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When were America's schools "good"?


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I would say prior to WWII (maybe even WWI), before textbooks began to be corrupted to push a particular agenda; before textbooks began to be written by committee, rather than real authors who maintained content control through final revisions; before social reform agendas began to be pursued more aggressively (although I think at least some of that was in the mix from the beginning, LOL)....

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All these threads about public education got me thinking...

 

The overall consensus is that America's schools in general are failing (yes, I know there are some shining spots out there but this is a generalized notion).

 

The watershed report "A Nation at Risk" was published in 1983 but the study was done from 1976-1981. And the results were that America's schools were failing. Then I think back to the whole "Sputnik" era in the late 50's and the big push to "reform" education.

 

In 1956 they were failing. In 1976 and 1986 they were failing. In 1996 and 2006 they were failing and in 2012 they are failing the reports say.

So my question is: when is the last time America's schools were NOT failing? When were they GOOD?

 

What does "failing" mean? And how will we know when they are no longer failing?

 

The reason for the failure in general since the more prevelant acceptance of public educuation as a right or a must is because the process takes the front row seat over the results.

 

Back to the post above - this may be why so many are considered illiterate at present. This would also explain how a child graduates highschool without being able to read in the 80's.

 

You will need to consider the individual as well as the parents. The cliche, "you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink, is quite relevant for this topic, which I read in this article here. It provides quite a bit of light on what we consider a failure and why it is not.

 

Consider that education has become an arena for associations, unions, and politics. It isn't about learning or literacy anymore. We are on an endeavor to find what is wrong and prove it is wrong, which isn't always the case. You should not fix what isn't broke, but they do.

 

I'm only part-way through the article Chrissy linked, but the answer to Heather's question from that author would be:

 

"Public education and public-education reform share a common history. There is no past paradise when all students excelled. There is no perfect prototype for public education hidden in history, to be uncovered today and bestowed on a thankful nation. Rather, American public education is best thought of, historically, as mediocre. It was a serviceable system for preparing students for an agrarian or assembly-line world in which only an elite pursued higher education."

(emphasis mine)

 

and this:

"Education requires initiative, a trait notoriously difficult to create or impose."

 

Off to finish reading.

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There are 74 million children ages 0 to 17 in the US. We're attempting to do do something no other country in the world of our size has ever done, and that is to *somehow* see every single child represented in an educational setting (Including 0-3 free and low cost Early Intervention settings for children with learning or physical issies.) We're trying to include the brightest to the most low functioing and everyone in between. No child is legally left out; no child can be denied a school setting. This is the right thing to attempt, no matter the challenges.

 

Sometimes I wonder how we can do anything well at all. Yet we do.

 

Here's the Wiki list of population stats for fun.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population

Edited by LibraryLover
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There are 74 million children ages 0 to 17 in the US. We're attempting to do do something no other country in the world of our size (and really-- we're alone in population) has ever done, and that is to *somehow* see every single child represented in an educational setting (Including 0-3 free and low cost Early Intervention settings for children with learning or physical issies.) We're trying to include the brightest to the most low functioing and everyone in between. No child is legally left out; no child can be denied a school setting.

 

Sometimes I wonder how we can do anything well at all. Yet we do.

 

 

Yes, when you think about the people in the 1800's, the education for the elite was MUCH better. Education was a privilege, not a right. The more it has been considered a right, the worse the education itself has become. If you are only having to educate Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc., you will have a much better education than trying to educate the masses.

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I would say prior to WWII (maybe even WWI), before textbooks began to be corrupted to push a particular agenda; before textbooks began to be written by committee, rather than real authors who maintained content control through final revisions; before social reform agendas began to be pursued more aggressively (although I think at least some of that was in the mix from the beginning, LOL)....

 

But all those McGuffey readers with pieces on virtues and Bible selections aren't pushing an agenda?

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There are 74 million children ages 0 to 17 in the US. We're attempting to do do something no other country in the world of our size has ever done, and that is to *somehow* see every single child represented in an educational setting (Including 0-3 free and low cost Early Intervention settings for children with learning or physical issies.) We're trying to include the brightest to the most low functioing and everyone in between. No child is legally left out; no child can be denied a school setting.

.

 

I do not understand what size has to do with it.

Education is mainly a responsibility of the states - and the states have a size and student population that is very comparable to other countries in the world.

By that argument, the state of California with 40 million population should have a better educational system than Germany which has 80 million inhabitants.

:confused:

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Maybe schools aren't failing at all. Maybe they are doing exactly what they have been designed to do.

 

Or perhaps bemoaning it all flogs taxpayers into voting for taxes for schools. They obviously need them.

 

However, I am disinclined to paranoia. What is that line about not ascribing to malevolence what can be attributed to stupidity or indifference.

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Yes, when you think about the people in the 1800's, the education for the elite was MUCH better. Education was a privilege, not a right. The more it has been considered a right, the worse the education itself has become. If you are only having to educate Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc., you will have a much better education than trying to educate the masses.

 

 

 

I believe it's a correct goal. We don't have any mentors. It's never before been attempted on such a scale.

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I would say prior to WWII (maybe even WWI), before textbooks began to be corrupted to push a particular agenda; before textbooks began to be written by committee, rather than real authors who maintained content control through final revisions; before social reform agendas began to be pursued more aggressively (although I think at least some of that was in the mix from the beginning, LOL)....

 

But all those McGuffey readers with pieces on virtues and Bible selections aren't pushing an agenda?

 

Well, no. They were written by a real author, not a committee; and rather than classify those selections as social reform agenda, I would call it common cultural literacy of the day.

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I do not understand what size has to do with it.

