Monday, April 27, 2009

Education in the U.S.

In an interview entitled "The Apostle of Reform" in the Apr. 27, 2009 edition of TIME magazine, U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan says in response to the question, 'Should students be going to school longer?' that,

" I think the school day is too short, the school week is too short, and the school year is too short."

I realize that Duncan was the head of the Chicago Public School system, but Sec. Duncan is an idiot. This statement, and others in the interview, illustrate that Duncan really has no understanding about the history of education in the United States (for example, mandatory schooling largely came into effect because of unions who wanted to cut the work force) nor the way that youth, particularly high school students, think and behave.

In all honesty we do a pretty good job of educating the students in our country until about 8th grade. Examine the statistics and you'll find that the majority of our students in the elementary grades do really well on comparative tests with students from other countries. Scores for U.S. middle school-aged students drop some, but are about the same. This is actually quite remarkable considering that the U.S. is still the only country on the planet that strives to provide a basic education to all children. We have one of the top-five populations on the Earth and we try to make sure all of our children get an excellent basic education. Also, unlike other countries which only allow testers to test "select" (aka their best) students, we allow all of our students to be tested. Sure there are problems and issues, but all things considered we are doing a decent job at the elementary to middle-school levels.

It's when students get to high school that things get all fucked up. That's because our society really doesn't want to recognize the fact that most high school students are adults and our high school system is set up to treat those individuals more as children who are prisoners in a system in which they aren't supposed to escape. Most countries in the world will not teach students beyond the 6th-8th grades unless they show aptitude and a desire to continue their education. If they show aptitude and desire for a different education than the traditional course (college prep), such as learning a trade, they are allowed to take that route or drop out of school to do so. I realize that because of those standards many students aren't allowed to have any schooling beyond 6th-8th grade. I still think we should have the opportunity for students to continue their education beyond the 8th grade if they choose. However, I also think we should allow for them to make other choices: becoming an apprentice, learning a trade, or even dropping out of school and joining the workforce if they wish. I realize that my views on this aren't very popular, especially among professional educators. But, when you're an honest person you often find yourself being unpopular.

For example, most of the time high school teachers encourage all of their students to stay in school and go on to college. Well, college isn't for everyone and we do a disservice to our students when we make them feel obligated it is something they have to do. I had a student that ended up dropping out of high school. When he did everyone else at school talked about what a terrible life that student was going to have without his diploma. I never said anything but I felt that even if that student might have it a bit more rough, he was going to be just fine. That student was a better mechanic than he was a college-prep student and he's now rather successful and is making more money than most of the teachers at the school I taught at do. As I look back on it, I think they were resentful of him because he ended up doing the opposite of what most of his teachers and what the system was telling him to and the teachers knew it was actually better for him than what they were offering. I never begrudged that student. I was glad to see him leave, not because he was troublesome, but because I knew he was going to be better off and I've always wanted the best for each of the students I have worked with.

I honestly don't think Sec. of Education Duncan wants what's best for students. Longer school days, weeks, and years aren't going to improve student achievement. In fact, doing so, especially at the secondary (high school) level will end up having the exact opposite effect.

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