Education Today?

Stuffing a Suitcase A few days ago, I heard a speech given by a prominent official from my state’s Education Commission. I am going to tell you what she said, and then I am going to tell you what I thought about her remarks. After that, I’d love to hear what you think.

Prominent Education Official (PEO):

  1. In the past, the purpose of schools was to sort children into groups: those who will attend four-year colleges, those who will attend two-year colleges, those who will not attend college at all, and those who will drop out of high school.
  2. This system worked because the non-college graduates could find high-paying. low-skilled jobs, such as work in factories, mills, and mines.
  3. Today, in our global economy, this system no longer works, because there are not enough high-paying, low skilled jobs. All students must have highly-developed skills in order to make a living wage.
  4. Therefore, the purpose of schools today is to educate all children to the level at which they can attend a four-year college. The excuse that “some people can’t do math” doesn’t hold water anymore.
  5. Because of this new purpose, the kind of testing and homework requirements we are seeing in schools now is essential. In fact, it is an important part of what educating children means.

My apologies to the here unnamed PEO for any errors on my part in interpreting said PEO’s comments, although I truly think I got them right.

Homeschooling Parent and Relatively Well-Informed Citizen (HPARWIC):
(Okay, so my acronym is awkward.)

  1. To my knowledge, based on reading and on discussions with friends whose children attend public school, schools still sort children. Witness the gifted and talented programs and honors courses, and the stories I’ve heard about things like “B-Hall,” as opposed to “A-Hall.” B-Hall is the track your child is put on if his grades are low. Once you’re in B-Hall, you don’t get out.
  2. While production jobs are certainly leaving the U.S., don’t we still need house painters, HVAC workers, roofers, and the like? Don’t plumbers make a lot of money?
  3. I hope that, in answer to the challenge of global warming, we revert to being the kind of society that needs many jobs that do not require a four-year college degree and that do provide an income on which an individual can raise a family. I hope we live in cities that have shoe repair people and local grocers and local hardware store managers. I hope we have lots of people who work installing solar panels and repairing bridges.
  4. Of course, I believe that every child should be educated to the full extent of his or her capabilities, but I also believe that some people aren’t meant for higher math. Some people aren’t meant for physics. Exposing a child to these subjects is one thing; requiring that they pass a test in them in order to graduate is another.
  5. The testing and homework we see today are, to me, the equivalent of trying to fit all your clothes in a suitcase that isn’t big enough. (We’ve all seen that done on a sitcom, right?) Now, some kids have a big enough suitcase, but some just don’t. And even if the teacher sits on top of that suitcase and pushes down hard enough to get it to shut, it’s going to pop open sometime, and all the clothes that were stuffed inside are going to fall out.

The kids with smaller suitcases aren’t dumber. They’re different. Each and every child is different. For the PEO to say that each and every child must receive and regurgitate the exact same education is ludricrous, as least to this HPARWIC.

What Do You Think?

  • Does math not run in your family?
  • Have you seen benefits from the testing and the homework?
  • Do you feel that everyone now needs a four-year college degree?**
  • Allowing that public schools cannot possibly give each and every child the individual education they deserve and allowing that not every family can homeschool their children, how can we achieve the goal of measuring each child’s suitcase and packing it correctly?

**Melissa Wiley and I seem to be on the same wavelength lately. See this article, which she linked to the other day.

Whether you’re a Public School Attendee (PSA), Homeschool Devotee (HD), or just a Plain Old Blog Reader (POBR), I’d love to hear from you.

Update: And hear from you I did! For a follow-up to this post, click here.

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11 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Cherish said,

    I just happened upon your blog. Quite interesting! I’m a former homeschooler. My older son went into middle school this year.

    I would say that on point #1, I haven’t had that experience. My highly gifted son is accelerated in one class and one class only because that’s the only acceleration our school district allows. It’s been a nightmare.

    I hate the homework and the testing. My son will be going to a program for gifted learners in a new city next year, and I think my school district’s biggest concern is that his test scores will no longer grace their school. I don’t feel he’s learned anything…in fact, I honestly think he’s regressed somewhat.

    I don’t feel all children are bound for college, and I think setting that goal does a lot to harm the self-image of those who can’t or don’t want to go that route. Some people love to work with their hands, some people want to work with other people. Ironically, most employment growth (if it has happened lately) has been in the service sector. Specialized fields like engineering are the ones being outsourced because they’re so expensive.

    And you’re absolutely right…there is no individualization in 99% of the programs out there, and they’re just making kids go insane. Kids need to have down time to think and have hobbies. I can’t sit in a desk all day…how the heck can they expect young kids to do the same?!

