The 'Deplorable State' of America's Schools

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by cslewis, Oct 21, 2006.

  1. cslewis macrumors 6502a

    cslewis

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    #1
    http://mwhodges.home.att.net/education.htm

    During my reading of the English-only thread, I came across a link that starkly explains how poorly American students perform in the classroom. While the site itself isn't very attractive, the citations seem to be credible enough. I wish I could say they weren't-- from the look of things, American students are clearly doing very poorly when compared to students in other industrialized countries. It's downright embarrassing to see the cited figures-- it's even more upsetting to think that direct participation in a fully-functioning democracy (and a fully-functioning global economy) require educated citizens. Why has America lost so much academic ground? What can my generation do to fix the problem?
     
  2. Chundles macrumors G4

    Chundles

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    #2
    The general view of US students here in Aus is not that they are un-educated but that their education is so narrowly focussed that they are somewhat ignorant of the rest of the world, especially with respect to history and geography.

    The students from the US also seem to be accustomed to getting much higher marks for their work. What would be considered a mark of ~75% corresponds here to a mark of around 50% (ie, a passing "C" grade although we don't really use letter grades here) and as such they tend to freak out a bit for the first few months when it appears to them that their marks have suddenly dropped 20%. Here, if you demonstrate a decent knowledge of the course material and can satisfy the minimum rate of progress, you get a 50% pass. You've got to be not only getting close to perfect marks for all exams but also demonstrate an ability to solve complex and abstract problems to even see a final mark above 85%. In my first year of Chemistry at Uni my marks were often twice the average mark for the class and my final result was an 85% High Distinction.

    Just on Chemistry for a moment, I caught an episode of that deplorable series "Tommy Lee goes to College" where he attended his chemistry lecture and I was shocked. I hope to hell that it was a remedial class because the stuff he was learning in first-year Uni was the same stuff we learn in Year 9 at High School.

    Now, I'm not saying that we have a superior education system, it's different yes but there are many aspects where the Aussie system is also in the toilet. It gives a very global view of education, we learn the histories and geography of many nations and historical eras in an effort to understand current policies but our system seems to do so at the expense of learning our own rich history. Nearly every student in Australia can name a number of US presidents, English kings and British Prime Ministers but very few of them would even know the name of our first PM let alone the history of the events leading to Federation in 1901. Eg, up until the very last minute, New Zealand was to be part of Australia. Even the most current printing of the Constitution includes New Zealand when listing the member colonies but they've just crossed the Kiwis out.

    So, US education = too narrowly focussed, not "global" enough.
    Aus education = too broad, not internally focussed enough.

    Wouldn't mind seeing a hybrid of the two systems with a lack of the "dumbing-down" syndrome seen in current syllabuses.
     
  3. beatsme macrumors 65816

    beatsme

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    #3
    it's because public schools are funded by local property taxes. Thus, the wealthier neighborhoods boast better schools (and correspondingly higher test scores) while the poorer neighborhoods do the best with what they can.

    What can your generation do to fix it? Vote ;)

    and the grand paradox: US public schools are, frankly, not great. Yet the US boasts some of the finest universities in the world. So the upshot is, if you can make it college, you won't do too badly.
     
  4. Chundles macrumors G4

    Chundles

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    #4
    Public Schools here are government funded. Can't recall if it's State or Federal but I think it's Federal. Towns and shires etc. have very little power, everything is run either at the State or Federal level with Federal legislation having precedence over State legislation where any inconsistencies arise. In the grand scheme of things local government (mayors, councils etc) and state governments really have little power compared to the federal government.
     
  5. kretzy macrumors 604

    kretzy

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    #5
    They're state run and funded. Universities are federally funded though.
     
  6. Chundles macrumors G4

    Chundles

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    #6
    Right, sorted.
     
  7. Desertrat macrumors newbie

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    #7
    "Thus, the wealthier neighborhoods boast better schools (and correspondingly higher test scores) while the poorer neighborhoods do the best with what they can."

    Built into this view is the idea that the higher $/student/year, the better the grades. Nope. Wrong. Were such the case, WashD.C. would have the highest grades in the U.S. They don't.

    Further, in Texas, the "Robin Hood" law makes rich districts give money to poor districts, working toward equality of $/student/year. Further, state money equalizes the deal. Before that law went into effect, the district with the lowest $/student/year was among the highest in SAT scores. Since the law went into effect, there has been little change in relative standings among school districts as to test scores. Source: Numerous daily-paper articles, statewide, over the last several years.

    Item: In 2nd Grade in 1942, we learned the Times Tables to 12 X 12. I was in Las Vegas in the early 1990s on a business trip. On the TV news was a squib about a 3rd Grade class, with the teacher gushing over how wonderful it was that the kids had learned their Times Tables to 10 x 10. There is a message there, somewhere...