Education is mainly a responsibility of the states - and the states have a size and student population that is very comparable to other countries in the world.

By that argument, the state of California with 40 million population should have a better educational system than Germany which has 80 million inhabitants.

:confused:

 

 

Why do you think population doesn't matter? How many school age children are there in Germany as compared to CA? ETA- I was just consdiering too, the large population of non -English speakers in CA. That poses a challenge to the schools as well. The number of non-German speaking citizens is increasing in Germany (and other European countries I would imagine) as the immigrant population has grown, which I am sure is a challenge to some areas. It's not the easiest thing to maintain a 99% literacy rate with gowing immigration, but Germany is pretty clear about it's educational expectations, so if anyone can do it, the Germans can. Clarity is good.

 

I suppose some children in CA are getting a wonderful education. Most probably aren't, but some are. Massive scale issues tend to be a bit more dicey.

 

Americans aren't known for agreeing, etiher, and since there are so many of us, well, the feathers can fly. Our arguments over whether to teach evolution, just for example, can get hairy. Some people want the Federal Government out of education altogether. If this would happen, evolution might not be mentioned at all in some schools. Everyone has a different agenda.

 

We're not like any other country. Nobody is like us. For better or for worse. ;)

 

Btw, I do like knowing Ken Ham is Australian. lol I don't know why, but that tickles me no end. And no, I am not sure what this has to do with the discussion. I just thought it was a fun fact having nothing to do with kilts. :)

Edited by LibraryLover
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Renee in FL; Are we sure it is the schools that are failing? My local schools are failing horribly. However, Asian students are *not* failing in these same schools. Why is that? Is it because their parents have not simply turned their dc's education over to the school system?

 

Yes.

 

I do think that too much federal control, too much testing, and a total lack of content is contributing to the problem. I also think that parents are responsible, too.

 

You are not kidding about that. Lack of content is HUGE (and I have a high school kid in a charter school - she wanted to go for Latin, but I'm not thrilled with what else has happened, except for the AP classes).

 

So, when did that change? When did schools start focusing so much on testing (and not just one test, but weekly tests to prepare for the benchmark tests to prepare for the year-end tests. Then there is testing for the students who don't do well on the other tests, and more tests on top of that to measure literacy and whether or not the child is predicted to pass the tests.:tongue_smilie:

 

No kidding! They spend a third of the year taking tests!

 

When did the schools stop teaching content? When did history, geography, literature, etc. leave the school curriculum? The state standards for "social studies" in NC are ridiculous - there is no real content there anymore.

 

Yep. The only reason my kids know geography and history is because they have had good teaching in childhood. High school kid is getting good history content this year because she has a good AP teacher and they both had an excellent teacher in all their years of co-op.

 

New "History" teacher in son's new academic co-op is having them do projects over and over and over. How does building a clay Coliseum help him understand anything. Teach him some content! He goes two days a week, thank Goodness.

 

And, when did they stop grouping students by ability?

 

Ugh. Don't even get me started on this one. I have one of those brainy kids in high school. She spends half the year waiting for the teacher to explain things to others. Last year she was in a Junior class for Latin IV, as a 13 year old Freshman. The teacher kept apologizing to me that he was having trouble challenging her and bringing the other kids up to speed. She was regularly booted off to go listen to the AP Latin class (for Seniors) whch she is actually in this year, as the top student. She's a sophomore and the school requires 4 years of Latin!

 

I've asked her over and over if she wants to come back to homeschooling while taking college classes or go to another school. Nope. She waffles a little but so far she wants to stay and have a "high school experience" but she belongs somewhere else. Or in college. It's frustrating. These kids sit while they are working with the other ones.

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Yes, when you think about the people in the 1800's, the education for the elite was MUCH better. Education was a privilege, not a right. The more it has been considered a right, the worse the education itself has become. If you are only having to educate Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc., you will have a much better education than trying to educate the masses.

 

 

I am also thinking of some 'small' population countries that do not do well, educationally. Poverty, war, and civil rights are significant issues holding people back in these instances. The US has something in common with some of those countries, although we're not doing so badly, imo only, of course, considering how young we are, and how quickly our population increased, and continues to increase. It's not smooth sailing here, just as it hasn't often (ever?) been smooth sailing elsewhere. Educating all of our citizens well is going to continue to be a great challenge. Especially as we continue to argue policies and priorities.

Edited by LibraryLover
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Why do you think population doesn't matter?

I can not think of a reason why population size per se should matter- just look at the excellent education students obtained in the huge former Soviet Union, or in small Finland.

And, as I said, if we compare a US state with a country, numbers will be of the same order.

 

How many school age children are there in Germany as compared to CA?

12 million school age students in Germany. 6 million public school students in CA (have not found private school data; but the order of magnitude will not be much different)

 

ETA- I was just consdiering too, the large population of non -English speakers in CA. That poses a challenge to the schools as well.
I agree that students who do not speak the language are a challenge and I will readily concede that CA has a problem there.

 

So, let's take Missouri instead. With 5.6 million inhabitants and very few non-English-speaking minority students (3.5% Hispanics), it should have fantastic schools.

Finland has 5.4 million people and great schools.

 

So, I am really not sure where size comes into play.

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But all those McGuffey readers with pieces on virtues and Bible selections aren't pushing an agenda?

 

:iagree: There has always been one agenda or another. Today's agenda is not to create well-educated children at all, but children who can pass a certain arbitrary test. The curriculum is built solely for that purpose.

