Board of Education is considering labeling them as "Commonwealth priority," to avoid poisoning teacher and student morale.

Schools in the direst straits, now known as "chronically underperforming," would get the more urgent but still vague label of "priority one."

The board has spent parts of more than three meetings in recent months debating the linguistic merits and tone set by the terms after a handful of superintendents from across the state complained that the label underperforming unfairly casts blame on educators, hinders the recruitment of talented teachers, and erodes students' self-esteem.

[...]

At a December meeting on how to improve struggling schools in Holyoke, Lawrence, and Springfield, superintendents implored members not to stick them with a label of "chronically underperforming."

"For our teachers, it's a blow," said Wilfredo Laboy, Lawrence superintendent. "It demoralizes staff completely."

Joseph Burke, Springfield superintendent, said that while he is not crazy about any label, he would prefer "priority one," because "It sounds nicer."

In October 2006, John Stossel walked reason readers through the Byzantine process of firing an incompetent public school teacher in New York.

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  • ||

    How long until these knuckleheads figure out that "priority one" is the new "chronically underperforming" and want to change it yet again?

    When I attended parochial elementary school (a long time ago) each grade was split into two separate classrooms taught be different nuns. These were referred to as the "A" class and the "B" class, one of which was advanced, the other not. Those clever nuns, motivated by a desire, I suppose, to protect anyone from damage to their self-esteem, tried to hide this reality by making the "B" class the one with the faster learning, more advanced students. Of course, we all knew which was which, as did our parents.

    Silliness.

  • Jennifer||

    "We just haven't thought through a mechanism that avoids labels altogether, which is what I'd be really after," member Sandra Stotsky said.

    It's bad to admit that some schools and some students do worse than others.

  • ||

    When I was going to school, they started having to use trailers because the building was overcrowded. First they called them "portable classrooms," then the board changed it to "learning cottages."

    A one-paragraph essay became a BCR (Brief constructed response). A multi-paragraph essay became an ECR (Extended constructed response). Multiple choice became "selected response."

    When someone failed, they never got an F. They got an E.

    And whenever we got a state or county test, I was always careful to look for typos or other kinds of errors in the workbooks. I always found at least one or two.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    "We just haven't thought through a mechanism that avoids labels altogether, which is what I'd be really after," member Sandra Stotsky said.

    If they really want to avoid labels, they should just suck it up and not try to fix the schools at all. Everybody fails, but nobody knows it. Perfect solution all around!

    The board has spent parts of more than three meetings in recent months debating the linguistic merits and tone set by the terms after a handful of superintendents from across the state complained that the label underperforming unfairly casts blame on educators, hinders the recruitment of talented teachers, and erodes students' self-esteem.

    I could actually see that having a screwed-up school might cause you to have a tougher time hiring good teachers. However, the way around this as I see it is to offer more attractive pay and do some aggressive searches for good teachers to make sure you get the best. (And of course, aggressively fire those who don't work out.) Where do you get the money for teacher pay? Fire some of the administrators and other bureaucrats.

  • ||

    When the town hears underperforming, the average person thinks these students are underperforming.

    After reading this statement, I was concerned that Chairman Azer doesn't understand the problem or why his schools are on the underperforming list. However, the more pressing issue that needs to be addressed is his labeling me as "average" as I feel stigmatized and my self-esteem suffers.

  • Jennifer||

    I could actually see that having a screwed-up school might cause you to have a tougher time hiring good teachers. However, the way around this as I see it is to offer more attractive pay and do some aggressive searches for good teachers to make sure you get the best.

    My personal teaching experience is over four years old, but I don't think this info is out-of-date: a poll in the union magazine around 2003 asked teachers their sources of dissatisfaction, and "salary" was very, very low on that list. Most of the complaints were of the "lack of administrative or parental support" variety. Problem is, when looking at schools that are failing--by whatever metric you use to measure failure--there's this apparent idea that the onus is entirely on the teacher. It has nothing to do with the students, the parents, the administration, the kids' backgrounds. . . nope, it's all on the teachers.

    Take two schools, one whose students mostly hail from upper-middle-class suburbia and the other whose students are mostly from poor urban settings. No matter what the schools or teachers do, the richer kids are more likely to perform well in school, because they're more likely to have parents who read to them, take them to museums, discuss the importance of college and other things which inculcate in the kid the attitudes for success. The urban kids are more likely to come from bookless homes with parents who either don't care about education or don't have the time to care, and are likely to do worse.

    But the suburban teachers are praised for their students' success while the urban ones are vilified for their students' failure.

  • Someone Who Doesn\'t Want to L||

    Maybe my last comment is all that's needed to fix things then: Fire the administrators.

  • ||

    To soothe the bruised egos of educators and children in lackluster schools, Massachusetts officials are now pushing for kinder, gentler euphemisms for failure.

    Only in Massachusetts.... ok, maybe in California, too...

    Can't we just drown these morons, and put them out of their misery?

  • Jennifer||

    Maybe my last comment is all that's needed to fix things then: Fire the administrators.

    That would certainly help and free up a lot of money too, but it wouldn't solve everything. There's also the whole cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all mentality. Going back to my last comment, if you're teaching kids how to read, the techniques that will work best for the suburban kids who have already learned "reading is good and can even be fun" are different from those you'd need for urban kids who think that sitting still staring at paper is a stupid, boring thing to do.

  • some guy||

    Nothing new here. "Special" education has never meant "exceptional", after all.

  • ||

    Jennifer, you're absolutely right.

  • ||

    When someone failed, they never got an F. They got an E.

    For "effort" I presume.

    I shall strive, henceforth, to refrain in the course of daily conversation from using the term "moron." I shall instead use "educator."

  • ||

    I don't care how poor it makes me, none of my hypothetical crotchfruit will be going to public schools.

  • ||

    Zachary Tsetsos, a senior at Oxford High School and the only student on the board, said he finds the debate frivolous.

    "Why are we spending time on this?," said the 17-year-old. "I don't want to tiptoe around the issue. I'm not concerned about what title we give these schools. Let's work on fixing them."



    I hope this kid doesn't think he has the necessary intellectual skill set to become an educator.

  • Episiarch||

    Nobody avoids responsibility like public school administrators. Nobody. It's like an art. They must teach it in college.

  • Jeff Wartman||

    Taking personal responsibility for one's own action happens less and less in our society. Nowadays, when people fuck things up, they rarely just take responsibility.

    The way we're sheltering children with the "everybody wins" mentality is one of the causes of this. The downfall of society is going to be the fact that we stopped keeping score for kids playing T-Ball.

  • Jeff Wartman||

    Kids need to be taught from an early age that in life there are winners and there are losers.

    The longer we keep children sheltered from that reality, the longer they are out of touch with reality.

  • VM||

    those mister tuff gai comments miss the point, too (and make you sound like a wimpy asshole to boot). it's kids need to learn the coping skills for those situations. or better yet, why don't you tell us about your JV athletic career?

    but learning how to cope with outcomes is a huge thing that is missing.

    while we're at it, maybe teaching real science.

    http://sciencedebate2008.com/www/index.php

  • GILMORE||

    is everyone else getting an MSNBC popup video every time then come to H&R?

    I am. It's an annoying Tucker Carlson clip about "speak english" sign at Geno's cheesesteak shop in Philly. i cant make the damn thing go away.

    Although tucker made his bow tie go away.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...none of my hypothetical crotchfruit will be going to public schools.



