Total Pageviews

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Our education system stinks


As I was watching, Freed Zakaria's CNN’s special on education, I couldn't believe that all the things we emphasize are not necessarily true. We’ve always talked about increasing the number of hours our school-age children needed but we are decreasing hours because of the cost. The special showed where South Korean parents take education very seriously and they pass that onto their offspring. The South Korean child attends school from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and they take their lunch at a study cubicle. After school lets out, the students attend a night class that specializes in advancement studies, they then go, home and study even more. This has led to a high suicide rate among the teens. South Korea has cracked down on the night schools because there was one on every corner. South Korea has now tried to inject more fun time for the students. On the other side of the pond, Finnish students did not adapt the Asian model, yet they always score near the top on the international tests. They start their school a year later than most countries, emphasize creative work, and shun tests. It didn't take long in the program, to see what was common between the two models of achievement. They both had great teachers, for instance, every teacher in Finland has a master's degree, and the turnover rate is very low. The teachers have a quarterly competency test not only on subject material but also on presentation. A child yawning in the back row is not learning.

We all know that American's education is on the decline, yet we just throw money at it, and never do anything about the causes. We don't have any answers for the high 25% dropout rate. Our college graduation rate has been flat lined and while other countries focus on math and science, our interests are in sports exercise and leisure studies.

We no longer have a kick- the- can down a road option, because our labor force is too expensive and educated for today's marketplace. Bill Gross, the head of Pimco, the world's largest bond fund said,” Either we will raise our educational level are the markets will lower our wages."

What's the solution? It's like a diet. We have to work hard at it, because as Thomas Edison said," genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Malcolm Gladwell found that behind a natural-born talent lay lots of practice- and by his calculations, about 10,000 hours of practice. Our schoolchildren spend less time in school than their peers abroad. They have a shorter school day and a shorter school year. South Korean children spent almost two years more in school than Americans at the end of high school. We just dropped to 26% in the world ranking and falling away behind Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Singapore. I don't think it takes a genius to know that we are in catch up mode, so less education is not the answer. We know that the common denominator is good teachers; we must pay them accordingly. We should also evaluate them on a periodic basis and weed out the bad teachers. That’s pretty fundamental but almost impossible, unless we come to some type of agreement with the teachers unions.

Last year, Los Altos, California decided to use the Khan Academy videos and software in their classrooms. This is a revolutionary model that might change the way or children are taught. In the old way, a teacher would lecture and the student would take notes, but this method wastes a lot of time. Under this new system, the student watches the videos at home and solves the problems in class. I saw where the gifted students would go around the classroom helping other students. The teacher, using her iPad, could see if the student was having problems in real time, allowing her to do one- on- one teaching. The software will not allow the student to go onto the next subject without answering each question correctly. This might be a new concept of great placement. Instead of passing each student by an age limit, we could pass them by their specialized achievements.

I wish that I had the expertise to understand what's wrong with our failing schools. Then, I wouldn't have to take someone's ideas and say, “let’s try that." This issue will be solved by those who know the pros and cons of any proposal. I'm not that person that can say that proposal was tried in 1985 and failed and give the reasons why. I do know what we've been doing for three decades is wrong, and we have the stats to prove it.


Sugar Magnolia said...

Mike, I won't pretend to have all the answers, either, but purely from a standpoint of a former child, and an armchair quarterback, I would venture to say that a BIG part of what's wrong with schools is what's wrong at HOME.

Schools can spend all the money in the world, hire only teachers possessing Masters degrees or even PhDs, but until EACH and EVERY student comes to school with a full stomach, carrying appropriate materials, prepared to learn, we will continue to see a downward spiral.

There was once a time when education was considered a quite serious matter by parents, and this attitude was passed along to their children. Respect was taught first and foremost in a home and parents took time with their child, both before and after school, to reinforce learning, and to simply TALK with their child. Dinners were held around the dinner table with family members present and the day's happenings were discussed. Then homework was tackled, chores were finished, and a good nights' sleep was obtained so that the next day the child could start again.