 

I must say this has been a wonderfully thought-provoking thread. My .02 here comes from the perspective of living in the deep south. My husband has a guy that works for him that was in high school when they desegregated the schools. He's an African-American and only 5 or so years older than my dh. When the government told an entire group of people that their educational needs were less important than the need of while society's comfort... well, I can see that we have had real problems all along and they cannot fix them overnight. We are making headway in this country when it comes to closing the achievement gaps between whites and non-whites, but it has been slow. And NCLB, while well-intentioned, has been a complete failure.

 

Margaret

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I doubt there is one main reason for the failing status of the public schools in the U.S. There are many factors, and they change depending on location because different states face different demographic and philosophical challenges. So even if there is a solution that improves schools in one area, that same strategy may not have an effect in a different locale.

 

I wonder if we (as an American people) even have a standardized interpretation of what 'failing school' or "successful education" really mean. I see the ps near me as failing most students. Generally speaking, students who are succeeding, learning and improving academically are not doing so because of excellent curriculum or teaching as much as other factors, such as personal motivation, tutoring or other academic opportunities, and parental expectation and commitment. Many high performing students are actually sliding by, doing very little work, because they don't have to study or work in order to get good grades. They are not necessarily academically advanced. They are just doing better than the students who choose not to study or do most the assignments. So it is not hard to get better grades than the other students. I see that as the schools failing the students. The parents of the students with the high GPAs think the schools are failing some students, but not their dc because their dc are getting really good grades, so they are learning. We have very different philosophies of what a failing school and a successful or high quality education means.

 

My local schools are failing horribly. However, Asian students are *not* failing in these same schools. Why is that? Is it because their parents have not simply turned their dc's education over to the school system?

 

I think it is because the parents have not turned their dc's education over to the school. Some parents take seriously their responsibility to ensure their dc are educated to a level the parents deem appropriate or necessary. There are many Indian students here, and they excel as well because the parents don't think the schools are able to provide an acceptable level of education. The parents spend 1-2 hours per day teaching their dc at home from preschool on. I know of some who teach their first grade child math for an hour before school starts each day, then another subject for at least an hour in the afternoon. Then there are the other after school activities and lessons as well. They have an academic goal and make sure their dc achieve it.

 

I don't see this commitment to education in most American parents. I realize I am speaking generally, because there are exceptions. Hsers tend to be exceptions, as well as families who afterschool and pay for tutoring because they know their dc are bored in classes and are not learning. But I still see most parents who are happy if their dc get good grades, but really don't know if their dc are actually learning anything. There is a philosophical difference of letting kids be kids, have fun, not pushing them, etc. vs. having a priority of academic excellence and expecting children rise to meet the expectation by going to school, then having several additional hours per day of tutoring and outside classes. It is obvious which students will excel, and it is not because of the school. It is the parents' expectations and willingness to commit to making sure their dc receive instruction.

 

I also wonder how much of the current parent 'hands off' educational philosophy is due to past generations learning the lessons the educational establishment has pushed. For over 50 years, people have been told that teachers are professionals and know how to teach, and parents are supposed to make sure their dc go to school and do what the teachers and administrators say. I know my parents fully believed that they, as mere parents, were not capable of teaching me anything, and that anything the school did would be what is best for me academically. They would never consider questioning a teacher or a school because those are the trained professionals. I wanted to read when I was 4 yo, but my mother said that she couldn't teach me because teachers know how to teach reading, and she might teach me wrong. If I had questions about math, my mother said that I had to ask my teacher because she knows how to teach math the right way, not her. If I wanted to learn something I was not being taught in school, my mother said that it was obviously not important that I learn it because if it was important, the school would teach it to me. If my parents did not understand why a teacher did what he did, or why I was bored in school, etc., they reasoned it was because they did not understand the situation correctly. The school couldn't be wrong. Once people buy into that philosophy (which helps the schools because parents were not making as many demands), they have to take a hands-off approach and simply trust the schools to teach.

 

So now we have a couple generations of hands-off, schools and teachers are the professionals so let them do what they do best philosophy. But there is a problem because parents also see that their dc are not learning. There has been a societal change as far as behavior. Teachers complain that parents don't teach their dc to behave, so the school has to do it. Many parents don't parent because they have been taught that schools teach their dc. (Again, I am generalizing and I know it!) So then parents have to come up with a reason for the problem, and usually they blame the school. The teacher doesn't like their dc, or their dc has special needs and needs special attention. Parents make demands of teachers because they want their dc to succeed according to their definition of success.

 

Teachers can't necessarily do anything about the situation. Parental absence in the lives of their dc and in expectations certainly affects a child's ability and willingness to learn. When school expectations are low, why work hard and turn in the assignments anyway? If a child knows he can do a minimum amount of work and get a good grade, he gets an unrealistic impression of what quality work really is. Parents find it easier to blame a teacher for discrimination or poor quality teaching than to get involved and make sure their dc learn. Parents who have been told that schools are the professionals and parents simply need to trust them to educate students don't see why they should have to pay for tutoring or outside classes. If their dc is failing, then the cause must be the school not doing its professional job. But the school can't do its job if parents don't get involved in their dc's education. Then add in all the non-academic requirements, and the "you must teach this" requirements placed on schools by the government, and schools are in a very difficult position.

 

So this is probably more stream of consciousness and may not make sense to anyone except me, but I think the current situation of failing schools is a result of decades of parental hands-off academic philosophy as well as parental absence (not necessarily just physical, but absence in presence and instruction of basic behavior and social skills and expectations) in the lives of children. Since there is no real definition of success or failure, apart from the test score analysis used by the government, which is certainly not conclusive, it is difficult to even conclude the real status of the school system.

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If Missouri was its own country that might be a fun excersize.:001_smile: I also cant the US/SU comparison. The only real common denominator was that we both spent a great deal of dough on nukes.