    If you ever start a band, though, you have to name it "hypothetical crotchfruit."

  • BakedPenguin||

    GILMORE: no. I have Firefox, which blocks popups, but it also lets me know when it does.

  • ||

    "We just haven't thought through a mechanism that avoids labels altogether, which is what I'd be really after," member Sandra Stotsky said.

    Fucking adjectioves! they're always going around labeling and judging things, continuosly making quality assessments.

    We hatez them.

  • ||

    Mr.Laboy is the wonderful principal who took 4 tries to pass his English proficiency test for the school.

    http://www.tommyduggan.com/laboypass.html

    Now I guess you can work from there on why he feels it makes folks feel bad if they are termed

    Chronically underperforming....heh

  • ||

    I got a F in middle school and I've never recovered from it. If only they had given me an E my life would be so much better now.

  • ||

    I still have nightmares about it.

  • ||

    Now I guess you can work from there on why he feels it makes folks feel bad if they are termed

    Chronically underperforming....heh


    This H.S. graduate, with considerable technical training, would love to take the English proficiency test that Mr. Laboy had so much difficulty with. I really mean that. I'd pull a shoulder muscle volunteering for that exam.

    I long ago gave up on most teachers being literate in the science and math realms. You don't need that type of knowledge to teach cicics, history, or composition. But being proficient in English is a bare minimum requirement to be a professional educator, no matter the subject being taught. The Phys Ed types should be proficient in the language arts.

    I soooo want to take that test.

  • ||

    Whatever happened to good old "Makers, fakers and takers?"

  • ||

    J Sub D-

    Its kind of like how most native-born Americans can't pass the citizenship test.

  • ||

    J sub D

    I long ago gave up on most teachers being literate in the science and math realms. You don't need that type of knowledge to teach cicics, history, or composition.

    I disagree, at least in the sense of being able to teach these things well. Without a knowledge of math, statistics and the economc, ecological, and techonological processes that drive change, you can't properly teach civics or history. And your compositional skills are going to be pretty weak if you do not have the ability to understand things logically.

  • ||

    Let me also add, that if you don't have good conversational/writing skills you're going to suck at teaching hard science as well.

  • ||

    Do you think they gave Mr. Laboy an E for Effort. Tos Engish poficency tests sur is hard.

  • GILMORE||

    Aresen| March 23, 2008, 2:21pm | #=
    And your compositional skills are going to be pretty weak if you do not have the ability to understand things logically..

    +
    Cesar | March 23, 2008, 2:25pm | #
    Let me also add, that if you don't have good conversational/writing skills you're going to suck at teaching hard science as well.


    You've both hit the nail on the head here on why our public school programs of 'siloed' topic-teaching produce pretty lopsided student groups, where some 'choose' or gravitate toward one area, generally neglecting others as irrelevant to their development. Or, at the least, few kids in high school develop much appreciation for how economics affect history, or how science affects politics, or vice versa.

    [as an aside, I think the James Burke 'Connections 1' series is great stuff in this respect - they should force kids to watch the whole thing. Its even more interesting from the modern perspective since so much has happened since the thing was produced]

    at the analyst firm I worked for we often drew applicants who'd studied finance and economics, or maybe some other quant kind of field. In practice, we tended to hire kids who'd studied liberal arts topics because they had better reading comprehension & writing skills. Our job was to boil complicated things down to simple things, & derive insights. We could train up these liberal arts kids up in the basic economic issues, while we couldnt teach the econ kids how to be more articulate or creative.

    I tend to think that logic, rhetoric tend to be the biggest gaps in modern primary education. Few people can make sound arguments or see when someone is making a poor argument. I read my friend's student's term papers from time to time and it's appalling what even "the smart kids" can do.

    I also think Jennifer is right - most of why schools fail has less to do with retarded teachers than apathetic children and parents.

    Whats always amazing is that even with the worst possible teachers in the worst schools, there are always maybe a dozen kids who, god knows why, are just hungry for information and will learn because they want to learn, and will succeed. I've always thought that teaching was less about feeding kids information, and more about making kids so interested in something that they WANT to learn more about it in their free time.

  • ||

    Very good insights, GILMORE. The lack of genuine curiosity or the discipline to study or a sense of self-efficacy will inhibit a student severely. And the beginnings of all those traits, I believe, are in a student's home life.
    I don't think students would be so offended at how they were 'labeled' if they could understand it within a larger context.

  • ||

    Full disclosure: I was a former 'gifted' student with a troubled home life who was eventually just scraping by with a 3.0 GPA.

  • ||

    Plus, supposedly middle-class, educated people have fewer children than poor, less-educated people. More babies are born out of wedlock to women with less than or equal to a H.S. education. Therefore, from anecdotal evidence, I'd say a high amount of children are born to parents not well-equipped to give their kids good learning habits.
    I'd say our country's education problem is damn near cultural.

  • Jorgen||

    "if you're teaching kids how to read, the techniques that will work best for the suburban kids who have already learned "reading is good and can even be fun" are different from those you'd need for urban kids who think that sitting still staring at paper is a stupid, boring thing to do."

    John Holt, who was a public school teacher until he decided that public schools were stunting kids minds, talks about how a really important first step in reading is just looking at books and flipping through them, without knowing what the symbols mean. He says that when he let his poorer, inner city kids do whatever they wanted with books, and only told them what the letters meant once they cared, they learned to read quickly and easily. Most kids with educated parents have books around to flip through anyway, so they get to school having familiarized themselves with reading.

  • ||

    I'd say a high amount of children are born to parents not well-equipped to give their kids good learning habits.
    I'd say our country's education problem is damn near cultural.



    Thats something (paleo) Conservatives actually get very much right, even if I don't agree with their solution to that problem.

    The best environment for a child IS a two-parent household.

  • ||

    These standardized testing regimes are worthless anyone. The fact that they don't use harsh-enough language for poor schools is the last thing we should be worrying about.

    If a school has a large body of poor kids who come to school not speaking English, or very high levels of student turnover from year to year, standardized test scores aren't actually going to tell us anything about how good a job that school does educating kids. They don't tell us how the stable, middle-class kids do compared to their peers in a neighboring district where they are a majority. They don't tell us how good a job the school does bringing kids who start out behind up to where they should be. All they tell us is that there is a large body of kids coming into the school who are behind.

  • ||

    Let me add, a two parent household where both parents have at least graduated high school and hold a stable job.

    Something like 90% of poverty in this country would be ended IMHO if people 1) graduated high school and 2) didn't get pregnant during their teenage years out-of-wedlock.

  • ||

    Thats something (paleo) Conservatives actually get very much right, even if I don't agree with their solution to that problem.

    The best environment for a child IS a two-parent household.


    And it doesn't matter, according to the research on outcomes, whether those two parents include one, two, or zero males.

  • ||

    The best environment for a child IS a two-parent household.

    This is a damn near inarguable truth, the only exceptions being when one or both parents are severely dysfunctional. As far as whether a dysfunctional two-parent home is better than a dysfunctional one-parent home, I guess that goes on a case-by-case basis. But, yup, two-parent households are an ideal worth striving for.

  • ||


    And it doesn't matter, according to the research on outcomes, whether those two parents include one, two, or zero males.



    Absolutely right.

    If I had to chose between being raised by a single mom and having two moms it'd be a no-brainer.