  2. 2

    sally said,

    Five years ago, I was not a homeschooling mother (unschooling actually). I was a public school teacher. As far as the comments the PEO (?) made, I’d have to agree. As far as the comments the blogger made, I’d agree with her too. The school district we left had a gifted program, but basically everyone was educated and expected from at the same rate, the college rate. Including talked down to and ridiculed and loss of recess if a child could not keep up with the truckloads of homework. There was no A hall or B hall. One of the main reasons I left is because of my overall dissatisfaction with the whole ‘testing is the main goal’ mentality and the treatment of certain children if they couldn’t or refused to bend to the public school ideal.

  3. 3

    sgaissert said,

    I’m adding a comment to my own post, because I just heard this today on Weekend America, an American Public Media radio program, and it adds to the conversation we’re having here.

    Richard Kruger:
    When I was in grade school, every year you would be given a series of so-called intelligence or aptitude tests. The guidance teacher told me that he wanted to speak with my parents. He showed my parents the results of these tests and he said based on this I think Richard ought to be placed in a vocational school because he doesn’t appear to be very bright and I don’t think he is going to make very much out of himself when he grows up.

    My parents just sat there like heads on Easter Island. They didn’t utter a word and I took their silence to mean they were agreeing with what the teacher had to say. So right there and then, as angry as I was, I determined that if it would be the last thing I ever did, I would succeed.

    If I had a lot of homework to do, I said it doesn’t matter. If I had to stay up late to finish the work, it didn’t matter. Because I was determined to show the world that I am a rather bright fellow… And yes indeed, I have been quite successful in my chosen field.

    I have a bachelors degree in biology, a master’s degree in experimental hematology, and a PhD in experimental hematology.

    I’m just really happy that I was smart enough to understand that you do not have to do or listen to what people say if it goes against how you truly feel. And I believe that people who end up being successful do so because they steer their own course.

  4. 4

    Mary B. said,

    As a Mom of two little kids (an 8 1/2 year-old son and 4 1/2 year-old daughter), I wish I had more time to write on about this topic. In brief, too many small minds trying to fit children into too many small boxes. Nice, neat and clean. Labeling, short-sightedness, looking to package children into what they can produce and become in the long run, rather than appreciating them for the wonderous jewels they are at the moment. States mandating numbers to justify dollars spent. I attended four different high schools. When I returned to the USA, I took my SATs and Achievement tests for college admissions. Scored horribly on SATs (which, as I understand, reflect your potential), yet scored well on my Achievements. So basically, I had the potential for little, but accomplished much and sailed through high school AP courses, jumped straight into sophmore-level coursework as a college freshman, and graduated college cum laude.

    I have a double BA in French/Political Science, an MA in International Transactions (National Economic Policy and International Trade, Investment, and Finance). Today, after 13 years of professional work in the fields of international development, trade, and international education exchanges, I’m a stay-home Mother with two children who attend public school. I train horses, work at a barn, do landscape design on the side, and run my own business operations management consulting company. What the schools are underestimating in their students is that spirit, not just scores, will determine a student’s/person’s path in life. Nothing fits that perfectly in answer options (circled for multiple choice) of A, B, C, D, or E. And even if one follows their prescribed academic path, life has some extraordinary alternatives to offer, if one simply listens.

    Mary B.

  5. 5

    Dawn said,

    Remember though that in number 4 the point wasn’t to educate all children to the full extent of their abilities. It was, “the purpose of schools today is to educate all children to the level at which they can attend a four-year college.”

    Their abilities are besides the point. That kid who’s got incredible skill and talent with engines and might otherwise be destined for great success running his own auto shop might now be limited to being a mediocre accountant.

    “Does math not run in your family?”

    Math is not something that’s genetically pre-determined. I have many family members who are not good at math but then all went to public schools and all only think of math as arithmatic.

    “Have you seen benefits from the testing and the homework?”

    We’re homeschoolers. We don’t test or do homework. 😀

    Do you feel that everyone now needs a four-year college degree?**

    No. I think that college is generally an industry now, it’s product is a degree and it’s salespeople are people like the PEO

    “Allowing that public schools cannot possibly give each and every child the individual education they deserve and allowing that not every family can homeschool their children, how can we achieve the goal of measuring each child’s suitcase and packing it correctly?”

    I don’t think we can. I think we should focus on building our own models for our kids and being open about it when people ask about it.

  6. 6

    Dee (HD) said,

    Hello, I was reading in The Common Room which linked your conversation on Education. Yes Math does run in my family and not in my husbands. There are plenty of benefits in testing for the testing agencies and learning centers. If a student needs to come home and do four hours of study isn’t that called “HomeSchool”? I have a four year degree and would do it again – but my sister makes buckets more without one.