 

What's that saying a rabbi friend has told me? 2 Jews, 5 opinions? Let me suggest instead, one America, 300 million opinions. :)

 

I can not think of a reason why population size per se should matter- just look at the excellent education students obtained in the huge former Soviet Union, or in small Finland.

And, as I said, if we compare a US state with a country, numbers will be of the same order.

 

12 million school age students in Germany. 6 million public school students in CA (have not found private school data; but the order of magnitude will not be much different)

 

I agree that students who do not speak the language are a challenge and I will readily concede that CA has a problem there.

 

So, let's take Missouri instead. With 5.6 million inhabitants and very few non-English-speaking minority students (3.5% Hispanics), it should have fantastic schools.

Finland has 5.4 million people and great schools.

 

So, I am really not sure where size comes into play.

Edited by LibraryLover
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I have some of my mom's grammar school texts from the late 30s early 40s and they are very good. One of the history texts is popular with classical homeschoolers today, the english is solid grammar and composition (looks like introductory rhetoric) and the "reader" contains three full, short classic novels and a few excellent poems and short stories. She was not a stellar student, but my father, who was a little older, had four years of Latin under his belt by the time he was 16 and could discuss anything logically including great literature. He went to public school in a small, lower middle class town.

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Absolutely we have some very well thought opinions and conclusions ...

 

However, consider that when I mention process that I mean not anything to do with the academics themselves but the entire proces by which the education is delivered. We homeschool, most of us at this point anyway, because the process is not something that our children respond well too.

 

I was reading here this afternoon. Yes, I hate to toss another article, but it is worth the read.

 

As we adapt for the learning style of our children, we match the level ability too. No, the school cannot go as far for each individual student. I realize this. I think that creating a classroom with a range or selection of ability, a sampling of low to high, to encourage or foster academic support is not how we get kids to be successful.

 

How much embarassement, fear, low self esteem, bordum etc will you foster with such a wide range of academic ability?

 

The process, even the general environment, is the problem - not the classroom size, parental involvement, materials, lack of content, etc. How big are the schools now?

Edited by ChrissySC
Correcitng typos! If you find some, blink. They go away.
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The people talking about grandparents who got such a great education... My paternal grandparents both dropped out in elementary school. They were poor and they went right to the fields to pick cotton and peanuts. They did not get a good education in the 30's. My maternal grandparents were closer to middle class and both went to college. They did get a good education in the same period. Some schools for some people have always been decent, some have always been bad and, as others have been pointing out, education wasn't always for all (and still isn't), which makes it harder to compare, not to mention that there is not, even now, one "US school system" and there was even less of one in the past.

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Well, no. They were written by a real author, not a committee; and rather than classify those selections as social reform agenda, I would call it common cultural literacy of the day.

Ok, so then the agenda is continuing the status quo? That, too, is an agenda.

 

I spoke with a relative who graduated from HS in the early 60s, who said he was taught about some hierarchy of races, as in white people are good thinkers, black people are good workers, and so forth. I also have an elderly relative who did not finish school, dropped out around 16, in the late 1930s, who found school hideously boring and said history was composed completely of memorizing dates of wars. Beverly Cleary's autobiography paints her school days and her writing assignments as dead dull.

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Ok, so then the agenda is continuing the status quo? That, too, is an agenda.

 

I spoke with a relative who graduated from HS in the early 60s, who said he was taught about some hierarchy of races, as in white people are good thinkers, black people are good workers, and so forth. I also have an elderly relative who did not finish school, dropped out around 16, in the late 1930s, who found school hideously boring and said history was composed completely of memorizing dates of wars. Beverly Cleary's autobiography paints her school days and her writing assignments as dead dull.

 

I'm not saying there wasn't an agenda to continue the status quo. (Double negative, :tongue_smilie:) As farrarwilliams mentioned up-thread, education wasn't always for all. I just don't think pieces on virtues and Bible selections are an example of that agenda.

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I think you hit the nail on the head, what is failing?. How do we define success?

 

We have a standardized set of ideas that all kids are expeceted to be able to do by a certain time, but if a kid does not learn them when they are expected to then they just miss out and struggle. Kids are not all good at the same things nor will they learn everything at the same time. I remember catching on to concepts months after we had moved on from that in class. It was frustrating, but my brain was not there yet.

 

My dd basically taught herself how to read at 5, but she could not understand basic math (addition, subtraction, those concepts) until she was 8. In public school she would have had to keep moving on while struggling without the knowledge of addition. It is hard to move on to multiplication with being able to add. She is home with me, so I could encourage her reading while meeting her where she was until the light bulb came on in math at 8. She is now doing math at the level that the gov't has decided 11 yr olds should be at this point in their education.

 

My middle child is great at engineering type things, but he cannot read at 8. The school system would focus on that and crush his little spirit by forcing his to take extra reading help which is not going to help (we've tried) instead of focusing on his strengths. The child can fix appliances, plan out elaborate things to build out of Legos, and build them quickly with no help. He has so many strengths, but he is not ready to read. It is hard not to let that bother me, because the school says kids should be reading by 1st grade here, so most of his friends can read.

 

Obviously I want all of my kids to be able to read and do math, but if I focus on making them learn it when their brains are not ready, then they will be frustrated and feel like they cannot do it. Given encouragement and praise over time with consistent exposure to things they struggle with will lead to the mastery of those things. My dd is a great example of that in our house. She knew it would just be a matter of time before it clicked, and she was so happy that we were patient with her during the rough years. Classrooms are large though, so I do not know how that would play out on an individual level. This is part of the reason we homeschool.

