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.