Friday, April 25, 2008

Let's Improve our Public Schools

With this blog, we hope to collect helpful ideas about how our Public Schools might be improved.

How can we Improve our Schools?

Our public schools are a cause for concern. In 2005 the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) nationwide score for math showed that 63% of fourth-graders and 71% of 8th graders rated below competent. For reading, the scores were 71% below competent for both 4th and 8th graders. The math scores were somewhat better than they were in 1990, but the reading scores were no better at all.

We would like to suggest a way to guarantee that virtually all 4th graders will be competent in English and Math in one year, that all 8th graders will be competent in five years, and that all high-school graduates will be competent in nine years.

This blog will describe how this can be done, and will solicit comments and criticism by anyone -- teachers, principals, parents, school superintendents, and anyone else with an interest in our schools.

The plan we show in these pages will solve the four problems our schools have in trying to insure that all our students can read, write, and calculate . These are the problems.

1. Our schools promote students from grade to grade even though the students have not learned the material.

2. Some students are unruly, noisy, and rude in class.

3. There are a few teachers who do not know the material they are supposed to be teaching. There are others who need help with their teaching skills, or have difficulty maintaining order in their classrooms.

4. Schools have no way to find and use new ideas.

CLICK HERE to read the complete plan in its present form.

We’ve recently run across an alternative, more general approach to solving our school problems. If you CLICK HERE, you’ll find a “School Improvement Planning Guide”.

CLICK HERE to read suggested solutions to the promotion problem.
CLICK HERE to read suggested solutions to the discipline problem.
CLICK HERE to read suggested solutions to the teacher problem.
CLICK HERE to read suggested solutions to the ‘new ideas’ problem.
CLICK HERE to read about other problems which have been suggested as being important.
CLICK HERE to see pertinent comments on schools that we've found here and there.

If you’d like to read more, please click on one of the links below. At each of these other pages, which detail the discussion that led to this plan, there is room to add your own comments and criticism.

Action Hoped-for by the reader:

We’d be delighted to hear from anyone interested in improving our schools. Please give us your ideas and suggestions, which can be added here by any visitor. The first edition of this blog has already been changed as a result of comments made by viewers like yourself, and we hope there will be much more discussion.

To comment, just click the underlined word ‘comments’ at the bottom of this page (or any of the other pages), and tell us what you think. You might like to tell us:

1. Why you think schools don’t need improving.
2. Why we’re wrong about the problems discussed above, and why (or what additional problems exist that we‘ve ignored or overlooked).
3. What you think should be done to improve schools.

(Incidentally, your comment or remark or criticism can be anonymous.)

NOTE: Before commenting, you might look at the other pages in this blog -- the CLICK HERE’s above. They may address your comment, and you can comment there as well as here.

To read comments already made, click the time-of-day down below.
To make a comment, click the word ‘comment’ below.
To send a copy of this page to a friend, click the small envelope down below.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your article is great! I personally feel that the JOY and FUN of learning is missing in the public schoolroom. Our students are shown how to regurgitate facts, but not how to learn from experiences and from the world around them. Through our school systems we're producing puppets instead of free thinkers.

Blogger said...

Thanks for the compliment. But shouldn't they also learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic?

Anonymous said...

Brain research has been 'happening' for 75 years! We know that babies think differently than young children and that young children think differently than older children... Why then are our children being taught in ways that are not developmentally appropriate??

Why are we putting the 'burden' of being 'ready' for school on the shoulders of our 4/5/6 year olds when the burden of being 'ready' for children (of all developmental stages!) should be on the shoulders of the schools? Have we not had laws requiring a free and APPROPRIATE education on the 'books' for many years???

By requiring our young children to be ready for school we take the responsibility for education off of the school system.

The result: Children who are 'educated' in ways that are NOT appropriate for them 'check out', 'burn out', and 'act out'.

Learning IS fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding... but not when your 'explorations' are interupted, your vocabulary words have NOTHING to do with what you are learning (or are even interested in), your writing is a requirement, rather than an extension of your life.

What's wrong with our schools??? The science of brain development is ignored. Children (20+ to a room... what makes anyone think that all 20 will be on the same page developmentally/physically etc.?) are not being allowed to do what children do... LEARN!

Blogger said...