 

I think it might help if schools spent more time teaching academics rather than agenda as others have mentioned, and I will leave it at that. I know it would help if parents would parent so teachers were not forced to. ;)

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Maybe it isn't failing. Maybe it's the same as how all generations think the next generation is going to h$ll in a handbasket.:tongue_smilie: I don't think that really, but it was the first thing to pop into my head.

 

Schools aren't bad universally (as you said) and aren't necessarily bad for all students. Some schools are doing a good job with most students and some schools are doing an excellent job with some of their students.

 

These are the questions that popped into my head:

 

What is it that makes us think that charter schools are good? I realize studies show they aren't (on average) doing a good job, but most seem to be to make it a valid question.

 

What is it about Asian education that makes us think it is so good? Their education is held up as a system we should emulate, so thinking about why might help answer your question.

 

Are we sure it is the schools that are failing? My local schools are failing horribly. However, Asian students are *not* failing in these same schools. Why is that? Is it because their parents have not simply turned their dc's education over to the school system?

 

I do think that too much federal control, too much testing, and a total lack of content is contributing to the problem. I also think that parents are responsible, too.

 

So, when did that change? When did schools start focusing so much on testing (and not just one test, but weekly tests to prepare for the benchmark tests to prepare for the year-end tests. Then there is testing for the students who don't do well on the other tests, and more tests on top of that to measure literacy and whether or not the child is predicted to pass the tests.:tongue_smilie:

 

When did the schools stop teaching content? When did history, geography, literature, etc. leave the school curriculum? The state standards for "social studies" in NC are ridiculous - there is no real content there anymore.

 

And, when did they stop grouping students by ability?

:iagree:The highlighted area in particular. I think if parents spent more time teaching their own children we wouldn't have these issues.

 

As for when schools began to "fail", I don't know. There are so many historical moments to take into consideration. I would start looking around the 1930's-1940's though. With the economic depresion of the 30's, families moving around looking for work, children being abandoned by parents again looking for work, homelessness, hunger, ect... As for the 40's you have fathers away at war and a good percentage of mothers working part to full time.

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I think our schools were, overall, "good" when I was attending public school from 1958 to 1971, or at least much, much better than they are now. I think the sea change that killed public schools was the onset of political correctness and the expectation of equal outcomes. Back then, it was universally recognized that kids' abilities differed and so accordingly would the outcomes.

 

When I was in junior high school (1965 through 1968), kids were divided into nine tracks. Every kid knew which track he or she was in, but (supposedly) none knew which track other kids were in or which of the numbered tracks had the smart kids and which the stupid kids. Of course, everyone knew exactly who was in which track and which tracks were for the smart kids simply by which classes each kid took and who their classmates were.

 

The tracking system allowed the school administration to optimize outcomes for each kid. Bright kids weren't slowed down by being mixed in with average kids, who weren't slowed down by being mixed in with the really slow kids. And the slow kids didn't end up lost because the teachers were trying to keep brighter kids from being bored. Under that system, each kid was able to learn as much as possible based on his or her abilities.

 

And no kid was marooned in too high or too low a track. If a kid performed better than expected in a slower track, that kid was bumped up a track (or two or three). If a kid in a faster track ended up unable to meet the challenge, that kid was dropped a track or two.

 

And I don't remember much in the way of "self-esteem" problems, either. Everyone, including the kids, accepted that it was a fact of life that some kids were better academically than others, just as everyone recognized that some kids were better at music or art or sports or repairing cars than other kids.

 

I'm sure we must have had a few kids drop out in high school, but if so I don't remember them. Nearly all of the kids made it through high school, and all of them came out able to read, do math, and so on at a higher level than today's average high school graduate, let alone the kids today that barely scrape through.

 

As far as I'm concerned, No Child Left Behind should have been called No Child Gets Ahead.

 

This is how my middle school was set up and to some extend my high school as well. Track 1 was the gifted kids and track 9 was special education. Many of the track 6,7, and 8 kids went to a hands-on learning school for catering, auto repair, ect at the high school level. I think that kind of instruction should be more widely available to kids in high school today.

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I think the sea change that killed public schools was the onset of political correctness and the expectation of equal outcomes. Back then, it was universally recognized that kids' abilities differed and so accordingly would the outcomes.

 

...

 

As far as I'm concerned, No Child Left Behind should have been called No Child Gets Ahead.

 

I was thinking about this statement, that we shouldn't expect equal outcomes from all kids. I agree with it - I've long moaned that "college prep" is an absurd goal for all kids, for example.

 

BUT... in the period you're talking about, part of what determined your expectations of outcomes were your race and class, sometimes very blatantly. Even if that wasn't the case, the tracking system was often rigid and didn't allow for students to excel in one area and need remediation in another, or to be a brilliant late bloomer.

 

NCLB is rotten in my opinion, but it has forced schools to have higher expectations of kids in poor districts and schools or who are in the lowest tracked classes. In some cases, this has been good for those schools and kids. It's also helped reallocate resources more fairly so that kids have opportunities that are more equal. Districts can't just say, "we expect those kids (whomever "those" kids are in this case - the poor kids, the immigrant kids, the minority kids, the kids who aren't reading at grade level by 3rd grade...) to fail" and sweep them under the rug. They have to give them just as much if not more attention, which, let's face it, if it was your homeschool and you had four kids, three of which were doing great and one of which was behind, who would you give some extra time to each week or buy an extra reading remediation program for?

 

Now, the end result is, indeed, that kids who need more challenge are being taught to the middle and some of the statistical hoops with testing that schools have to go through are absurd - and the tests themselves encourage mediocrity. I'm not for NCLB by any means.

