The EU

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

School Reform from Washington

The American Spectator isn't sanguine about the long term effectiveness of President Obama's "Race to the Top" school reform package, but does see if having a short term impact.

I think that while this may not represent a long term path to success it has at least gotten things off of top dead center and moving.  I had hoped that "Leave No Child Behind" would achieve that kind of progress, but it didn't.  Some movement, but not a big leap forward.  I believe the President, his Secretary of Education and the US Congress should be congratulated on at least getting this far.  Fixing education is going to take a lot of changes—including some changes that are not amenable to fixing by Washington, but this is progress.

Regards  —  Cliff


ncrossland said...

I agree with Ben. Among the many failings of the American education system is the notion that it is somehow and assembly line process. That process posits that one can pour certain premeasured, predefined materials in, and then do a post process assessment of retention. If most of it is retained to the desired extent, then the "system" is effective.

The problem is, long term retention of knowledge requires that it be integrated with other knowledge to achieve understanding of the total integration of those "bits of knowledge." The only way that happens is if that understanding is fostered by need, ie, that it is important to the learner. Our system only provides information, knowledge, but rarely the necessary analysis that leads to synthesis, and thus application in the context of one's own experience.

The emphasis on testing leads invariably to testing becoming the goal because it is by that basis alone that a student's "worth" is defined. The student focuses more on "winning" on the test, ie, "cramming" to perform well. In the end, knowledge without purpose, that is, without integration and ultimate synthesis in the context of one's personal daily life and goals, is extremely perishable, some measures suggesting as little as one day of "shelf life."

Teachers are charged with more than "book education." They must teach life skills and do so in the context of each student's situation. A math teacher must teach much more than equations and process. They must find the relevance of their subject matter to each student in their classroom, and guide those students to using their newfound knowledge to achieve an integration of it with their current and future situation. This is hard, hard, hard work.

Teachers must set a worthy and inspiring example. Blue jeans and a halter top and the ability to converse in the street idiom of the day is the wrong example. They must be the model of something more noble, a greater aspiration and demanding of profound respect. And they must express this in an inviting, not condescending unapproachable way.

Sadly, there is little of this in today's public schools. The American system of education continues to produce lower and lower expectations and thus quality of learning and ability to transfer it to a greater set of life goals. And our colleges and universities have been forced to downgrade their curricula and its delivery in order to deal with the hoardes of marginal students.

In the end, it isn't simply a failure of the "education system," but a threat to our national security and longevity as a successful nation state in the world. When a nation imports most of its professional work force, its most accomplished thinkers, it loses its identity as a nation.

But more importantly, it loses the value of its own people.

C R Krieger said...

I thought you were agreeing with Bloom.  We do need that "integration" of knowledge and the only place I have ever seen it was 8th grade in the Pennsbury School District.  But, I like the idea.

Regards  —  Cliff

ncrossland said...

I don't necessarily disagree with Bloom. In fact, I find that his taxonomy is extremely useful, but it is not the final chapter of the book. In fact, it merely serves as the intro. And that is a real problem with taxonomies. Once developed, people then set about ordering things in a Dewey Decimal sort of way....going to exaustive lengths to make it all "fit." The problem is....that focuses on the process...and not the product.

When one begins to progress "upward" in Blooms hierarchy and across subject matter boundaries, "what" rapidly evolves more into "why" and "how" and that is the province of "understanding" and "application." One can never synthesize new information until one can analyze first, and analysis requires lots and lots of "why" and "how" being able to assemble the "what" of diverse and diffuse pieces of data.

We rarely if ever do that in American education...because it is too much work...not just for the student...but for the "teacher," personally, I prefer the term "proctor" as it more accurately describes the role of the "delivery" part of American education. Proctors make information available, that is, they prepackage it and put it out on the serving line....and the students then "consume" it..hopefully with some ease and success...measured by regurgitation on command. Of course, if that doesn't occur as desired, it is blamed on the student (stupid, too smart, ADD afflicted, and a thousand other "excuses") or the parent and the home if learning can only occur in optimal family environments with no outside distractions.