    'Rat
     
  8. beatsme macrumors 65816

    beatsme

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    #8
    for grades K-8, test scores have risen. For grades 9-12, test scores have remained stagnant. The general consensus is that's because the programs that are working at the elementary/middle school level have not been properly implemented at the high school level.
     
  9. yojitani macrumors 68000

    yojitani

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    #9
    ehh.. I'm not too sure about this. The US does have a lot of great universities, but that is not reflected in their student populations. Their greatness is a reflection of a select few professors, researchers, and graduate students whose wages the universities can afford. By no means are those people necessarily reflections of the US education system. Many are from overseas (not a majority, but a significant minority).

    Frankly, though, I have been shocked by the level of education of freshmen in particular. Most cannot write basic essays, have a limited grasp of accepted grammatical and syntactical norms, and have limited critical thinking skills. While this sounds baseless, most students will tell you that their high school teachers either taught them very little or had extremely low expectations (which is the same more or less).

    To make matters worse, grades at the university level are so obscenely inflated that those few of us who would like to grade honestly cannot because our grading would be incongruent with the norms of the university. Basically, a 'B' grade - around 60-65% in the language of British university grading - is considered 'average.' The problem is that to get 60 - 65% in the UK, you had to work for it (from the sounds of things, though, that is no longer the case there either).

    What has surprised me is the partial myth of economic unevenness and inequities in the education system. I would be doing a lot of injustice to say that this does not exist, but from what I've seen, wealthier kids get by because their families exert greater economic pressure on schools to pass kids. Kids from wealthy families aren't necessarily any brighter, but they are told they are and have the inflated grades to prove it. And sadly, this trend continues into university.

    beatsme: your confidence in voting to change education, IMHO, is slightly misguided in a country with a two party, first past the post system. What you can do to change things is to take an active role in teaching kids outside of the school system. While we wait for bloated politicians to try out their next privately funded education initiative, kids are not getting any smarter.

    Chundles: The US system is not 'narrow.' Kids here are doing the full gamut of subjects into their second year at university. There is simply no depth and too many outside interests ('no child left behind act,' private donors, etc).

    yt
     
  10. beatsme macrumors 65816

    beatsme

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    #10
    it's the local school boards that largely determine the scope and quality of the curriculum, and the people who sit on those boards are elected. You want to shake up education? Start with the school board, find out where your candidates stand, and vote accordingly.
     
  11. yojitani macrumors 68000

    yojitani

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    #11
    And how much do they really change? Sorry, but a change in school board isn't going to shake up anything, especially now with so much federal interference. I'm just not one to hope for worthwhile systemic changes. They are too few and far between. Voting is an easy way to skirt an issue. It's kind of like donating to goodwill as your bit to 'help the poor.'
     
  12. beatsme macrumors 65816

    beatsme

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    #12
    School boards choose the textbooks, some of which may or may not mention the name "Darwin." School boards choose which books can be taught as part of a literature class, whether it be Ray Bradbury or Mark Twain. School boards decide whether there are going to be field trips to local museums or national parks. School boards decide if they're going to hire 3 new math teachers or buy 500 new computers. Do you think these decisions just appear out of thin air?
     
  13. yg17 macrumors G5

    yg17

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    #13
    Yeah, pretty much. Geography wasn't even a required class at my high school, it was an optional elective. I think we only needed 2 years of history too, although I took 3 years, plus geography.

    Although I'm sure the US students over there are probably going to a good university here and decided to study abroad, you're seeing the smart Americans. We have plenty more over here that are uneducated ;)
     
  14. Ugg macrumors 68000

    Ugg

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    #14
    They may choose the textbooks but the few that are available have already been "chosen" by the largest states and or school districts. They're generally dumbed down and geared towards the least common demoninator.

    They do choose literature and can influence whether foreign languages are included but by and large, they have but a small impact on actual class offerings. The federal government has essentially already dictated the terms.

    Where school boards have a huge impact is the tone that is set in schools and the quality of teachers that are hired. Unfortunately, vocal parent groups are likely to undermine even the best intentioned school boards.
     
  15. beatsme macrumors 65816

    beatsme

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    #15
    it would be more accurate to say that the federal government has mandated certain educational standards. As long as local school boards meet certain federal criteria, they have a great degree of latitude (near autonomy, really) in the selection of teaching materials and areas of emphasis in the curriculum.

    Good reading material here
     
  16. KingYaba macrumors 68040

    KingYaba

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    #16
    Down here in Texas, kiddies have to take at least two years of a foreign language, one year of geography, three years of math, three years of any science, world and us history, and the dreaded four years of English! :D

    That is for high school. I am not familiar with grade and middle school.

