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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

From the outside, on the inside, looking around

From the outside, on the inside, looking around

What has happened to the U.S. Education system? Why is it failing?

From 2006 until January, 2008 I was a substitute teacher at a local elementary school. I taught every grade from First Grade through Sixth Grade. From January 5, 2008 until February 6, 2009 I taught English to Hispanic students at an elementary school in México. I taught Third and Fourth grades. If you want to know why our education system is failing, substitute teach.

Lack of Discipline

Classrooms lack discipline. The lack of respect I have witnessed as a substitute teacher from students in the local elementary school is a sign of why our education system is failing. In the 13 months I was in México teaching, I did not see any similar behavior. At the local school the students mock the teachers, make fun of the teachers, talk back to the teachers along with blatant disobedience. This is in addition to talking in class and playing in class. Talking in class and playing in class occurred in México also if the teacher permitted it. The difference is that in México the children were respectful when the teacher admonished them for their misbehavior whereas in the U.S. the students resent the teacher for not allowing them to do as they wish. And most times they continue doing what they were just told not to do.


Students don’t care.

I had one or two students in México who simply did not care about learning – it wasn’t important to them. This was especially true of students who were at the school to learn English but didn’t want to learn English. Their parents wanted it; they didn’t.

The problem has been more prevalent at the local U.S. elementary school. It seems to begin at about the Fourth Grade. Maybe it is just this school. But in the Fourth and Fifth Grades, the percentage of students who “hate school” or who just don’t care is staggering. I would estimate only one-fourth of the students in these grades want to learn, probably one-third have no interest in school other than to be with friends, and the remainder is somewhere in the middle.

Teaching Down / Lower Standards

Perhaps part of the reason for apathy is the manner in which our schools now teach down to the students instead of challenging the students to rise to the task. Students are grouped in classes based on age, not ability. Then it seems the policy of the schools is to teach down to those students who know the least. If you want a higher quality of education, aggregate the students based on ability. Yes I know this idea won’t be popular with the system, but I am confident it would improve the education level of our students. Put the best third of the students together and teach to their level and above. Put the middle third together and teach to the level of the best students in that division. Do the same with the bottom third. To a certain extent you see this done at the high school level with AP classes. Start in Elementary – maybe at Second Grade based on the performances in First Grade - and challenge the students.

Get rid of the CALCULATORS!

Did you know that elementary schools are letting their students in Third through Sixth Grades do their math on calculators? What is the result? Students in grades 4 through 6 who cannot do simply math without a calculator. I kid you not. I asked the question just last week of a Fourth Grade student “What is 4 x 5?” The answer? I only know my tables up to threes. This was more than some of his classmates knew. There are students in the sixth grade who are doing simple multiplication, addition and subtraction by counting on their fingers.

When I was in the third and fourth grades we learned (read that as memorized until we knew it) the multiplication tables at least to 12 x 12=144. Very few students today at the local elementary school can give you an answer to multiplication flash cards without hesitating. Those that can are in the same classroom with those that have no clue. Does that make sense?

Get rid of the calculators and teach children the basics of math. They need to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide without using calculators or their fingers. They need to learn math. I can see using calculators in the higher maths – maybe Trigonometry or Calculus but not for basic mathematics of adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.

Parental Involvement

It seems parents/guardians are less involved in their child’s education. They seem to think it is the school’s / teacher’s job to educate their child. When the child doesn’t do well, it is the school’s / teacher’s fault. Guess what? Most times it isn’t. If all the students are doing poorly, blame the school or the teacher. But if some of the students are doing well, chances are the fault isn’t with the teacher.

I have seen students at school write down answers for their schoolwork that was nonsense. The student was simply writing something down to create the appearance of “doing his work”. When I questioned one student, his response was “I don’t care if it’s right or wrong, I did it and I’m finished”. Now whose responsibility is that attitude? The teachers’? The school’s? I don’t think so. Clearly the child doesn’t care whether he learns or not and from my perspective that is something that must be corrected by the parent or guardian. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. I have seen it in Third Grade, Fourth Grade, Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade several times while substitute teaching in the past 2 months. When I asked one girl why her answers were so clearly wrong on her homework, she told me she wanted to do something after school the day before, and she couldn’t until her homework was finished. So she just wrote down something to finish. This happened to be one of the better students that usually did her work and did well on tests.

Parents/Guardians quit passing the buck. Accept responsibility for your child’s education. The teacher and school cannot make your child do their homework correctly, nor make them learn their multiplication tables, nor make them study for tests. Neither the teacher nor school can make your children take their education seriously. It isn’t the teacher who is letting your child play X-Box, WII, or PlayStation instead of studying. It isn’t the teacher who lets your child watch television or play ball instead of doing their homework correctly. The one girl's parents at least had a rule she must do her homework before doing other things. I suspect most of the time they check it. For many of the students who are doing poorly in school, I suspect there is less involvement by the parents or guardians.

I have had good teachers (thanks Mrs. Hart), and I’ve had some bad teachers (won’t name names), but I still did well in those classes with less than stellar teachers. The effort was up to me, and my parents ensured that I gave my effort. Quit passing the buck. Accept responsibility for your child's education; get involved!

In summary, there isn’t a single reason why our educational system is failing. Part of the blame lies with an educational system that teaches down to the students and lowers the levels of expectation (such as using claculators). Part of it lies with the children and their parents/guardians. Both need to be fixed if the U.S. is to raise it education levels back to the top.

That's how I see it.

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