  • ||

    Happy Ester, Cesar!

  • ||

    I don't think a person can "legislate" happy, two-parent homes, obviously. Trends like this might reverse due to reasons slightly beyond my comprehension, though.

  • ||

    I don't think a person can "legislate" happy, two-parent homes, obviously. Trends like this might reverse due to reasons slightly beyond my comprehension, though.



    I say better sex ed, readily availible condoms and birth control, and reducing welfare benefits

  • ||

    Something like 90% of poverty in this country would be ended IMHO if people 1) graduated high school and 2) didn't get pregnant during their teenage years out-of-wedlock.

    In regards to both, abstinence-only education severely hinders the first from happening because the second does happen. Not that I'm saying that's the only or most important factor, but it's there.

  • Edward||

    Instead of referring to Reason as the stupidist fucking business-worshiping cult rag in existence, suppose we call it a would-be wealthy person's fantasy provider. Don't you feel better about yourselves, fuckheads?

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    I say better sex ed, readily availible condoms and birth control, and reducing welfare benefits

    Couldn't hurt. Seems I sometimes forget that other people actually got laid in high school :p

  • Ramsey||

    Cesar- Sounds like you are pro gay marriage then. I know I am. I am thinking about moving the wife and myself to an older neighborhood that is becoming a more fabulous community. Let those increasing property values work for me. My children might learn better if gay parents help disguise the industrial character of school design also.

  • Dave B.||

    I'm not aware of much of the research you're talking about, but what I am aware of compares 2-parent households to 1-parent households, with the 2-parent arrangement coming out as the better option.

    What about arrangements in which a large extended family lives together? Is it better/worse/the same to have grandparents, aunts and uncles living with you?

    And I'm pretty sure I remember learning that a 1-parent household tends to be superior to that same household before the other parent left.

  • TallDave||

    Remember when schools used to teach rather than engage in social engineering?

  • ||

    Remember when schools used to teach rather than engage in social engineering?



    Dave, sadly, all schools whether public or private engage in social engineering. The only way to avoid that is home schooling.

  • TallDave||

    "For our teachers, it's a blow," said Wilfredo Laboy, Lawrence superintendent. "It demoralizes staff completely."

    Then fucking fire them. We don't build the schools for the teachers.

    If I wrote a crappy program, they wouldn't waste time thinking up new and wonderful ways to make me feel better about my failures. They would fire me and hire someone who got the job done.

  • ||

    Actually, even home schooling is social engineering. The only difference is, its social engineering approved by yourself.

  • ||

    Remember when schools used to teach rather than engage in social engineering?

    No. I'm not that old ;)

  • ||

    But also, even though the main point of school is to learn, it is also a socializing experience.

  • Bertrand||

    Edward raises an interesting point. We use negative terms to denigrate political opponents all the time. Doesn't it make some sense to use posivite term for those we don't want to denigrate, e.g., school children?

  • Edward||

    Thanks, Bert. It's nice to get some respect for a change.

  • ||

    I agree with others on this thread. "Chronically underperforming parents" is the biggest problem.

  • ||

    Here comes Eddie Cotton-troll.
    Hopping down the fury trail.

    Hippitty-troll-troll
    Hoppitty-troll-troll...

  • ||

    Or...the mentally ill. We don't want to denigrate the mentally ill or the lonely. But I digress...

  • Bertrand||

    Edward

    It's hard to respect somebody who can't spell "stupidest," but you're welcome.

  • ||

    Instead of referring to Reason as the stupidist fucking business-worshiping cult rag in existence

    joez Law, and drink.

  • Edward||

    Joe,

    We agree on almost everything. You're just better with words.

  • ||

    You're just better with words.

    If that's how you want to put it, lol

  • Bertrand||

    Edward's right Joe. You are better with words.

  • ||

    Edward, get help, man. Seriously. I wouldn't say it if I didn't care.

  • Edward||

    Without the comma, it sounds like Edward is somebody named Right Joe.

  • GILMORE||

    Cesar | March 23, 2008, 4:03pm | #

    The best environment for a child IS a two-parent household.


    Well, that may be true for a lot of people's emotional/personal development... but as (like ART POG above) someone whose parents had a messy divorce around the age of 10, I found solace in the public library. I read many 100s of books before I'd turned 15. Which led me to my point about "wanting" education. Kids with happy homes dont necessarily need to study to find self-worth... Although how would I know? :)

    FWIW, a girlfriend of mine grew up dirt poor in washington heights, got pregnant at 16, her mate abandoned her for crack, and she raised her daughter alone for 8 years.

    Her daughter is a genius. I mean, skipping grades and shit. So, whatever... anecdotes anecdotes. I think she was just an exceptionally good single mom.

  • ||

    I didn't mean to give the impression that I came from a single parent home. My parents are still married (wasn't exactly a happy marriage when I was going from middle school to high school).

    I think she was just an exceptionally good single mom

  • ||

    ^^That happens sometimes, too.

  • Edward||

    anecdotes anecdotes.

    So if you know that anecdotal evidence doesn't mean shit, what's point of offering us the stupid anecdotes, Cesar? To get in the bit about having read 100s [sic] of books before you were fifteen? Big fucking deal.

  • ||

    Which pres. candidate is for compulsory mental health care? I have to get out and vote.

  • GILMORE||

    Cesar | March 23, 2008, 4:08pm | #

    If I had to chose between being raised by a single mom and having two moms it'd be a no-brainer


    I probably agree.

    If i'd had two moms, they might have spent more time fighting with each other than #1 giving me a load of shit every day.

    My dad (when he was around) was a great motivator. Absolutely nothing impressed him. He once said, "Do what you want. It's your life". That shit is pretty terrifying to a kid, but also helps give you the motivation to take responsibility for your own development rather than be striving to impress your parents or whatever. I knew a lot of kids who stressed about achievement because "their dad would be on their back". It seemed silly to me. It seemed an unneeded distraction from the importance of pursuing their own interests with vigor. As soon as "Dad" stopped looking (college?) they usually went to pieces because they no longer had the daily whipping from da massa'.

  • ||

    Edward, just return to your rightful place under a rock. BTW, most 5th graders are "better with words" than your pathetic attempts at written discourse.

  • GILMORE||

    Edward | March 23, 2008, 5:03pm | #

    anecdotes anecdotes.

    So if you know that anecdotal evidence doesn't mean shit, what's point of offering us the stupid anecdotes, Cesar?


    No, that was me ed.

    re: "lots of books" - I was talking to POG about the point of 'two parents', and what motivates kids to take interest in school, reading, etc. It so happened what motivated me was shitty home life. Anecdote.

    The other point was about a single parent in shitty situation who has a child prodigy.

    So, yes, these are anecdotes and may not mean shit, but they are perhaps relevant to consider. Not everything is quite so simple, and outliers are interesting things to look at from time to time.

    And in regards to your rhetorical method = Werent you the one a second ago moaning about never being treated with respect? Chill the fuck out.

  • ||

    It's true. Too authoritarian or too permissive and a method of parenting can end up backfiring.

  • ||

    Is anybody surprised? Ask yourself who makes up high level administration. It is made up of teachers who put in 10 to 15 years in the classroom, maybe less maybe more. Then ask yourself who became a teacher in the first place. The answer is generally people who either (1) couldn't make it in the higher wage business world, (2) had an independent source of income or (3) were idealistic altruists. Anybody who wants to support a family either marries somebody more wealthy then they, or leaves for private sector. Me? I chose to move to the private sector. I can't say I have a lot of respect for some of the administrators I used to work with. Maybe 2 out of 5.