 

So, I guess I'm saying that I think the schools back then might have been better for some kids, but there were a lot of kids left out.

 

To me, the challenge is, how do you create a school system that serves everyone with some level of equal access, expectations that aren't defined by prejudice and a community that asks kids to be the best individual they can be, with an understanding that there may be a base set of skills everyone needs, but that the final educational outcomes that are right for each kid may differ. I don't know that our school system has ever done that. I think individual teachers can do that and individual schools with good leadership can sometimes do that as well. So, to me, the fact that we're constantly taking power away from the teachers and schools and putting it higher and higher up is the worst tragedy, when the systems at the top should be instead creating more professionalism for the people on the ground, helping them learn to really do that.

 

But I've rather given up on schools, so to some extent, my opinion is invalid. They all just make me groan.

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I live in an area where the public schools are considered "good schools".

 

My neighbor's public schooled daughter (a 6th grader) cannot read an article and comprehend it. My neighbor has had her tested and she does not meet requirements for an "IEP". My neighbor was saying that her daughter is struggling. I asked why the school doesn't offer extra help for her since surely they could use her MSA (standardized tests) results and get her some tutoring. My neighbor said "oh, she has great MSA scores". I said "How, if she can't read" and my neighbor said "her teacher read her the MSA test questions and answers".

 

I said "that's cheating" and then my neighbor backtracked and said "oh, well wait a minute, maybe they didn't read to her, yeah, they were going to read to her but didn't".

 

My advice to my neighbor was to privately pay a tutor to help her daughter. (This woman doesn't have the conviction to help her daughter herself)

 

This is a classic example of how kids reach the high school level and can't "read" or "comprehend".

 

My Daughter has one of the highest MAP test scores in the district. Her teachers recommended her for some online Stanford gifted program. The child is in 4th grade and after bringing her home this year, I'm amazed at what she DOESN'T know. *sigh. If she doesn't know and comprehend these things, with the highest scores, what are the rest of the students like???

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Mass education was never "good" and was never intended to be "good". Its scope has never been specifically to academically educate. One could probably even claim that a basic education was sometimes more of a side effect, than the actual effect of those schools.

 

The only education that was good, to my standards with my own bias, has been the education that was highly exclusive on many levels - first of all on intellectual level (no "mainstreaming" everyone into same classes, but having special classes or schools for highly intelligent and highly accomplished children), and secondly, partially as a result of that first, on material level (even when we talk about public schools, we talk about schools and classes where the overwhelming majority of parents was educated and professionally accomplished). And, IME, we can see instances of such education in every country, including America. There are nice little oases of excellent schools, whether private or public in unusually good districts, in the desert. And the landscape is not significantly different for many other countries, but what often happens is that other countries have slightly worse "excellent" schools and slightly better "bad" schools, thus producing a compromise which seems like an overall better education, but in reality it has only erased some of the drastic oscillations (and these are predominately societies which are less "capitalistic", thus with lesser variety in choice of schools, more government monopoly on what gets taught).

 

I think the real downfall of education goes hand in hand with "mainstreaming", abandoning achievement-based education (eventually lelading into separate college tracks and non-college tracks), plus with some educational fits that were really bad (resulting in functional illiteracy and lack of basic arithemtic skills), and with overall moral degradation of society (parents not parenting anymore, discipline issues taking over educational ones, not being allowed anymore to kick the misbehaving Johnny out of classroom but having to "understand" him and "help" him, etc.). It is a trend that has, like somebody has mentioned, roughly had its beginnings about WWII in many Western countries, but has been increasinly unfolding leading to the chaos we know today from about 70s-80s. The same can be told of higher education and the downfall of humanities specifically (although that began even earlier, about WWI), complete degradation of what used to be "an intellectual" to a level below mediocre education, etc. But the principal forces behind it, IME, is the whole focus on "everyone". It cannot be good if you put "everyone" in the same basket and do not allow people to flourish at their own pace - the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And that is what is happening, the educational level is as low as the worst students, because that is where most of the emphasis are and the system has no longer means to filter them out to different tracks. Some countries which retain much more of tracking have it better exactly because they realize that it is not a good idea to educate "everyone" together in the same classroom.

 

Another problem is the focus on the struggling student nowadays. In the epochs past, the focus was still largely on GOOD students - which was unjust in many ways, but if you can have an unjust system which focuses on the bottom third, or an unjust system which focuses on the best and brightest, what are you going to choose? Earlier, the logic was that the bottom third will gain the necessarily skills to the point they can - and when they no longer can the system will filter them out, so they will not hold anyone behind nor lower the educational level of the school - but the extra effort should be put on the kids who actually show skills, knowledge, and interest. Nowadays, the focus is totally different, the logic is that good kids will be fine anyway, and we should focus on doing the impossible by making everyone else good. Not working. If you do not separate the kids, the only real consequence of that is that no child gets ahead because, again, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why achievement-based groups or stratified school system (with tracks, different profiles of schools after a common grade school, etc.) are typically a much more successful choice. For an education of groups to be successful, you have to constantly remind yourself about the chain and the weakest links - the idea is to have as comparable groups as possible. Erasing the intellectual differences to the highest degree possible makes wonders happen, because you are working with kids about the same level. Yes, it is a totally un-PC idea. But it is what works MUCH better than putting everyone together and pretending those very real differences in intelligence, interest, home culture, etc. did not exist. Closing your eyes to problems does not make them go away. High school, if not before, should be the point of separation into different schools, different tracks, with different goals - though I would start that process in middle schools already.