75 years ago children were orderly in class, and either learned the material for their grade, or repeated the grade. Many classes had more than 30 students, and current studies indicate large classes are not a problem.

Anonymous said...

Public schools push the kids too hard. All they care about is preparing the students for *TESTING*. I pulled my son out of school for this reason. I am in the process of pulling my daughter out right now. She is completely overwhelmed and lost. The school is doing nothing to help her. She hates school, and now hates math and science. She used to like both subjects. We will homeschool from now on.

Schools need to think about students as individuals, not a mass of money to be made. They need to look into customized, adaptive curriculums for the students. Tney need to focus on students' strengths, and not their weaknesses. Each child would excel if given the chance to gain enough maturity to tackle certain subjects.

I would not want to be a student in the public school system right now.

Blogger said...

Certainly students should be treated as individuals, but it’s not clear that 'customized, adaptive curricula' are needed. The basic problem is that too many children graduate from high school hardly able to read, write, or do arithmetic. Anyone would sympathize with your decision to homeschool your children. And they will be in college before schools improve. But we've got to start the improvement process now, so there's hope for the future.

B. J. Woods said...

About the kids being out of control in the classroom. I taught 5th grade math for several years and found that I was at fault when the kids got out of control. If I went to the classroom unprepared the kids knew it and failed to pay attention. Why should they pay attention if I had not done my preparation.

Now I can offer a lot of excuses for not being prepared, but the excuses are just that and I believe that excuses are for losers. Winners do the job and never quit. When I was prepared and worked the kids minds all day, we had great behavior. We have learning taking place at all times.

Now, in fairness, there are occasionally exceptions and everyone does not behave every day, but the rule is challenge and they behave. Now, the problem with most schools today is two things:

First lack of motivation and
second no real way to measure successful learning. We need to have teachers trained in motivation and trained to motivate the kids. When teachers themselves are not motivated, they do a poor job with the kids. When they do not know how to motivate, they can not motivate kids and kids do not get interested in learning.

Secondly, we need a complete overall the the testing that measures all children by the same yard stick. The yard stick being the standardized test. Kids are very different, come from different homes with different influences and motivating factors and to measure them by a standard test yardstick is not fair. The child raised by a teacher mother and professional father who help their children and motivate them to achieve is head and shoulders ahead of the child who comes from the disadvantaged home with no help and bad influences that hold no expectations for him. He can not hope to do as well on a test, that measures everyone the same.

There is no easy answer, but we need somehow to grade kids on the progress that they make and to give the ones that need tutoring and motivation from counselors the time and opportunity to get it.

These comments I make are from me, and I feel not reason to be anonymous. B. J. Woods Thanks

Blogger said...

Surely ineffective teachers are a problem (see the blog page . But please rethink your ideas about testing. Any child can pass current tests if he or she has been taught properly in a class where discipline reigns.

Parent in Montana said...

I don't have much to contribute and you're not likely to be inspired by my thoughts. My thirteen year old son has never been to school. He simply didn't want to go and we felt his sense of self and wholeness was more important than anything he could get at school. Whatever positive things schools can offer the world offers on a larger scale.

I don't hold much hope for school reform. In my perfect fantasy world schools would be open community learning centers where young people could go immerse themselves for a day or week or month or year (or longer) in those things that inspire and delight them. There could be sewing rooms, cooking rooms, mechanics shops, carpentry shops, art studios, chemistry labs, astronomy labs, martial arts could find apprenticeships and field research work, just whatever they like, without fear of bad grades or threat of lifelong failure if they should leave one interest behind and move on to another.

One part of your blog addresses the "discipline" problem at school but this "problem" won't be solved so long as people are compelled by law to be where they don't want to be. When people feel they have no choice they resist.

Maybe I do have advice! If we want schools to run smoothly make them places where children *want* to be, where they are not shamed for what they don't know yet, where they have real choices and freedoms and where the teachers finally and fully believe every individual has the right to learn in his own way and in his own time.

Blogger said...

Surely all children should know how to read, write, and do arithmetic .. regardless of what their "interest" is. Many schools are not providing this result for many, many children. That's the problems we're trying to solve.

Children should be compelled by law to learn the above. Perhaps they should also be taught that it's important to be able to read, write, and calculate, so they won't "resist".

It may be fine that a child have "the right to learn in his own way and in his own time". What shall we do if a 8-year-old child doesn't want to learn the multiplication tables?

