2013 Symposium: Education In America Continues To Decline As We Fall Further And Further Behind Other Countries. How Do we Fix This?

Cartwright:  We have to stop teaching to the lowest common denominator.  I’ve spoken about this many times before.  You have all kinds of kids lumped into the same classes and some of these kids have different learning aptitudes.  So, the teacher has to teach to the level of the slowest kids in the class.  If you have an advanced learning aptitude, you’re being disadvantaged and taught at a level that holds you back.  If you’re failing because you’re a slow learner or you don’t understand, we need to make sure you have an opportunity to learn at your pace.  When I was in school, every math class, science class, history class, and English class had three levels—one for slow students, one for average students, and one for advanced students.  You could move between the classes based on your aptitude.  So, you may start out in the average class but the teacher may see you’re more advanced and offer you the opportunity to move to the advanced class.  By the same token, you could be in the advanced class and be in over your head and get moved to the average class.  What’s wrong with this nowadays?

If you have an advanced learning aptitude, you’re being disadvantaged and taught at a level that holds you back.  If you’re failing because you’re a slow learner or you don’t understand, we need to make sure you have an opportunity to learn at your pace.  When I was in school, every math class, science class, history class, and English class had three levels—one for slow students, one for average students, and one for advanced students.  You could move between the classes based on your aptitude.  So, you may start out in the average class but the teacher may see you’re more advanced and offer you the opportunity to move to the advanced class.  By the same token, you could be in the advanced class and be in over your head and get moved to the average class.  What’s wrong with this nowadays?

We need to make sure we have the highest quality teachers in our schools and that they’re actually teaching kids.  Teaching is an honorable profession.  We need to make sure we attract bright young men and women into the profession by offering competitive wages and a good work environment.  A lot of times the teacher gets the blame when kids aren’t doing well in school.  There are plenty of teachers that are failing students.  We need to weed them out and get top quality educators.  And we need to equip those educators with the best tools and resources to help the kids learn.  Our technology has evolved significantly and we need to make sure classrooms are equipped with the best technology and resources that help kids learn.

We need a standardized curriculum for schools to teach throughout the United States.  Let’s have minimum curriculum requirements for each grade.  If the educators want to teach more, great, but we need to make sure we have a base level of education for all students to ensure they’re not falling behind other countries in math and science.

But let’s be honest, the teachers can only do so much.  The kids have to want to learn and have to face consequences if they don’t do their work.  A good teach can teach any student who wants to learn.  We have a lot of derelicts in the school system who don’t care about an education but who are mixed in with kids who are there to learn and become productive members of society.  Problem kids and at risk youth need to be removed from the general population and put in special schools.  Of course, all of this would be largely irrelevant if the military was running our school system as I discussed earlier.  We need to make sure there is discipline in the school system.  If you cause problems and disrupt learning for other students, you face consequences.  If you’re a derelict who doesn’t want to learn and be a good member of society, there needs to be a consequence.  If you don’t do your homework and don’t apply yourself and if you’re failing because you’re lazy, there’s going to be consequences.  You shouldn’t be allowed to drag down the rest of the students who want to learn.

And maybe it’s time we rethink the way we educate kids.  I hated school as a kid.  I dreaded getting up and going to school and sitting all day in different classes.   Maybe we need to find more creative ways to educate kids so that they have an interest in learning.  Maybe we shorten the school day but extend the school year.  Maybe we give them incentives for doing well in school like opportunities for scholarships or graduating early and going to junior college.  Let’s get them more engaged in learning.  And listen, this is really more for junior high or middle school and high school.  That’s when kids start losing interest.  The first to fifth graders aren’t really to a point where they can make choices about skipping school or being lazy.

North Carolina:  In order to repair the decline in America’s educational system, a return to the concept of unifying principles and basic subject matter, rather than complete concentration on career preparation must be considered and implemented. Today’s educators want students to be trained for productive jobs rather than prepared to distinguish the right way to live and how to apply that principle to all areas of life.  Though there are certainly positives to career preparation, basic subject matter that includes wide reading involvement, with cross curriculum interjection into all subject matter fundamentals, must be part of basic educational programs.  Ethical, moral and social standards derived from yesteryears’ classics and other sources must also be incorporated within any educational program to create motivated, aware, well-rounded, and productive individuals.    Coupled with content knowledge and unifying principles, reforms must include the means of attracting and retaining qualified and motivated teachers who are fairly compensated. In addition, the updating and revamping of curriculums to reflect the true nature and history of America’s founding and historical continuum must be instilled to create civic-minded students who understand foundational principles and put them into practice.   To inhibit the decline of America’s educational system, intense reform must occur at the state level, and the federal Department of Education must be minimized and its regulations removed.  Lawmakers and judges must enact and enforce policies that support a parent’s right to rear their children as well as choose the school situation that best fits their children’s needs, which includes public, private, charter or home school choices. States must consider adopting grant and voucher programs for K-12 so that parents can select the best possible school situation for their children and participate in their child’s educational future.   Much is at stake without educational reform.  The lack of a well-educated citizenry suppresses America’s prestige in almost every educational endeavor, and without intervention, the system  will continue to disintegrate. The national and governmental debate with education has taken the wrong turn with Common Core initiatives and other programs, but the future depends upon educational experts taking the reigns and returning America’s educational system to its original founding and unifying principles.