  • ||

    Divorced households, while having many many problems, are probably in the end superior to a household where the child never even met his father.

  • ||

    but they are perhaps relevant to consider. Not everything is quite so simple, and outliers are interesting things to look at from time to time.

    I got your point. And clearly one good parent is better than two shitty parents.

  • ||

    Not idealistic altruists! Ohnoes!

  • ||

    Divorced households, while having many many problems, are probably in the end superior to a household where the child never even met his father.

    I tend to think this is the case. Never having met one's father (or mother) will literally end up being a source of trauma for a child (although I do know a foster kid who was raised by two loving parents and doesn't seem to miss his birth parents too badly).

  • GILMORE||

    Lamar | March 23, 2008, 5:13pm | #
    Then ask yourself who became a teacher in the first place. The answer is generally people who either (1) couldn't make it in the higher wage business world, (2) had an independent source of income or (3) were idealistic altruists...


    Actually, as someone who has dozens of teacher friends, and was raised by a lifelong highschool teacher, was surrounded by teachers all the time outside of the home... in my experience, almost none of these things are true.

    Most of them do it because they tried it out of college, and liked the experience. They get a real bang from watching kids develop. They like having the emotional reward of affecting people's lives. Plus, they tend to be people who love talking all day about the topic they teach. My mom, had she not been a teacher, would have still spent all her time reading stuff. She did even as a teacher - she'd spend non-teaching hours in book clubs etc.

    I will agree they are also people who dont like the kinds of alpha-male types you find in things like, say, finance. Guys in finance are often not A+ students, but rather just serious competitors.

    As one famous cornell teacher once said =

    "look around. Some of you will be A students. Some of you will be B students. Some of you will be C students.

    The A students will all become teachers.

    The B students will all end up working for the C students."

    In my experience I've often found this to be true.

  • ||

    If I survive the next couple years, I'll strongly consider being a teacher. I'm biased towards high school and college because that seems to be where the really challenging ideas are discussed.

    They should teach more set theory and propositional calculus to younger kids IMO.

  • GILMORE||

    Art-P.O.G. | March 23, 2008, 5:24pm | #

    They should teach more set theory and propositional calculus to younger kids IMO.


    I would disagree with the latter because the number of actual careers that require the skill are fairly few and far between, and it's also something you can pick up faster in later life.

    Just my opinion. I'm doing a job now that requires lots of math and the boss that hired me didnt give a shit about my lack of skills. He was like, "once we build the models and you figure out how they work, it's a piece of piss". He was more concerned about having broader knowledge of consumers, markets, companies, and macroeconomics. The higher order math was simply a tool to use.

  • ||

    Art-

    Good thing you didn't say middle school ,or I might have had to wonder about your mental health.

  • ||

    Heh. Just throwing some ideas out there.

    What, in your opinion, should schools teach younger children that they don't now? Any philosophy?

  • ||

    Cesar, that's a good point about middle school kids. I remember being difficult, hormonal and borderline insane at that age. Poorly dressed, not good at talking to girls, snarky with teachers. Yeah, I was a real nightmare.

  • miche||

    Everyday I become more convinced that the problem is the overprotection and babification of children. People are waiting to have children until life is "just right" and then treat their children like precious pieces of art rather than little humans. Every little thing is planned for, studied for and most risk is eliminated. My kiddos are grown (Little Bit is 16 but finishing her freshman year of college so I call her grown) but most of my friends have children in the 4-5 year old range. I see 4 year olds still in diapers. I see baby gates at the the stairs in the homes of 3 year olds. I think this lack of trust in natural learning through experience has crippled children in the academic world- they've been given no reason to explore books or anything else. They've been so managed by the time they get to school that they've failed to develop curiosity.

    It's a parent and school problem but most of the blame is the parents'. But then, even the parents have been conditioned to think that it's the job of the school to educate and so shirk their responsibility.

    They can name it whatever they wish, but until parents (single or paired) get it, it'll never change.

    Just my two cents as an OK parent who happened to have a fabulous lunch with a favorite nephew today. (see my site for that anecdotal piece.)

  • ||

    It helps to have siblings, I guess. If you're a middle kid like me, it's unlikely your parents will coddle you.

  • ||

    I personally think it would be nice if they tied the math we learned into, say, physics, engineering, philosophy, etc. For instance, I didn't know what the hell the point of imaginary numbers was, but when I learned that they could be used to map the phase of a sine wave I thought it was kind of cool. A lot of algebra and calculus and even trig is abritrary by rote but interesting in a context.

  • BakedPenguin||

    What I'd like to see for early childhood education (and I'm well aware this will never happen in public schools, and is unlikely in most private schools) is teaching students one or more foreign languages. Then, teach subjects in those foreign languages in parallel with them being taught in English.

    The main thing I remember about grade school is the repetition of subject matter. While this is great for long-term retention, it also is boring as hell for the more gifted students. By teaching, say, multiplication tables in English one day, then Spanish or French the next, students would not only be constantly challenged, they would master foreign languages instead of only being able to ask "avez-vous des chausseurs brune?" after graduating high school.

  • miche||

    Art-P.O.G.,
    I agree. I had such trouble when I was told the square root of -1 was i. It fucked me up in math and to this day I cry over it.

  • ||

    There shouldn't be "Middle School."

    They should, and many school systems are, going back to K-8 Elementary Schools, and then High School.

  • miche||

    LOL at brown shoemakers

  • ||

    My kid is getting Spanish in Kindergarten. You know, just a little. Numbers, days, months, I, you, him...

    THAT is a great idea. Not just so she can master Spanish, but because the process of learning a new language is going to work on the language centers of her brain, and make her a better student in subjects from English to Math throughout her education.

  • ||

    If I got French in kindergarten maybe I wouldn't have flunked it twice in college.

  • Dave B.||

    joe -

    Why do you think K-8 in the same school is a good idea?

  • ||

    By teaching, say, multiplication tables in English one day, then Spanish or French the next, students would not only be constantly challenged, they would master foreign languages instead of only being able to ask "avez-vous des chausseurs brune?" after graduating high school.

    This is actually a really cool idea. Plus, experts say we're better at retaining language when we're young. I'm with you, too, Cesar.

  • ||

    Dave B.,

    Because the older kids benefit from the socialization that comes from having frequent contact with younger "buddies." My kid goes to a K-8 school, and I have never once seen an older kid get frustrated or mean with the younger kids. 11-14 years olds can be sociopathic little bastards, and segregating them off Lord of the Flies-style with only other people the same age is just asking for it.

    Second, the younger kids benefit from having senior peers to tutor or just pay attention to them. Jennifer, a former teacher, can probably do a much better job than I describing the problems with strict age segregation.

    Third, sparing 11-14 year olds the social pressure of trying to be like high school kids - and that's what a 6-8 school is, a Junior High School - is better for them socially and academically.

    This isn't a novel idea I've come up with - it's become a fairly popular subject in educational circles. Time Magazine (which, of course, is right about everything) had a story about it last year.

  • miche||

    Joe,
    You have a great point in your last comment but why segregate at all based on age?

  • BakedPenguin||

    I hope to eventually open a school that teaches kids as I mentioned above. But it's going to have to wait until I have some.