 

(As far as countries' ranking is concerned, that is largely a nonsense, it is impossible to create a "good" test to rank the whole world because you are always testing apples and oranges. Countries which are good on PISA are exactly those countries which teach those few subjects that PISA tests in a way that PISA tests, and that is all there is to it. I have heard Finnish educators openly admit that if tests were made with Mediterranean/Mittel-European cultural bias, testing the concrete knowledges and skills of schools system in that area, countries like Austria or Italy - remarkably "average" if not below on PISA - would be taking first places. Also, PISA entirely neglects humanities education, and is as utilitarian as it gets in what it tests, i.e. it is heavily biased.)

 

:iagree: I'm surprised no one has jumped on this yet. You hit the nail on the head, EM!

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I didn't read all the posts, and I don't know when things went "down hill" or if they were ever "up hill". I know my parents and grandparents never did as extensive of math or language arts as I grew up doing. Don't know about science/social studies.

 

That being said, I think there are MANY reasons the schools are not performing as well as we may expect. However, are they really that bad- or is it just the hype to say so so that we can funnel more money into the system?

 

From my experience as a former PS teacher and having a dh who still teaches in the PS system.

1. parent values/involvement - there is a lack of discipline, involvement, etc. now that I don't believe there was before. Parents are not home, don't pick up their kids from school, don't meet w/ teachers, don't ask how they can help their kids succeed, don't want to take time to check homework - or even see if it is done, don't care if their kids act up in class, etc. All those things make a HUGE difference.

2. immigration - there have always been people immigrating here, but the expectation before was to become part of the culture and learn. My mom came here from S. America at 7, didn't have parents who spoke English, but managed to learn, excel and skip 4th grade b/c she was advanced. Today's students are catered to, not expected to learn English by either their parents or the schools and therefore suffer. Now, much of elementary school is focused on teaching ENGLISH to non-English speakers. An absurd amount. Or remedial teaching b/c so many english language learners didn't understand and so it has to be re-taught over and over. There is no room/time for helping kids who actually are capable to continue growth... because we can't separate kids by skill level...

3. reality- not all kids are college bound. period. The US expects all kids to be well-rounded, capable, educated kids. However, I believe most other countries accept the fact that some people are going to be skilled in other areas and therefore develop those passions and abilities instead of constantly trying to force them to fit the mold that "we" expect out of them. That is definitely going to skew the results and make us look like we have a poor education system.

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Here is an article that outlines Finland's educational "successes"

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/#.TwFVhWDSxrE.facebook

 

I find it interesting they have taken away choice in their educational system. Private schools are not allowed. Would public schools change in the US, if all were forced to invest in them?

 

When living in Saint Louis, MO, I personally knew of one family that sent their children to public schools. One family out of 30 families (or so)! Most of the families I knew sent their kids to private schools and a few homeschooled. Until about five years ago, STL was still bussing kids of color out of the city to provide an "equal" education. And now their public schools are not accredited. The city must pay to send any student that insists on being provided an accredited education to a nearby district that is accredited. It is a mess that may never change.

 

But would it change, if all families living in Saint Louis were required to send their child to a public school? If all had to invest in the system, would it change?

 

As Americans would we be willing to give up our rights to educate our children in the way we see fit, in order to provide for all?

 

I'm not saying doing this would solve our problems, but that is one way Finland claims they have solved their educational problems.

 

And I also found it interesting this article starts off with the statement, "The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence."

 

Which begs the question--What is a good education?

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That's a really good question, Heather, and I wish I had a really good answer, but I don't.

 

When I was in school, my dad would shake his head and ask "WHAT in the WORLD is education coming to? Don't they teach you kids ANYTHING anymore?"

 

And, then he admitted once that his dad would say the exact same thing to him when he was in school.

 

So... go figure. Maybe it's always been stinky. :001_unsure:

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As Americans would we be willing to give up our rights to educate our children in the way we see fit, in order to provide for all?

 

Not me.

 

I'm not saying doing this would solve our problems, but that is one way Finland claims they have solved their educational problems.
Finland is a much more homogenous society, and that is why it works there.
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I find it interesting they have taken away choice in their educational system. Private schools are not allowed. Would public schools change in the US, if all were forced to invest in them?

Oh yeah. There would be a change in the overall attitude towards schools.

When something does not concern you or your children directly, because you can opt out, it is a very different public sentiment than a "we are in this together" kind of sentiment.

 

Which reminds me of another example, Israel. Israeli school system is a too complex topic to do it justice now, so suffice to say that instead of a neatly unified national school system there is a coexistence of several fairly distinct school systems that operate in the country, one of which is an independent religious sector; however, I was very surprised with the upheaval in the public life that was caused several years ago when a certain secular, fully private school was opened (I believe it was the first one? Or the first one of a particular kind? Anyway, it brought up an upheaval.). There was a MAJOR public debate (in proportions for such a small country) exactly about these issues that you bring up, and some of that is ongoing. For the Hebrew speaking among us, I recommend having a look at this video from last year once when you have an idle moment (it is very long).

There are a few parts where a teacher talks to public school students about the emergence of private education in Israel; I will translate those few parts because I think they are indicative of the general sentiment I encountered (and I think it might be interesting for some of you to see in what terms, in what word choice, are these issues debated). Starting at about 2:40 minutes:

Teacher: If all schools were private, let me tell you, they might be a lot better from the public schools in which you are learning, but the only people who would be able to learn there would be those who can pay. When we fund with our taxes a school, an education system, we want it to be ethical. What makes it ethical? The fact that anyone can enter it and learn, and get an equal chance in society. And that which the taxes pay - an equal chance - that is a very important ethical value that the private money does not care about.