Anonymous said...

I am 8 years old. I have never been to school. I home school all my life. I have a sister. She is 4 years old. This is just so you know.

Blogger said...

Thank you for writing. It’s likely you are a good homeschooler. Perhaps you could persuade your Mom or Dad to write a comment here and tell us why you're homeschooling and not in a public school.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday my barber was a young lady who graduated from high school in the late 70’s. I noticed a photo posted nearby, and asked if it was her daughter. She said it was, and I asked if she were in school. I then learned the following:

Her daughter lives with her father in a nearby town, and goes to school there. Her son is a junior in the local high school, and she wanted him to go to the school where her daughter is also, but he refused.

So she took him out of school and is Homeschooling him. She says the local schools do not teach children any longer, and she doesn’t want her children to go there. She says her son doesn’t know the addition or multiplication tables -- that she is having to teach him things he should have learned in elementary school, years ago -- things she herself learned in elementary school.

Blogger said...

Her son is a victim of 'Social Promotion.' For years he was allowed to go from class to class whether he learned anything or not.

Marco Leon said...

School improvement is a very tough and important subject. This blog is an admirable way of facing the issue head on.

I feel that I received an excellent education in the local public school system. I graduated from High School in 1997 and was well prepared for university. I attended and was able to succeed at Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado that attracts top students from all over the nation.

I attribute my success to self-motivation, parental involvement, and the school system. At the elementary, medium, and high schools I had excellent teachers who were able to deal with the troublemakers and focus on teaching the kids who wanted to learn and thrive. The majority of my teachers were well-versed in the subjects they taught and life. In high school, the football coach was a phenomenal history teacher. I particularly liked the setup we had with the same English and History teachers for the first three years.

Here are some other more general thoughts:

- Extracurricular activities play a very important role in learning. Sport, music, club, and art programs need to be bolstered and not cut. They provide many students with the focus and motivation they need to do well in school.

- Good teachers should be paid that way. In California, I know teachers who can’t afford to raise a family on their salary alone.

- Imagine if the federal government spent a greater percentage of the GDP on education. What if all kids were proficient in reading, science and math and some were inspired to become scientists and engineers? What if those kids helped to develop technology to reduce our need for foreign energy sources and the sticky wars that come along with them?

Marco Leon,

Blogger said...

It appears you went to an unusually good school system. However I notice you say:

"I attribute my success to self-motivation, parental involvement, and the school system." How did the students do how were not self-motivated and whose parents weren't involved? You said nothing about how your fellow-students did.

"The majority of my teachers were well-versed in the subjects they taught". So you're saying than a minority of teachers were not. Perhaps 30% - 49%? Also (see below) you mentioned good teachers, implying there are bad ones.

"Sport, music, club, and art programs need to be bolstered and not cut." Is that a higher priority than educating the minority of teachers who are not well-versed in their subjects?

"Good teachers should be paid that way. In California, I know teachers who can’t afford to raise a family on their salary alone." Did your school distinguish good from bad teachers?

Anonymous said...

I have 3 daughters now in 8th, 5th and 1st grades. My oldest was in the Great Falls, VA public elementary school until 2nd grade and she still wasn't reading independently. I was told by teachers & the public school every year that she was young for her grade & would catch on eventually...It didn't occur to them she hadn't ever been taught phonics there and that this might be the problem.

My younger two went to a Montessori school from age 3 onward and both could read within weeks of entering kindergarten because they had a solid foundation in phonics.

Public schools are failing Americans and until they are run like businesses (lousy teachers get fired, good ones get paid well), we can expect no change.

Why do the teachers' unions fight vouchers? Because if parents in bad school districts could vote with their feet and put their kids in better schools (public or private), the bad schools & teachers would close!

I am all for state achievement testing at certain key grade levels because it makes certain the basics of reading, writing and math are being taught. Everyone should stop whining and put those kids to work learning their addition, subtraction & multiplication/division facts! These are skills needed for LIFE and important to learn early when it's still easy to do. Same with reading. But how do you teach reading in a class of 30 with one teacher?

On homeschooling, hats off to parents who are fed up enough to take matters into their own hands and give their kids the education they deserve!

Blogger said...

We agree with almost everything you say. But good teachers can educate kids in classes with over 30 children .