I know this didn't happen in EVERY household, and not every home was like Beaver Cleaver's. But I wonder just how LITTLE it's happening now. Broken families, poverty, and lack of values sabotage a child's chances before he or she even enters the doors of school these days. No matter how hard a school may try, and I'm not letting the educational system off the hook here, they cannot right the wrongs begun at home in just a few hours each day.

That's my two cents, for what it's worth, maybe less. But I really feel that we are trying to cure symptoms without tackling the underlying disease here.

Answers? I have none. I just know what worked for me and my family and what didn't work for some of my friends and their families (or lack thereof).

Edith Ann said...


Rick Perry wants to do away with the Department of Education! Who didn't see that coming afterr he gutted the Texas education budget?


Sugar--I agree with parts of your comment. As a consumer of two different ISDs with my childrem there is certainly a difference from district to district. With that said--I will agree with you that a less than ideal homelife certainly hampers a child motivation and ability to learn. That is true.

However, on the flip side--school districts are far from perfect--VISD being a good example. Because of dylslexia, dispraxia and dyscalulea as well as Type 1diabetes, I had a kid in special services. It was a living hell for the most part, and I was never so glad to have that kid finally graduate!

I also have a sister who has taught in special ed her entire teaching career. Special ed teachers in VISD are the stepchildren of the district. As a result, they virtually have no budget, they are skimpy on resources and modify most of the lessons themselves (regular ed uses the lessons 'as-is').

Our education system is lacking in so many ways, our governor has gone public in several ways about what he thinks of education. Why is this? It is always going to be a money thing--Football coaches in may districts make 2-3 times what a classroom teacher makes. The governor doesn't want to move to cheaper digs or give up his ginormous entourage, so the budget cuts come elsewhere.

I don't hold out a lot of hope that things will ever change for eduation. We will just continue to lament that others are eclipsing our students, and outperforming our students, but until the priorities of those folks in charge of our educational system change, we will jsut have to accept it for what it is.

Or pay for private school, which is my goal for my grandchildren if they leave the Round Rock school district.

Mike said...


I agree that times are changing, with the two worker household we have today, it's more of a struggle to make sure that the children get off on the best foot. As I've said many times, my daughter teaches fourth grade, so she would agree with what you say. That's the part of the study that I left out. Compared to other countries, we have to deal with more poverty and students that do not have the support of their parents.

As far as the master's degree for every teacher, I don't think I did a good job of explaining the importance of that. The two countries, South Korea and Finland hire teachers’ fresh out of college but they normally stay in the same school and continue their education until they obtain a master's degree in education. They don't teach to a test, but they use the lesson plan as a guide, and are not judged on test scores. They are judged on improvement and presentation. They want teachers who can make math and history interesting. I saw a PBS special about an inner city the pilot program in Brockton, Massachusetts that turned that school from the bottom to one of the very top schools. They did it by having English as part of every class. The gym teacher would devote half of her class to English, the same for the music teacher and so on. It was a program designed to work on the main deficiencies.

We are, where we are, but I don't think we can make inroads by trying to reprogram parents and I know you weren’t suggesting that. Unfortunately we are going to have to rely on technology and qualified teachers to carry most of the load.

Mike said...

My daughter said that she has a fourth grade student that just comes in,and lays under his desk. She doesn't have any special training on how to teach the child but the school gets money for his attendance. The worst part is that she doesn't know anything about his medical needs.

Priority is the key, for now our children can handle the restaurant, oil field, and the petrochemical jobs ,we have in the area but they're not trained nor qualified for the future jobs.

BTW Rick Perry is toast, I have never seen a melt down on a national stage like the one I saw last night.

Edith Ann said...

I hear you on the no information for the teachers! My sister complains of the same thing. But yet, your daughter is held accountable by the DISTRICT for this child's failure to learn, and that is wrong!

Yes, they get daily attendance money, but for many years they also got 'special ed' money. That was gone a long time ago, and as much as I'd like to hang that on Perry, I can't.

By the way, teachers in Michigan are required to have a Master's. They'll hire you fresh out of college, but continued employment is contingent upon continuing to your Master's.