    Also, I think separating the sexes out in classes (but not in school in general) would have a benefit. Classes are for learning, free time / recess / lunch is for flirting / impressing the opposite sex.

  • Rimfax||

    Fuck the foundation! What color will the bike shed be?

  • Rimfax||

  • ||

    It fucked me up in math and to this day I cry over it.

    lol. I've had good math teachers and teachers that somehow made math MORE confusing. I'm actually not a fan of the way most Algebra textbooks are written, but I've found that supplemental material helps a lot.

  • NoStar||

    What's wrong with da schools we got. They teach purdy good, don't they?

  • ||

    I wonder how many parents don't ask their kids,

    What are you having problems with?
    Why are you having problems with it?
    What are you doing well?
    Do you enjoy doing it?

    I wonder how many parents don't encourage their kids to ask 'educated' questions.

  • Prickley||

    "Something like 90% of poverty in this country would be ended IMHO if people 1) graduated high school and 2) didn't get pregnant during their teenage years out-of-wedlock."

    We could also eliminate poverty if we killed everyone and replaced them with robots.

  • ||

    Graduating high school and not getting pregnant is much easier.

  • ||

    I long ago gave up on most teachers being literate in the science and math realms. You don't need that type of knowledge to teach cicics, history, or composition. But being proficient in English is a bare minimum requirement to be a professional educator, no matter the subject being taught. The Phys Ed types should be proficient in the language arts.

    I soooo want to take that test.


    J sub D -- Just hope the entire test doesn't revolve around questions about how "cicics" works.

    (I keed, I keed)

    * preemptively ducks anyway *

  • ||

    Wow, lots of comments from this late-in-the-weekend post...Railing against public schools is way-fun for many folks. I mean, it has the soft stupidity of ed school nonsense plus the ever incompetent shenanigans of the public bureaucracy. Only the world is not that simple, is it?

    Sure, the euphemism is dumb. But what's the point? I know plenty of such silly euphemisms and other hilarious practices used daily in private sector organizations all the time. In fact, they made a movie about such things called "Office Space." Check it out.

    Public agencies have more accountability than you guys give credit for (we call them "elections" and "scandles") and market discipline doesn't always seperate the wheat from the chaffe in the private sector like you might think. A race between a guy with a huge head start and a second guy may find the first guy stopping to pick his nose while the other guy's "prowess is potent and secretly stern" and the latter guy still losing...

  • ||

    If a school has a large body of poor kids who come to school not speaking English, or very high levels of student turnover from year to year, standardized test scores aren't actually going to tell us anything about how good a job that school does educating kids.

    If you have a large enough cohort of kids who stay in the school for a sufficiently long period of time, and you track the amount of improvement from their starting point, that can tell you a lot about whether what the school is doing is working, even with the bias caused by the dropouts. My daughter attends a experimental teacher's school where they make a point of starting out with a student cohort who as much as possible match the state's demographics, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and educational achievement starting points. Within a few years, this statistically average group of kids is significantly outperforming the regular public schools.

  • ||

    One (maybe the only imo) good reason I'd like to see public schools lose their monopoly is so that some of the incredible nuttiness that can be found in private (yes "market" based) schools could finally be seen for what it is. Folks tend to think private=good because the prices discriminate where their admissions policy cannot, thus protecting their kid from the "riff-raff." But much of the "philosophy" behind some of these private schools is downright hilarious...Has anyone read some of the stuff by the guy who inspired Waldorf Schools? That guy makes Dewey look like a sensible common sense kind of guy...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner

  • ||

    MNG, when companies fail they go out of business.

    When public agencies fail, they ask for more money.

  • ||

    J sub D -- Just hope the entire test doesn't revolve around questions about how "cicics" works.

    Alas, joe's law rears it's ugly head once again.

  • ||

    "they make a point of starting out with a student cohort who as much as possible match the state's demographics, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and educational achievement starting points. Within a few years, this statistically average group of kids is significantly outperforming the regular public schools."

    Methinks that "as much as possible" must leave a lot of wiggle room...
    1. How could a private business possibly try to "establish" their clientele such that it "resembles the State's demographic, SES, etc., profile? People come to a business, the business can't make them come to them...
    2. Ever since J. Coleman's research we know that less tangible family level variables explain a lot more about a kids school performance than anything else. It would be hard to match this indeed (the private school would somehow have to recruit an equivalent % of its student body from families where the parents don't give a damn about education, don't read, etc.

  • ||

    Companies can do a LOT of failing and stay in business Cesar.

    And while public agencies may never "go out of business" administrations do all the time.

    What's the average tenure of the administration of a failing public agency vs. the average tenure of the administration of a failing large corporation?

  • B||

    Ron Paul is a "priority one" performer in the primaries.

  • ||

    Sorry, I haven't read all of the other comments, but in case it hasn't been said above, the real problem is that the under performing students are, indeed, priority one, while the average and top students are the lower priorities. "Teach to the slowest student" is a prescription for failure at the school level, and in the real world after graduation.

  • ||

    Mr Nice (but somewhat dense*) Guy -

    You will note that nobody lays the blame totally on the public school employees. Unlike parents, the education establishment, being funded our tax dollars, is allegedly accountable to the public for their performance. Yes, administrations come and go, but those same underperforming bureaacrats manage to hang on until retirement.

    1 hour a day, for a whole school year in high school, I learned that poor people do worse in school and are more likely to commit crimes than wealthy people. That's it. All of it. ~180 hours of classroom time, that is what I learned. I received an A for the class because you graded yourselves and my cynicism was emerging.

    Do you think this public school teacher was ever disciplined or fired for this travesty of education? Me neither.

    * I kid of course.

  • ||

    "Teach to the slowest student" is a prescription for failure at the school level, and in the real world after graduation.

    Think of the possibilities if the resources spent on the bottom 5% were instead redirected to the top 5%. Surely "more bang for the buck" applies here.

    "No Child Left Behind" is a stupid concept. Sounds good in a touchy feely sort of way, but when you restate it as "No Child Gets Ahead" it sounds like a pretty disgusting policy.

  • ||

    Well, you have to have Advanced Placement for the top 5% and Special Ed for the bottom 5%. It's the middle 90% that's possibly the most complicated. A lot of these kids could go either way.

  • ||

    J sub D
    I don't doubt the validity of your experience. I've had some terrible, terrible public school teachers that lend credence to Woody Allen's joke about teachers from Annie Hall ("Those who do, do. Those who can't do teach. And those who can't teach, teach guym.") But I've had some pretty incredibly dumb supervisors in the private sector I'd love to share stories about with you one day...Somehow these nitwits hang on until retirement, in both public bureaucracies and private ones...

  • ||

    I have raised 3 kids - oldest 40 youngest 20. They have all done very well in school. First earned PHD in Mech Eng, the last is 2nd year in college.

    One thing they all had in common, all three could read before they went to kindergarten, and none went to pre-school.

    The youngest was also home schooled via a virtual high school. I have seen great changes in the the quality of schools over that 20 year span. Home schooling is the only way to go if you want to insure success. Public schools are a crap shoot at best.

  • ||

    "Think of the possibilities if the resources spent on the bottom 5% were instead redirected to the top 5%."

    I tend to agree here J sub D, but then it also occurs to me that everyone I've ever heard say this naturally assumes that they (or their kid) is in that top 5%, so maybe this is not as sensible as it sounds...It reminds me of how everyone I know who likes Neitschze thinks they are the super-man...