Orlando:  American education is in a sorry state. American 12th graders rank 26th among 34 developed countries in math, 21st in science, and 17th in reading comprehension. These abysmal scores reflect poorly for the future, as this generation of 12th graders will be teaching the next generation of 12th graders in as little as 5 years. The traditional approach to fixing this problem has been to pour money into education, and, in that regard, America comes in first. In 2010, America spent $11,000 per elementary student and $12,000 per high school student, more than any other nation in the world. Yet, despite this wealth of finances, American schools seem to produce a poverty of knowledge.

Part of the problem is surely underqualified teachers. Public education continues to be among the lowest paid professions in America, with entry level teaching positions barely breaking $30,000 dollars per year, in a position that requires a college degree. That college degree, though, is largely a farce, as students in schools of education continue to have the lowest average ACT and SAT scores. Many graduate programs in education do not require a GRE test for admission, and few have less than a 90% graduation rate. Improving teacher training and salary would help to promote education, but this is only part of the problem.

Educational reform in America is frequently about chasing fads. In the early 1990’s, a few very successful school districts had mission statements. They were the subject of considerable academic attention, mostly because successful school districts draw in significant portions of grant money. A number of scholarly papers were published indicating that successful schools had mission statements. Soon, every school had a mission statement, and educational scholars around the country were shocked when test scores did not improve. The same happened in the early 2000’s with learning communities. Each of these ideas is adopted because they seem like easy, silver-bullet solutions to education.

The truth is there is no silver bullet for education. There are a lot of small-scale innovations, technological improvements, assessment changes, and infrastructural adjustments that are the difference between American schools and their superior counterparts overseas, and even then, the various countries have locally adapted solutions. What is needed in America is for serious attention to be paid, and serious work done, to improve each and every school. It is an exhausting project, but one that we must be willing to undertake for the sake of our future.

Michigan:  We have discussed this issue before.  It is my opinion that we need to educate the students that want to go on to college.  The students that do not want to go to college should be in a trade school.  Not everyone wants to go to college.  A very good living can be made by a plumber or auto mechanic.  We are forcing kids to take classes that they will never grasp or ever use and failing them.  For the students that do not want to go to college and do not want a trade school, then a mandatory stint in the military.

Washington, DC: It is a shameful fact that one of the richest and most advanced countries in the world does not provide adequate levels of education to its children. According to the  2012 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results, conducted by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) among 34 OECD countries,  American students were at 26th place in math (25th in 2009), 21st in science (17th in 2009), and 17th in reading (14th in 2009). Thus, not only do American students perform on an average or below average level when compared to students from other countries, but they seem to be slipping as well. In a modern global economy, when such countries as South Korea, China, India, Singapore, and Hong Kong place a very high value on educating their children in order to provide them with competitive edge, American students are clearly being shorthanded. While, in the recent history, there were two federal programs introduced to address the issue of national education (No Child Left Behind in 2001, and Obama’s Race to the Top), little change is noticeable.

Something needs to be changed in the American educational system in order to allow American students to receive good education and secure their future in a global market. For example, Massachusetts has some of the best-performing students in the country; Mitchell Chester, an education commissioner, contributes it to the fact that the state has raised its math and science standards over the last decade and that the elementary and special education teachers need to pass stricter tests to receive their teaching licenses. Obviously, teachers play pivotal role in the quality of education provided; as such, they need to be well-educated (Masters Degrees, ideally), well-compensated (to prevent high turnover), and highly-qualified (there need to be higher requirements, venues for improving, regular training opportunities, broad exchange with colleagues, peer reviews, and regular testing for those who wish to teach and maybe a pay scale according to their performance).

Besides, the United States has one of the highest gaps between students in different school districts, largely based on race and class. As a rule, disadvantaged students perform much worse in all standardized tests than the students in high-ranking school districts. More resources need to be devoted to already disadvantaged children by providing better access to preschool programs, after-school programs, and the better quality of education (by maybe giving bigger salaries to teach in inner-city schools).  Most importantly, it all comes to the welfare system provided by different countries; as statistics demonstrates, countries with broad welfare programs such as Finland, Poland, and East Asian countries see little difference among students from various backgrounds.

It is clear that investment in our children’s education is an investment in our future and the USA must address this issue responsibly if it wants to stay strong in the global arena in the future.

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