I'm going to reserve my agreement that Perry is toast til Monday. We still could see the Cain effect of a gazillion dollars pour in for this guy. (But, yeah, I hope you're right.) Did you see his clip explaining to his supporters what happened? That is humorous, too. He compares this to Ford eating a 'tamale with the husk on'. Husk? I thought it was a shuck. Whatever.

Mike said...

The republicans want a Glenn Beck type of candidate in their primary but want someone who stands a chance against Obama in the general election. That's hard.

Have you noticed that Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain never answered the question that was asked? They just get right into their talking points. Michelle goes right into blaming ObamaCare and Cain just shouts " 9-9-9" for everything.

It's hard for me to imagine Rick Perry stepping down but he will be more irrelevant than he is now. For some reason, the evangelicals love Herman Cain,thus keeping him at about 25% but in New Hampshire he's going to have to know something or his funds will dry up as well as his poll numbers.... I agree with the pundits, the man has multiple sexual harassment charges leveled against him but he still goes on a national debate and calls the former speaker the house Nancy Pelosi," princess."... He doesn't have a clue because you can hate her but her peers voted her into that high office.

Edith Ann said...

I'll have to find a way to watch it--I was on call last night, and did not get home until 10 p.m. I always miss the good stuff!

Michelle Bachmann is just a whack job, plain and simple! Sponsored how much legislation to create how many jobs?

Herman Cain??? What is so appealing about him? I do not get it! His plan to create jobs is what?

Rick Perry step down? Are you kidding me? He's from Texas! We down't back down! Remember the Alamo! Hell, he'll just shoot them all to get them out of the way. All the jobs he helped create are minimum wage and public sector, i.e., the first to go in the budget gutting...

I'm with whoever said they'd like to see a face to face with Romney and Houseman. Maybe that was you. I read too much stuff...

Mike said...

I know what you mean about reading too much stuff..:-)

I said I would like to see a Jon Huntsman/Romney face off, just to see what Mitt is made of...The others are in a world all their own.

Rebecca said...

I love this post, Mike!

I think we watched the same program. I cried (I know that sounds dorky) when the teacher talked about how when a student doesn't understand a problem, the student writes it on the board, signs her name, and a student in the room who could help her goes to her to help her. I LOVE the idea of peer tutoring! What a smart teacher who takes advantage of that!

Something is wrong with schools. It's not only that we have apathy in the homes, but we have apathy in government when it comes to education. It's not just apathy, it's ignorance.

It wouldn't matter if our teachers had master's degrees. They have no clout! What I learned in college (how a child best learns, what helps with memory, when the best time to introduce subject matter is, how important sleep is, how important physical activity is when it comes to memory and learning, how important music education is...) all goes out the window when I get in a classroom - and I don't have a say.

You know how much we love Khan Academy over here. I have to tell you that Sal Khan has rock star status in my eyes. He and Vi Hart. Go check out Vi Hart's blog She's a mathemusician who combines art and music with advanced mathematics.

I could go on and on, but I'll end up making less and less sense.

Very encouraging post!

Rebecca said...

I tried to explain Khan Academy, on vicad, but you are such a better writer! You did it justice. =D

Mike said...

Rebecca, you are too kind, thanks.

I was discussing the subject with my daughter when she said "by the way dad, next month I want you to be part of our program where the parents get to teach." They'll be a mixture of parents, grandparents, and even a parent of the teacher,who will spend one day teaching the young fourth graders. I get math but it shouldn't be hard because I will start with the basics. If I want them to learn what 4+1 is, I'll just grab five students, line four of them in a row and ask them" if I add Mary to this group, how many students will we have?"

I forgot about that important part where the little girl wrote her name on the board requesting help. My daughter said that the gifted ones get bored because they finish way ahead of the others, so she utilizes their time and energy by letting them wander around the room helping others. She has 17 students, seven of them are behind the group. My daughter emails the parents requesting a parent/ teacher conference but she rarely gets a response.

You're right about teachers not having any clout. Last year, my daughter almost quit because her recommendation to retain a child in the fourth grade was overridden by the principle. My daughter loves the profession so much but she soon realized that that is how the system Works.