  • ||

    Travis: I've an extra E, shows normal wear and tear but is in good working order; I don't it use much any more, and you're welcome to it.

    This is all you'll need to turn your life around.

  • ||

    As a teacher in an inner-city middle school, I can tell you that culture, ecomonic background, and parenting are big factors in failing schools such as the one where I teach.

    At best, maybe 1 in 5 students lives with both parents (compare to over 60% in white, suburban homes). Their single mothers often work in the evening, so there is basically no parenting. There's no one to encourage students, no one to help them, no one to make sure they do their homework, etc.

    I'm teaching sixth grade math, but only maybe 1/4 of the students know their multiplication tables. When the year started, maybe 10% could work basic long division problems. If you want to grade me as a teacher or grade my middle school, it needs to be based on the amount of improvement made during the year. It's not fair to simply compare my students' test scores at the end of the year to those at the suburban schools.

    Because the teacher's unions insist that every teacher in the district receive the same pay, many (but certainly not all) of the teachers at my school are the ones who couldn't get hired at the better schools. We end up with a situation where our "priority one" students get the worst teachers.

    I'm not even going to get into the discipline problems we have ...

  • ||

    Some people's parents use improper grammar constantly as well. I don't know how they would expect their children to do well in school when they're constantly butchering English. And don't give me that "Ebonics" crap, I got told I talked white a lot growing up, but all my relatives talk the same way I do. Go figure.

  • ||

    Ah, yes, the Waldorf School. I think a lot of the problems in the schools would be solved if more schools were named after classic summer salads.

    Knowing your school has something to do with chopped toasted walnuts is a real confidence-booster.

  • ||

    I don't doubt the validity of your experience. I've had some terrible, terrible public school teachers...

    And they CAN'T ..... BE ..... FIRED!
    The worst that can happen is to be relieved from classroom duties and given make work. Incompetent public school teachers get paid by the productive members of society until the day that they die. Administrators require 4 attempts to pass an English proficiency test. This is lauded as inspirational for the students.

  • ||

    J sub D
    Where do you get this stuff that teachers can't be fired? They get fired all the time actually. Are you referencing Stossel's silly story?

    Like a lot of workers that work out a contract with their employer, many teachers have worked out (either through their unions or not) a contract that stipulates that certain procedures must be followed PRIOR to any termination (like hearings and other such "due process stuff). Remember when Disney had trouble "firing" Michael Ovitz, but they could not do so unless "for cause" or else they had to buy him out? See, this happens in the private sector quite a bit (you've never heard of or seen folks in the private sector, even supervisors, fail to do something equivalent to passing an English proficiency test and yet are still retained [hell, even promoted?])? So yes, oftentimes you can find some sensational case where you think "surely they should have just fired teacher x right away, damn those evil teacher unions and bureaucracies" but that is what contracts, even collective ones, are all about...If they say you can't fire x without y and z, you have to do y and z...

  • ||

    I'm teaching sixth grade math, but only maybe 1/4 of the students know their multiplication tables. When the year started, maybe 10% could work basic long division problems. If you want to grade me as a teacher or grade my middle school, it needs to be based on the amount of improvement made during the year. It's not fair to simply compare my students' test scores at the end of the year to those at the suburban schools.

    It certainly isn't. I'd like to place all of the blame for uneducated youth on the education establishment, but the reality is in many instances parents are not parenting. Expecting the schools to pick up the slack is unreasonable if not insane. Kids are in school 30 hours a week when school is in session (40 weeks a year). I have no idea how to fix the ghetto. All I knoe is what doesn't work.

    I'd be a fool to say all teachers are incompetent. I went to a quality public school system, mostly had good teachers, had some fun and learned a lot. But much of the system is dysfunctional.

  • ||

    I have no idea how to fix the ghetto.

    Crap, if you did, I'd be all ears. I really think it would help of there weren't astonishing amounts of absentee/imprisoned/dead fathers and way-too-young mothers. But, uh, most of the people that take Bill Cosby's suggestions seriously are either already grown or already middle class.

  • ||

    Mr Nice Guy, Yep, they have contracts. Dutifully negotiated and signed by elected officials who may get booted out of office, but the contract remains. BTW, when the Detroit Public School teachers went out on strike last year, in defiance of state law, guess what the repercussions for them were? Bend your formidable intellect to the task and venture a guess. If you honestly believe that there are not large swaths of the public education system in disarray, the asylum run by the inmates, I invite you to visit Detroit, Michigan, with a H.S graduation rate of 70%, no 60%, no 45%, no 30%. Well we don't know because that is too difficult for the overworked and underpaid school administration to track.

    If you have any other choice, sending your kid to Detroit Public Schools is child abuse.

  • joe||

    miche,

    Joe,
    You have a great point in your last comment but why segregate at all based on age?


    Well, I'm not exactly and expert, but I imagine it would be difficult to write lesson plans that would be useful if classes weren't segregated by age.

    prolefeed,

    If you have a large enough cohort of kids who stay in the school for a sufficiently long period of time, and you track the amount of improvement from their starting point, that can tell you a lot about whether what the school is doing is working, even with the bias caused by the dropouts. It would be useful to use standarized tests that way, following a particular cohort. As opposed to labelling schools as "failing" or whatever based on their absolute scores across the student body, compared to very different school districts.

    I have no idea how to fix the ghetto. It's money, baby. You expand economic opportunity in those areas, and you'd be amazed how quickly some of the things labelled "culture" would change.

  • ||

    you'd be amazed how quickly some of the things labelled "culture" would change

    I don't know. While I recognize how much of 'culture' is based on economic status, the reverse is true as well. The fact that being a nonconformist in a poor urban area would seem to mean having children in wedlock and being a bookworm means that we (African-Americans) have to value being non-conformists...in a completely 'square' sort of way. I don't know how much you follow hip-hop, but rappers like Andre 3000, Black Thought, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, et al. seem to espouse this worldview more than the strict 'gangsta' image. There's something like a culture war in hip-hop and I'm sure that dynamic is borne out in places in reality, too.
    And btw, how many young black people know about, say, Maurice Ashley?

  • ||

    The deep problem with schools will not end until government gets completely out of the education business--it is as simple as that--there are no shortcuts.

  • ||

    Yeah, the teachers like to complain about the lack of parental involvement. Here in Oregon an on-line school, Oregon Corrections Acadamy, wanted to teach kids on line with the use of parents acting as teaching assistants. The parents had to sign an agreement as part of the enrollment process that they would participate.

    But that didn't stop the teacher's union and the Democrats from trying to kill it through the back door.

    Which fortunately, failed.

  • ||

    J sub D -- Just hope the entire test doesn't revolve around questions about how "cicics" works.

    Alas, joe's law rears it's ugly head once again.


    And then it rears its head yet again! ;)

  • alan||

    Art-P.O.G. | March 23, 2008, 5:38pm | #
    Cesar, that's a good point about middle school kids. I remember being difficult, hormonal and borderline insane at that age. Poorly dressed, not good at talking to girls, snarky with teachers. Yeah, I was a real nightmare.


    Lol. Except for the talking to girls part that sounds a lot like me (I was good enough at that to get slapped often). I dressed only in flannel and t-shirts and showered maybe twice a week. This was several years before grunge. I was so snarky to my teachers, an English teacher called me an asshole in class. She had this look like she was worried about getting disciplined for it for days.
    Good gawd, I would probably strangle that punk if I saw him today.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Companies can do a LOT of failing and stay in business Cesar.