Noted with interest today a new "initiative" in the world of "Learning" in that a Fed "study" is about to be released that points out that a disproportionate percentage of non-white kids can't swim. Guess what follows the report. If you said, "A new Federally funded swim lessons for minority and disadvantaged youth" you get the top shelf prize.

Renee said...

I remember from a previous news article, quoting Obama or one of his staff (sorry I will find it) asking what should be the function of the high school diploma? I remember sitting in high school, I was at the point of wondering what's the point. At times I may have enjoyed some of studies, but I never saw the point of effort. Sadly I even felt like that in college classes.

I don't want my children to have the same experience. To make education more meaningful, I think students need to spend time outside of the classroom, in non-school sponsored events. Remember they're forced to be in school by law, pushed in college because that's what is expected. Their only obligation is a forced one.

Teenagers should have the time work/volunteer. Now in many states, they've placed restrictions on child labor, but I think we should loosen them up. Teenagers have plenty of time to do sports, school related non-academic, be consumers, socialize, have sexual relationships. I think it is critical in younger teenagers to give them something truly independently their own, so they see that all the education can be put to something while still learning.

For example you have to be 16 to volunteer at the Lowell Humane Society! My eight year can handle the cats' litter box at my house. So what's a 13 year old suppose to do all summer, other then organized directed activities to keep them 'out of trouble'? We're not on top of education, because I think we lost students' motivations. School just becomes a holding pattern waiting and waiting to actually do something with our lives, and now we have a lot of adults who really have no direction because they weren't allowed to create one for themselves at a more appropriate time of personal development.

ncrossland said...

You are right Renee. I am a child of the WW II years, and my generation were not coddled in any way that I can recall. I do well recall driving a Ford tractor in the apple and pear orchards of my father's ranch at the age of 6...or was it 5. Spending long hot summer days at my uncle's ranch seated high in the saddle of a John Deere tractor dragging a harrow through a 100 acre field of asparagus.....embedding the last year's turkey dung into the hungry soil...then in the late afternoon joining my cousin to water and feed the young turkeys (about 40,000 of them) in the brooder houses...and heading across the road to the other 75 acre piece to fight with the hen turkeys for the eggs that they just laid. Long days...occasioned by a fast dip in the irrigation canal...and I don't ever recall disliking my days. When I grew older and we moved into a small town in NC WA state, most of my classmates worked at business in town in the evenings after school...and through the summer vacation. I got a job at the local Texaco station doing lube and oil changes, pumpiing gas...and even manning the evening shirt by myself. I was 15 at the time. In the days I worked in the apple orchards..other friends of mine worked in the fruit warehouses....we learned what hard work was all about...and we listened to the adults who treated us as understudies and more or less equals on the job.

When it came time to go to school....the classes we all remember to this day at reunions are those that gave us "life skills." I took typing from Ruth Carantzas....and my ability on a PC keyboard is traceable to her...and I got to tell her so only a few years ago when she came to play bridge with my aging Mom.

Our chem teacher was a physical chemist on the Manhattan Project...and he taught us chem as an art form...a higher calling. His partner in life...Pierre...was a biologist with the Manhattan Project (yes...they were gay...and they both held "burn before reading" security clearancec) and he taught biology not as a science full of facts...but a never ending quest for more knowledge about life itself and in all its forms. I cannot recite the phyla, genus, species of the living kingdom....but I can tell you lots of very neat things about a lot of very neat living things.....

But most of all..they gave us a thirst for learning...and the skills to accomplish it. Books were not things we had to study...they were portals to a wild world beyond...even English Lit. To this day I can hear Ardella Ferry congratulating one of us for correctly diagramming a complex sentence by saying loudly, "Well...Amen...Brother Ben shot a rooster and killed a hen." When she died in the mid -60s....over 400 former students attended her wedding...not bad for a lady who lived in a sharecropper home on an apple ranch and raised three kids.

We don't do that today. Too many rules...too many much regulation, requirement, review, and restrictions.

We need to enable our children to be truly free..and that means to liberate their minds...enable those minds..turn them loose.

Renee said...

From NPR

Study: College Grads Unprepared For Workplace

College grads have no motivation to finish task, speak in a respectful manners, and assume entitlement i.e. five weeks of vacation and fast track to executive positions.