An enormous amount of Americans are unhappy with the education system, including us, teachers. American education is just not working for our students. Thus, many families are seeking alternatives to public school, such as: private schools (if they can afford it), charter schools, and homeschooling.
Homeschooling numbers in the States are around 1.6 million children aged 5-17, according to a2zhomeschooling.com. Even homeschooling has it’s own branches. There are now families that roadschool (or roamschool), this is families that homeschool while traveling. These families use their travel experiences to inspire and instruct their children’s education. And recently, a new homeschooling fad, unschooling has emerged. An easy blog on unschooling can be found here.
All of this to say that Americans are fed up, with good reason!
The American education system consistently shows students performing in the middle of the pack among other highly industrial countries, according to PewReasearchCenter. Every three years, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures math and science literacy, reading comprehension, and other skills. Most recently, in 2015, the US ranked 38 out of 71 countries. As we tout ourselves to be the top nation in the world, why is our education system so average? And, what does that mean for our future generations?
As an educator for nine years, both domestically and internationally, I am going to share my thoughts of why American education fails to produce.
1. The system does not account for how children actually learn.
The book, How Children Learn, postulates that each and every person learns not by receiving an explanation (which is the least likely way to actually learn something), but by experiencing and manipulating, looking and touching, coming to our own conclusions before making connections with other ideas or topics that we already know. Most children (and adults) learn things, actually learn things, based on what they are interested in. We research things that we find interesting and naturally want to know more about.
For this reason alone, it is obvious why so many resources, standards and curriculums are moving to a more inquiry based structure. But, the majority of the education population does not take this seriously – even with a plethora of research to support it. Why? We are conditioned to do what we are familiar with. And, most of us were taught through teacher lectures, note-taking, and rote memorization.
2. Learning is broken up into subject areas.
As mentioned before, we learn best by researching (either on the computer or in natural ways). Anybody who is a sports fan uses basic math and communication skills every time they discuss their teams’ record. Likewise, when arguing whether their team will make it to the playoffs or the next round is probability and statistics. I used a math example because most people have a hard time seeing math in “real life”. Also, because stereotypically males are more invested in sports – and academically lower performing. But, in “real life” we do not learn things separately. When I research teaching techniques for classroom management I utilize research skills, reading and writing skills, scientific method skills, etc… Thus, we have got to find a way to integrate our classes.
3. There is a huge emphasis on testing/grades.
Every state has a standardized test that measures student progress and growth each year. In Texas, it is currently STAAR. In the past twenty years, Texas has revamped this standardized test three or four times. But, the majority of time in the classroom is teaching to this test. Some states even correlate pay to test scores. Hence, teachers are so focused on ensuring they have covered all content topics and test-taking strategies that there is little time for those students who need extra time. The education community drives into teachers that we must account for all learning styles and that each student is an individual but gives no time to really plan for each individual student – especially in middle and high school.
4. Unstructured play time is being reduced or removed all together.
Kids need to “play”. Everyone has read some article or seen some small news report on how important it is for kids to move around. They have a ridiculous amount of energy that needs to be dispensed. Every parent wishes they could have that childhood energy back just to keep up with their own kids! However, schools and districts continue to limit the amount of time kids spend “playing”. When kids “play” they are doing real learning. They are learning social norms on the playground, without adults to intervene. They are learning about how fragile life is when they discover a dead baby bird that fell from its nest. Last, but certainly not least, they are learning about their own interests and passions. The French education system has elementary students going half day through fifth or sixth grade. They recognize that students need afternoon time to spend discovering and playing with friends.
5. Education is all about labels.
Rising numbers of students labeled as ADD or ADHD, requiring special education services is on the rise. See the above point to emphasize why ADD and ADHD levels are rising at dramatic levels. Kids are no longer given the same amount of time to get their wiggles out. (My kids have plenty of wiggles.) Tack on to that the amount of screen time the average student encounters each day, and it is no wonder kids are struggling so much these days. Regardless if a child is classified under the Section 504, Special Education, or Gifted and Talented umbrella, teachers need time to plan for each of their students’ needs. If this were possible, all the politics and money involved in the aforementioned labels would be a moot point since teachers would be providing quality instruction to every student.
6. Education is not highly esteemed.
In many cultures, teachers are highly revered for their profession. They are seen as VIP because they are charged with the future generations of a country. According to the Guardian, Chinese teachers are the most highly revered while Finland ranks as the best overall, taking into account salary and respect. I’ll just take a moment to refocus your attention on the fact that Finland is ranked in the top 5 performing countries on the PISA, and they just recently overhauled their education system to integrate subjects and begin instructing through phenomena based learning. No data has been gathered as this change is set to be nation-wide by the end of the 2018 school year. Back the Guardian article, it should also be noted that the US spends the most money on education but continues to show no real progress. (This is where in a movie a drastic change would occur to produce miraculous results.)
Your Challenge: Teachers, help us all! Provide solutions for how we can fix these problems.
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