    I'm not sure what you would call a lot of failing. Please give an example of a company that has done a lot of failing and stayed in business.

  • Brandybuck||

    The difference between an inept public school bureaucracy and an inept private sector corporation, is that I am not forced to pay for the ineptitude of the latter or forced to purchase their crappy product.

  • ||

    "Actually, as someone who has dozens of teacher friends, and was raised by a lifelong highschool teacher, was surrounded by teachers all the time outside of the home... in my experience, almost none of these things are true."

    Looking back over my post, I'll concede that I was too strong in making my case. I was a teacher, my parents, and many of my friends are in education. I am still friends with the teachers at my old school. I stand behind what I said, but I shouldn't have discounted the many fine folks who genuinely love it.

  • ||

    I had some friend who worked for the Philadelphia public school system.

    They told me how they didn't even have enough books for the students, no access to a copy machine to make up for the lack of books, nor even enough paper to put into a copying machine if they had one.

    Meanwhile the school board went to and from meetings in chaufeured limousines.

    This type of situation isn't going to be helped by a better label.

  • Nephilium||

    Well... I'll throw my thoughts into this one. Let's start with the great anecdotal evidence. I was reading at the age of three, and am a member of MENSA (it gets me a discount on my car insurance, and the discount is higher then the dues). My parents were told to take me out of the Catholic grade school I was in, since they didn't have a gifted program. My parents refused, and I went there from K-8. I went to a Catholic High School (with a scholarship my freshman year), and did fairly well. I finished in the middle of my class, mainly because I disliked over half of my teachers. Going there caused me to jettison Catholicism (being called a satanist by a nun does that). I went to a community college for a year, aiming for an English degree. After an older friend of mine got his degree, and his teaching certificate, and then said "Fuck this" and started managing a fast food restaurant. I then got a job at an Officemax, and eventually got hired as a consultant at a local small business in IT. I'm still working in IT, and enjoying it. The only time I miss getting a degree is when I realize what an MBA would mean for my salary.

    I also have a younger sister, who had a child at fifteen. The sperm donor stayed in the picture for the first year or so (and is one of the few people I would pummel if I ever saw him on the street). My parents and I helped to raise her. I taught her to read at the age of five, and helped her pilfer from my book collection. My niece is now thirteen, and in the gifted program of the public school she attends. My sister is married to a great guy, whom my niece calls dad. I have not yet found out if she remembers the sperm donor.

    In a couple of months, I'm going to have a nephew. I've already gotten my niece on board with helping me to corrupt him as I corrupted her.

    I have the feeling that he'll do fine regardless of the school he's sent to.

    Nephilium

  • ||

    Soon enough, "dropouts" will be "early finishers," and illiterates will be "pro-choice non-readers."

  • Famous Mortimer||

    Jennifer has pretty much said what I have said all along.

    Schools will never improve until we can speak honestly about the shitty parenting that occurs with the average student. However, it seems that parents are beyond reproach. You don't want to acquire a mob's wrath.

    Schools are merely about introductory courses. Learning has to go on beyond school, and that mindset is most often drawn from a student's environment, or through their own initiative.

    More importantly, the one size fits all educational strategies of public schools play an important role in leaving many students disinterested.

    Public schools will always be average or below average. They're not designed to be anything more, nor will they ever have the resources, or public support to be anything more.

    If you want your child to be well educated, make their home life educational.

  • Heather Wolpert-Gawron||

    The language even contradicts itself. Our school is an "over-performing Title I" school. But lest we get too excited, we are also "underperforming in our AYP" and so, therefore, a school in "Program Improvement." So, let me get this right, we are doing amazingly well with kids low on the economic ladder, but the language makes it perfectly clear that we are still not being good enough for other demographics of schools. It's almost a kind of differentiation, is it not? It certainly doesn't hold schools to the same standards. Let's call it like it is, "poor kids doing well as compared to other poor kids." You want to talk demoralization for a school? It's putting down their accomplishments as "good, as compared to the lowest." The students and staff aren't stupid. They can translate the EduTalk language easily enough. They are, after all ELL.

  • Prickley||

    "I'm not sure what you would call a lot of failing. Please give an example of a company that has done a lot of failing and stayed in business"

    Bears and Sterns

  • Famous Mortimer||

    Also, advanced math skills are probably the most overrated topics taught in schools.

    Even many Universities require two levels of math (Algebra and higher) for a liberal arts degree. Ridiculous.

    These courses should be reduced to electives for the number geeks, and courses that focus more on language should be offered. I'm still shocked that informal logic isn't even on the radar for High School students.

    A focus on Geometry should replace a focus on Algebra.

    There are too many things being taught to kids in schools that mean shit all to a productive future. However, this goes back to the one size fits all argument that does more to leave students behind than anything else; outside of shitty parenting.

  • Kolohe||

    Please give an example of a company that has done a lot of failing and stayed in business.

    Well, Chrysler, but that kinda proves your point.

  • Kolohe||

    I agree with alan; if I could go back I meet myself twenty years ago, I would totally kick my ass.

  • Kolohe||

    Lastly, I think the exact opposite of Mortimer. You can learn to read and write, by well, reading and writing. And after the basics, you can pretty much expand your horizons on your own, esp with the zillion-book library that is the modern internet.

    But if the average person had just a rudimentary numeracy, we wouldn't be in the financial mess we're in now.

  • ||

    I tend to think that math should be taught alongside econ, logic, etc., though. I tend to favor a slightly more interdisciplinary approach because it seems to me that a lot of subjects are taught (in public schools) like they have nothing to do with one another. But dimensional analysis is used in the algebraic expressions used in physics. Simple enough to grasp, but it seems as if a lot of these relationships aren't elucidated until secondary education.
    And the History of Math, like the History of Science can be helpful to understanding the main body of a subject.
    For instance, what if one was reading a book like "Chances Are" while taking Algebra? That's one kind of supplemental material that people might find helpful. One can read non-fiction in English and learn History, Science and Math in the course of learning the same subject (of course the only reason someone would read non-fiction is genuine curiosity).

  • ||

    There are a lot of good pop-culture references for science and math, from videos on dividing polynomials on Youtube to shows like Nova, Bill Nye, and James Burke's work.
    However, I'm going to go out on a limb and use anecdotal evidence to say that a lot of students don't immediately develop the skill/will to delve deeper into a subject on their own. But just as the basics of physics are necessary to understand the basics of chemistry, students need to know the basics of learning/comprehension, maybe even heuristics, to become effective students. All these skills are developed at the home as much or possibly moreso than they are at school.
    We are reportedly lagging in science and math (as a country). These two subjects, at higher levels, are impenetrable to many unless a given student possesses a genuine curiosity and a solid work ethic. Both those traits must be developed 'organically.'

  • ||

    OK, I'm rambling a bit, but I suppose what I'm trying to say is, if a student's already good with English, why not introduce some non-fiction to the person about science or math: say, "A Short History of Nearly Everything" or "Zero: The History of a Dangerous Idea"? Likewise, if they're good at math or science.
    Truly, I don't recall being given long-from non-fiction in high school, but I think it serves a good purpose, not only for adults but for K-12 (well, not kindergarten obviously).