    No Child left Behind was a great idea – until it went into Law. After all the fits and starts and sputterings they have nothing to show for it. The NEA wants it gone. The Department of Education must lower its expectations each year and make concessions to the Unions. The Nation’s grade card is marginally better as long as you leave school by the eighth grade. Certainly, educate all children – to their ability AND desire. A genius might be much happier making music than in Medical research. A dyslexic might want to be a Corporation CEO rather than a janitor. The Law forgot to give the children the right to dream.

    Instead of sorting children in predictable piles, we need to leave NCLB for a new motto – One Child At A Time. Can we give each child a personal education – why not? Allowing for failure will only allow you to fail. We only need freedom of choice. We are short teachers because we have stupid laws of certification that are made by the unions. Schools are only used part of the day and part of the year. What a waste of resources and tax payers’ money. IF you believe that education matters them make it matter. We school all year with small breaks. I hear “You school all year. How awful.” It is not. We get in a grove and study it out – take a small break and get back at it before the princesses forget what we just finished learning.

    We don’t need to think out of the box – we need to GET out of the box. Then burn the thing.

  7. 7

    I really enjoyed your post, and I’m glad you shared those comments. I’ve heard speeches like that one, too, and my reactions were similar to yours. A few additional points, from a current public school teacher/parent point-of-view:

    I don’t know where and when in the past sorting children was THE purpose of schools. The larger, nobler purpose was to prepare citizens to sustain and advance our democracy.

    Many, many teachers actively oppose the push to teach every child the same thing at the same time to the same degree. Unfortunately, we often have that forced upon us (I did) by our administrators and policy makers, and even more so in the headlong rush to meet the mandates of of NCLB (well-intentioned as it may have been). I have seen, and do believe, that teachers and parents working together can provide much more individualized instruction to students; especially if we are willing to give up artificial limits such as grade levels.

  8. 8

    Tracy W said,

    Does math not run in your family?

    How do you distinguish between people who aren’t meant for maths, and people who were taught in such a way that they have gaps in their foundation, and now, as a result of poor teaching, can’t do maths?

    Do you feel that everyone now needs a four-year college degree?**

    I don’t think that everyone now needs a four-year college degree. But I do think that schools should educate as many students as is humanly possible to the level where the student could get a four-year college degree in a maths-heavy subject if the student wants to (on the basis that if you can get a degree in a maths-heavy subject you can get a degree in anything academic).

    Schools should not be in the position of deciding whether a student is heading for a vocational or an academic education.

    Allowing that public schools cannot possibly give each and every child the individual education they deserve and allowing that not every family can homeschool their children, how can we achieve the goal of measuring each child’s suitcase and packing it correctly?

    Check out the Direct Instruction curriculum from Project Followthrough. How they did it was that:
    – they set up the primary schools so all the reading and maths classes happened at the same time
    – they tested each kid starting at the school to see their existing level of knowledge
    – each kid was then assigned to a small group (about 5 to 7 kids) based on the kid’s prexisting level of knowledge. So, say two kids start school, one knowing the alphabet, the other totally ignorant. The kid who already knows their alphabet is put in a group that won’t be relearning the alphabet. A kid can be in one group for reading and another for maths.
    – teachers run lessons working directly with each small group in turn, while the remainder of the class works on independent problems. Small kids need quite a bit of supervision, so an aide manages the rest of the class. In one school, where there wasn’t money for aides, every adult in the building was roped in to do the reading lessons first thing.
    – kids’ placement in the lessons are re-evaluated regularly. So if a kid arrives not knowing the alphabet, but on being exposed jumps on it like a starving St Bernard, then the kid may wind up being placed in a lesson further along the sequence than the kid who started knowing the alphabet.
    – the lessons are all worked out to make learning as effective as possible, eg the sequence in which skills are taught, the teachers are given tools to continually get feedback and keep the kids engaged, etc.

  9. 9

    […] 17, 2008 · Filed under Uncategorized In my previous Carnival of Homeschooling post — Education Today? — I asked readers for their feedback on a variety of statements and questions about why and […]

  10. 10

    sgaissert said,

    A friend who teaches second grade at a public school sent me this to post:

    NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND —THE FOOTBALL VERSION

    1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship.

    2. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation
    until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.

    3. If, after two years, they have not won the championship their
    footballs and equipment will be taken away UNTIL they do win the championship.

    4. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the
    same time even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in
    football, a lack of desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or
    disabilities of themselves or their parents.

    ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL!

    5. Talented players will be asked to workout on their own, without
    instruction. (This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren’t interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don’t like football.)