Rebecca said...

How the system works is probably why it's broken. ;)

I was getting worried that Christian was "behind." Using Khan Academy is kinda scary for me as I feel like we are just flying around quickly with no GPS and I haven't had another child that used it. Also, I delayed formal academics with my last two and didn't start formal math instruction until they were about ten years old.

There was a girl finishing up her math school-work last night at the homeschool basketball game and she was using Saxon math. She was in Saxon 5/6 and doing what Christian is doing using Khan Academy. I watched her divide with decimals, multiply with decimals... I asked her what "grade" she was in and she said "fifth." Christian would be in fourth - age wise - so it gave me peace knowing that he is right on track.

Khan Academy is great for Christian because he does not like listening to anything I have to say. He's at an age where he punctuates most of my statements with, "I know." So, Khan is taking over in math.

If ONLY I could find something like Khan Academy for language arts and other subjects!

Khan Academy does have something called smART History. I don't know if you have checked that out. As an art major (before I became an education major) art history speaks more to me than a history course would.

Rebecca said...

"If we want kids to experience a sense of wonder and discover new information on their own (curiosity), if we want them to generate novel, adaptive ideas (creativity), and if we want them to derive their own perspectives and conclusions after a discussion (critical thinking), then the current educational system is a failure."

3 Ideas to Prevent Schools from Killing Creativity, Curiosity, and Critical Thinking -

Mike said...


Saxon math? Don't scare me like that, I just said I was going to spend a day teaching fourth graders some basic math...:-)

I didn't expect to hear Bill Maher say that taking visual arts was a total waste of time and energy because our students need to concentrate on math and science. I know he's a comedian but he's usually more open minded. I think visual arts opens up the creative side of the brain. Why wouldn't we want our students to achieve their full potential?

You're absolutely right, the system is broken, from Penn State down to our local school districts.

Rebecca said...

Oh, I didn't mean Saxon math for YOU. I just thought maybe it was a familiar math program. My mom said that she used it when she taught. It's popular with the homeschoolers. It's more traditional where Khan Academy is not. (That's why I mentioned it.)

You will do fine! Explaining something familiar in a new way is always helpful. You mentioned figuring out baseball stats using math skills. I don't even know enough about baseball to understand how and when that would be needed. Like, in basketball, calculating the percentages of free throws a player got during a game or over the course of a season?

See, Bill's mind-set is what is killing us! Let's get rid of all the things that make us human - that engage our brains - that fills our souls - so that we can concentrate on doing what makes us good at test-taking. Actually, it's working against us, academically.

The good news is that in Victoria RIGHT NOW there are families trying to put together a FREE SCHOOL or a DEMOCRATIC SCHOOL. They will have the students present of list of topics or courses and the adults will find professors or experts in the community to share knowledge. It's going to be too pricey for me, but it is the kind of school I would prefer for my children.

Mike said...


I used the baseball statistics because it got me to thinking about the "whys", why are we using the number 9 as the divisor? We use the number nine because there are nine innings in a baseball game and the rest is percentages. After a while, calculating stats will help you rely on what my daughter calls " your own brain power" instead of a calculator.The one size fits all will not work.

I liked history because that's where we were, giving me a starting point to arrive at my conclusion. That's why I always ask for links, I don't like to rely on theories, assumptions, or one sided hypotheticals.

I haven't heard about that FREE SCHOOL but it sounds like some of the pilot programs that are starting to prop up in the large inner cities. I can see where it can be too pricey for many.

Rebecca said...

I can't remember anything I learned in history from elementary school to college to learning again with my kids. I blame apathy. My brain doesn't remember things I don't care about.

My guess is that people who LOVE people, might care more about what happened to other people in the past. I'm kinda non-personal - I can't remember names of people I meet - so I'm not going to remember much about what happened to strangers.

I made good grades on tests. But, the information for a test (short term) doesn't always make its way to the long term memory. I think it is the long term memory that is most important, not the short term (test taking) memory.

I aced all of my spelling tests, but I can't spell worth a darn.

Isn't that wild?

Things I consider as I "teach."