    'Rat beat me to the Robin hood law. ;) But to add on, during my senior year of high school I was in a good school. The problem is we went an entire semester without books because they were shipped all over the state. Each class had a 'class set' that couldn't leave the room. Made homework a bitch though.
     
  17. takao macrumors 68040

    takao

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    #17
    over my 12 years of school (elementary ,middle and high school) i had 9 years of english , 4 years of french, 7 years of history, 8 years of geography (and 2 years of additional geography courses), 4 years of chemistry , 6 years of physics and biology, 4 years of geometric painting

    sure in many cases it only were 2-3 hours a week but it sums it up: i think i had 33 to 35 hours each week from monday to saturday

    (and i had math and german for all the 12 years of course ;) )
     
  18. solvs macrumors 603

    solvs

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    #18
    Those 2 things seem to be related. Funny how the same people who want to force immigrants to speak English, seem to also want to cut funding for ESL programs, let alone schools and their programs that (some of which) actually work. Not saying money has everything to do with it, there are some rich schools with low scores and some poor ones that perform better. But certainly a lot of schools are poorly funded, and even worse, what little they have is poorly managed. Don't even get me started on supplies, overcrowding, bureaucracies, having to teach to tests (while learning nothing), poor curriculum, nutrition... the list goes on. Bad parenting is the least of the problems, but it certainly doesn't help either.

    Plus, Americans are generally pretty myopic for some reason.
     
  19. mactastic macrumors 68040

    mactastic

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    #19
    Let me clear one thing up first. There is literature in textbooks, which are largely written for the Texas and California school markets. Then there is literature in individual books, used to supplement the textbook.

    In my wife's school, the English department (of which she is a member) just held a vote as to which supplemental literature they would like to teach so that those books can be ordered for next year. One suggestion my wife voted against this year, for instance, was teaching sophomores Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club". She deemed it too remote for her kids, and since it has so many family members and extended characters it is difficult for the kids to track them all efficiently.

    When you vote against something they want to know why, and they want a suggestion for another work to replace it. Sadly, my guess is that many people simply check the "yes" box so that they don't have to think about why or what else they would suggest instead.

    So the true answer is a mix. Yes, there are mandated works at each level. Seniors WILL read Macbeth, like it or not. But beyond the mandated items, there is probably half of the term that is still open for teachers to draw from the supplemental materials, or even to bring in their own material if they have the resources to do so.

    'Rat, they don't have time to learn their times tables because they're too busy learning how to take standardized tests these days. ;)
     
  20. KingYaba macrumors 68040

    KingYaba

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    #20
    10 x 12 =?

    A) 128
    B) 120
    C) 112
    D) 104
    E) Not applicable.

    But all I saw was,

    10 X 12 =?

    A) This was the answer on the last question, don't mark it
    B) Seems like it fits with the pattern...
    C) Hmmmm, could be, where's me calculator
    D) Looks too low
    E) Applicable? What am I, an idiot?

    --------

    About the standardized tests, I can see the need for students to demonstrate their "mastery" of the material. So, yes, a test is needed. If we aren't teaching kids to take the test, what are we teaching them? Any relevant material? Seems like a waste of time if we aren't teaching to pass a test.

    But on the flip side, what about the material not covered on the test. Kinky Friedman made a good point, kids don't know if the Civil War took place in Europe, or the US because it was not on the test! (I am paraphrasing what he said)

    For math, give 'em the multiple choice without a calculator. Mwhahahaha
     
  21. solvs macrumors 603

    solvs

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    #21
    Pretty much, yeah.

    So they spend all year teaching to some artificial standard so they don't lose funding, scores go up, financing is cut anyway (except for the bureaucratic part, that seems to keep getting worse for some reason) and our kids continue to know nothing and not care.

    Ironic also when some don't want to teach about evolution, but gets what's on the test? :rolleyes:
     
  22. thedude110 macrumors 68020

    thedude110

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    #22
    Not if we redirected our massive test taking resources toward a portfolio system that actually assessed student learning, work and accomplishment.
     
  23. KingYaba macrumors 68040

    KingYaba

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    #23
    I bet that would cost "more" money too, right? ;)
     
  24. mactastic macrumors 68040

    mactastic

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    #24
    Kinda like how a 700-mile fence will cost "more" money too? ;)
     
  25. yojitani macrumors 68000

    yojitani

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    #25
    I'm not arguing that school boards don't make decisions, it's just that they generally don't change direction enough to make a significant impact on 'the deplorable state of America's schools." The trend has certainly been to make schools worse, if anything.
    And, to address a later point, federal regulations play a HUGE part in decision making. We now have all of these 'targets' to fulfill in order to get x amount of federal funding. School boards aren't going to choose challenging textbooks if they think that the result could be less money for the next year.
    My livelihood depends on the education industry, so of course I know how the system works. My argument is that to hope a vote for a new school board is going to make a difference is naive.

    yt
     

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