Student: And now what? If I have money, I can buy a medicine that might save my life, but if my parents do not have that money - than what? Should I not live? The same thing in education. It is a lack of equality.

Teacher: I tend to agree with you, because I think that education, health, and safety, and a few other things, are things that ought not to be sold.

 

Keep an eye on this: he emphasizes that the institution of public school has a strongly ethical connotation to its existence (rather than a merely practical thing) - and that the "selling" of certain goods for money equals to a kind of prostitution (he does not say it in those words) of something which is forbidden to sell. Much of the public discourse I have encountered vested the problems in these terms and presented the existence of the private sector as an inherently morally problematic thing.

 

Then they go on comparing one public school (with classes of up to 40 kids) and that private school (with about a dozen kids in a class), BLAH BLAH, all things predictable, they focus a lot on comparing classes sizes and on financial issues and the status of teachers, then it becomes interesting again at about 36:30:

Student: I believe that I will send my child to a private school, because I can tell from my own scars what it was like for me here [in a public school].

Other student: You have no money to send your child to a private school, that is the whole point here. (...)

Teacher: Wait. I want to challenge your basic attitude, okay? So, let us imagine that I, too, desire the best that I can give to my children, and the best education, and if I have money, I will obviously send them to a private school... But you are not going to solve your problems this way. I want to explain to you why. Because it is more important that you fight for the betterment of the public schools (...) instead of saying "I do not care about anyone else, I only care about my children" - that is what you are saying, and they will get the best education, and in the public schools that all... "those"... will attend. And now consider what might happen. Your children might grow up and get an excellent education, and they might buy their own house and then... they might get beaten up in the street. By some bastards (...) And then you going to say to yourself, "Wait, am I going to get my own private police to look after my children?" There is a problem. Your money is never going to solve the problem.

 

This argument is based on society cohesion and the fact that no man is an island, no matter how much he isolates himself into private associations, because at the end of the day, he will still live in society with "others" and no amount of "privatization" of his particular interests is going to change that.

 

I think we can see this way of thinking in many typically collectivist societies. I have no idea what, specifically, is Finland's explanation - Israel is a different story and, on many levels, a very different society - but most arguments against private education in Israel that I have come cross were based on this. Of course, for America it would never work - it is probably the most individualistic society in the world, for the good and for the bad. But in many ways, what you are saying holds true, because that is exactly what is segregating the society, educationally and not.

 

Personally, however, I prefer living in societies which put the ideal of freedom before the ideal of equality, because while I agree that there are serious side-effects to organizing a society that way, I guess that ultimately it comes down to prefering those side-effects than side-effects of organizing a society otherwise, and in that respect, I am very "American". While I would like to see the standardization of the minimal content for courses and a few other regulation issues, I cannot imagine forbidding forms of education alternative to government schools (private schools, homeschooling, etc.), it seems dangerously drastic to me. Though yes, one of the reasons why many other countries have better school system overall is because they do not allow - or strictly control - the alternatives, so it has not happened that the quality people have been "bought" by the private sector... YET.

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Actually, EM, those here in the States who believe strongly in public education make essentially the same argument that your second quote makes. They say that rather than improve YOUR child, you should improve education FOR ALL CHILDREN.

 

I have never completely bought that, but I do believe in social responsibility. So I have voted for school bonds, and advocated locally for better schools in several unique circumstances, and now that I am finished homeschooling I am keeping my promise to myself which was, I will give my DD the very best education FOR HER that I can manage, but when I am finished homeschooling I will go back and volunteer in the public school sector sort of in arrears for what I would have done if DD had attended one.

 

Still, where the argument falls down is in saying that people should sacrifice their children for some greater good education. That is just ridiculous. Go ahead and sacrifice yourself, if you want to, feel obligated to, or feel led to. But for heaven's sake, don't sacrifice your children.

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Still, where the argument falls down is in saying that people should sacrifice their children for some greater good education. That is just ridiculous. Go ahead and sacrifice yourself, if you want to, feel obligated to, or feel led to. But for heaven's sake, don't sacrifice your children.

I find that the idea behind the *current* model of the public school in many places is the exact same idea that some kids need to be sacrificed. IOW, no child gets ahead. It is exactly what happens - some children's needs are put before some other children's needs, some children are more special than others, so as a result of that, in the model where you put everyone together, a lot of children ARE being sacrificed all the time because they are not allowed to work on their own pace, not allowed to be grouped into achievement-based groups, and because people refusy to diversify the school system out of PC reasons. And it is a suicidal sacrifice at that, on the societal level, because so it happens that the brightest and the most competent kids get shortchanged. Not that it is possible to set up a system without some collateral damage except with totally individualized education, though.

 

By the way, I have always found it a bit inconsistent when I met people who were dead set against homeschooling, but were totally fine with all kinds of private schools. To my eyes, homeschooling is essentially a very private schooling. It has always puzzled me because I always thought that if you really, genuinely thought that it is good for children to be in the system, socialize with all kinds of children, and so forth, it would be consistent to wish for all children to be in the same system, which effectively eliminates choice.

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EM: Yes, exactly right.

 

And BTW, when I didn't want to get into a long conversation about my DD's education with some stranger, I would say that she was privately tutored. No controversy there, although I'm sure that it sounded terribly snobby. But really, what is snobby is opposing homeschooling because it is not generally available, while still sending your children to private or competitive charter schools. Please.

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And it is a suicidal sacrifice at that, on the societal level, because so it happens that the brightest and the most competent kids get shortchanged. Not that it is possible to set up a system without some collateral damage except with totally individualized education, though.

 

 

But you've been advocating a tracking system, and my education was sacrificed within a tracking system.

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