  • Neu Mejican||

    Having worked in education most of my career, I can say fairly confidently, that the problems with education are 1) overblown, 2) unique to particular schools/districts (different problems in each) and 3) not intractable in any of those particular cases.

    Resources are a first step, but educated children come from communities that value education. And despite some of the statements here, that does not map directly onto socio-economic status.

    A challenge in the equation is that educating children when their parents are not educated is more challenging that educating children whose parents are educated.

    If those parents value education, however, they are excellent partners in the project.

    Educating the children of parents who do not value education, however, requires real skill. Unfortunately, real skill is rare in any profession. Only the lucky few will have a teacher with enough skill to help them overcome a negative home/community attitude towards learning.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Bears and Sterns

    You must be referring to the Bear Sterns division of J. P. Morgan.

  • ||

    N.M. makes an important, oft-overlooked point: most schools are just fine. People with a political agenda like to pretend the sky is falling.

  • .||

    Nothing new here. "Special" education has never meant "exceptional", after all.

    Depending on the school district, "Gifted and Talented" programs are sometimes administratively part of the "Special Education" programs.

  • ||

    Euphemisms don't change the fact that schools are turning out students with record low grades. We must also face the fact that these students must eventually grow up to become functioningg members of society, & they can't do that if neither the teachers nor the parents do the best they can to ignore the problem.

    It seems to me that the big problems are a lack of student motivation to learn, & teachers who, for one reason or another, feel that the students' well-being is lees important than the teacher's status (the No Child Left Behind act doesn't really enhance grades-it just provides a major incentive to hide problems & let them fester). In my experience, the real solution to this is twofold:

    1)Get the parents to start actively taking an interest in managing their child's academic progress (i.e., do your homework now instead of watching TV, electronic priveleges (phone, computer, TV, Xbox, etc.) taken away if you don't have a certain grade, rewards for doing a very good job & high grades, etc.)

    2)Find ways to get teachers to work MUCH harder to improve the teaching curriculum & student performance (perhaps remove the NCLB Act, among other things).

  • ||

    It seems that everybody agrees that significant change cannot be made until more parents encourage their children and raise their kids in a good learning environment. It is absolutely true that the way and extent that people value education varies (sometimes widely) from house to house.
    Whether a parent is doing a good job or not is obviously not simple enough to be dilineated along demographic lines, but like Neu Mejican pointed out, "community" values are often manifest in individual households within the community.

  • Mike Laursen||

    N.M. makes an important, oft-overlooked point: most schools are just fine. People with a political agenda like to pretend the sky is falling.

    I only really know California's public K-12 system, and it is not doing just fine. There are high dropout rates and lots of high school graduates who don't know how to write an English sentence nor do simple mathematics.

  • Famous Mortimer||

    "But if the average person had just a rudimentary numeracy, we wouldn't be in the financial mess we're in now.

    The average person does have a "rudimentary" understanding of numeracy. Basic math is used in everyday life. Algebra is what many students have trouble with, and that's because so little of it is relevant to day to day living.

    We're good at what we do the most.

    Spending habits generally have little to do with addition and subtraction skills. They generally have to do with life circumstances, and god old fashioned discipline.

    I often see people confusing poor Algebra skills with poor addition and subtraction skills; the latter of which is much more of an issue.

    The vast majority of algebra skills taught will be forgotten within a relatively short amount of time, if not used constantly.

  • ||

    "I also think Jennifer is right - most of why schools fail has less to do with retarded teachers than apathetic children and parents."

    Doesn't this kind of go against what you chided me for yesterday at 5:20pm?

    I tend to think that we'd be better off with good parents and retarded teachers as opposed to excellent teachers and retarded parents. I'm using "retarded" to mean those who actively muck things up. Good teachers can have a big impact if the parents are merely aloof.

  • ||

    Oh my gosh. I just posted that and realized I got it backwards. I take it back. This is that rare nexus where I agree with Gilmore.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Lamar,

    The rare nexus is where Jennifer has anything of value to say on the subject of education.

    Typically she just serves as an example of the kind of person that couldn't cut it as a teacher and blames that failure on others (parents are the typical fall guy here).

    The "apathetic parents and children" are a rare thing, I would point out.

    If the whole school is failing, you got to blame it on something else.

    First place to look...the principal...if they have their act together, move UP the chain.

  • Famous Mortimer||

    Interesting. I think the exact opposite. Bad parents, and students tend to blame schools, and teachers for their lack of progress. However, it's nice to see that you are capable of establishing someone's success, or failure as an educator via a blog.

    Apathetic parents and students are a "rare thing?" What planet do you reside on? It must function with naive efficiency.

    "And despite some of the statements here, that does not map directly onto socio-economic status."

    If you don't think socio-economic status has a strong connection to successful education then I would suggest that you retire from education immediately. Your willful ignorance is damaging my argument.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Fatuous Mortimer,

    Yes, apathetic parents and students are a rare thing. The vast majority of parents want their children to learn. The vast majority of children are curious and interested in learning.

    As for the SES thing.

    I did not claim there was not a connection to school success, simply that "it does not map directly." In other words, many successful schools are in poor neighborhoods. Many failing schools are in rich neighborhoods. Read as much or as little into that as you want.

    As for Jennifer-as-failed-teacher, that is based on her own telling of her story (English teacher not rehired in a district that was short of English teachers-despite being an excellent teacher- because those crazy parents complained about her...yeah right, it is a common enough story to count as an archetype). The bad parents blaming the school for their own failure is its counter-part.

  • Brutus||

    The aforementioned Mr. Wilboy was first popularized here in the people's Republic of Massachusetts for not being able to pass the certification exam.

    Just the guy you want running a troubled district!

  • Famous Mortimer||

    "Yes, apathetic parents and students are a rare thing."

    So says you. You have not provided any evidence, outside of your own experience, to suggest that this was some accepted from of knowledge across the board. In fact, it's impossible for you to make that claim.

    How many schools have you worked in? How many states have you worked in?

    "The vast majority of parents want their children to learn. The vast majority of children are curious and interested in learning."

    Of course, even the laziest parent wants their child to learn. I don't think that they're holding rallies that state otherwise. However, wanting your child to learn and doing the necessary things to ensure that they are learning, are two different things.

    If most parents were truly interested in having their child learn, then we wouldn't have the problems that we do have in public schools.

    I have/had friends. I have been over to their house after school. I have witnessed numerous times the sheer lack of interest by different parents. Parents with a good education tend to pay attention to their students progress, and parents with a poor education tend to show disinterest. It's not any more complex than that. The ones who are neglected tend to do worse.

    I moved two 5 states when I was a child, and experienced the "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" schools along the way. I went to "wealthy" schools, and poor schools.

    You seem much to optimistic about the state of family affairs. I guess such a deluded outlook is required in education. It's certainly can't be through any stroke of rationality that someone would enter the field.

  • ||

    Sad but true, many of the teachers that are hired to teach our children (urbran areas)are teachers that are less likely to be placed within the suburban school systems. Some of these educators cannot pass the practical tests that are required in some states, particularly in Providence, Rhode Island. No child left behind is a farce. For instance, children are forced to take for the most part, Spanish classes, but are not given books to study the language. This is not their first language, how are they going to learn the language without the book (at home). 1954 Brown V Board of education, the Seperate but equal rule still in existance. We wonder why our children of color are not excelling, its a systemic problem and until parents protest these systemic problems they will continue.

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