    6. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th game. It will create a New Age of Sports where
    every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will
    reach the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets
    left behind.

    Note: If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote
    for vouchers and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes and prevent their children from having to go to school with bad football players.

  11. 11

    Tracy W said,

    NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND —THE FOOTBALL VERSION

    1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship.

    Stupid question time. How does my ability to read and write and do basic arithmetic stop anyone else from reading and writing and doing basic arithmetic?

    Football competitions are a zero-sum game. Reading and writing isn’t.

    2. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.

    Again, there’s a difference between reading and arithemtic, and doing well at football. A kid who leaves school unable to read and write and do basic arithemetic is severely hampered, not merely in the workforce, but in performing their duties as a voter and more generally as a citizen, in paying taxes, and in their emotional lives (how do you write a love letter if you can’t even read?). This is true regardless of the NCLB. Teaching reading and arithmetic is far more critical than winning football games.

    3. If, after two years, they have not won the championship their
    footballs and equipment will be taken away UNTIL they do win the championship.

    Under the educational NCLB, a school which has failed to meet its standards for two years may be treated in the following ways:
    “Corrective actions may include such actions as withholding funds; interagency collaborative agreements between the school and other public agencies to provide health, counseling, and other social services; revoking authority for a school to operate a schoolwide program; decreasing decision-making authority; making alternative governance arrangements such as the creation of a public charter school; reconstituting the school staff; and authorizing students to transfer, including transportation costs, to other public schools served by the LEA.

    LEAs may not impose some of these corrective actions under Title I’s authority (withholding funds, revoking authority for a school to operate a schoolwide program, decreasing decision-making authority, reconstituting the school staff, or authorizing students to transfer, including transportation costs, to other public schools served by the LEA) until the State has developed an assessment system that is consistent with widely recognized professional and technical standards including validity and reliability.”

    http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/standardsassessment/guidance_pg7.html#statute6

    So, if your NCLB football scheme worked like the NCLB education test, the situation would be that, if approved by the State, students could transfer to another coach, or their coach would be replaced with another coach, who hopefully is more effective, or the students could be provided with health, counselling or social services, or funding could be withdrawn, if that was wise in the State’s view.

    4. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the
    same time even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a lack of desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents.

    Firstly, under NCLB 1% of students may be assessed against alternative standards. The 1% cap does not apply to small schools or to schools that specialise in serving students with cogntive disabiltiies. These are the exceptions for disabilities (genetic or otherwise).

    Secondly, school attendance is compulsory (with exceptions for homeschoolers). This was done on the basis that every kid learns from reading, writing and basic airthmetic, even if the kid doesn’t think so, and even if their parents don’t think so. This is the decision society has made. If you don’t like it, lobby against compulsory schooling rules, not NCLB.

    As for kids who don’t want to learn, there’s a nasty-minded game that teachers can play. It’s called the Teacher-Me game. The teacher sets up a game by which the kids can win, if they try. If they win, they get a lolly. If they don’t try, the teacher “wins”, and eats the lolly, with great relish, while going on about how the kids can’t possibly beat the teacher. When the kids win, the teacher acts astonished that they could win, and sulks, and threatens not to play anymore, and, having generally established the reputation of a bad loser, is happy to win

    ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL!

    All, bar 1% of kids, will be able to read and do basic arithmetic. This sounds sensible to me. If it’s possible to teach those other 1%, I’m all in favour of it, but I fear that’s a problem for medical teaching.

    5. Talented players will be asked to workout on their own, without
    instruction. (This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren’t interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don’t like football.)

    This assumes a remarkable level of ineffectiveness on behalf of the coaches. Check out successful schools and school reform methods, like the DI curriculum. They manage to raise the performance of all students.

    6. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th game.

    Nothing in the NCLB stops schools from collecting their own statistics at far more frequent intervals. A wise football coach does not look merely to performance in matches, instead the coach studies performance during practice as well. In fact, a wise coach not merely notes the results of matches, but often videos it as well for debriefing purposes.

    It will create a New Age of Sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets left behind.

    Out of curiousity, which kids do you think don’t need to learn to read and write?

    Note: If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes and prevent their children from having to go to school with bad football players.

    Ah yes. *sarcasm on* The only reason a parent might want to avoid a school is due to bad football players. Teaching, and running a school, is a dead-easy job that anyone can do. As long as there’s a warm body up in front of the classroom, teaching is effective. We have no need to ask ourselves searching questions about competence, all those teachers who spend time on blogs talking about effective teaching techniques, and honing their schools, and studying what works with their classrooms, are just wasting their time – teachers are inherently perfect, if there’s anything wrong with the school it’s due to bad students. *sarcasm off*


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