Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Other Problems have been Described

Here are some other school problems, some or all of which may affect local Schools

We have read arguments that the real problems are one of the following:

A. There isn’t enough money devoted to our schools. This, of course, is a solution, not a problem. What is the problem? If we give our schools more money, where should it be spent? As we devise solutions to the real problems, we’ll see where the money should go.

B. Teachers are not paid enough. This also is a solution, not a problem. What is the problem? That teachers aren‘t doing a good job because they’re underpaid, and with higher salaries they'd teach better? That we need better-qualified teachers, and can't hire them at present salary levels?

We believe in neither of these explanations. (See http://www.cesame-nm.org/Reports/CESE/PMBrfgNotes.pdf for a report indicating there is little connection between teachers' salaries and school success.)

C. The problem is with parents, not with the schools. Parents don’t believe education is important, or if they do they take no part in their children’s education. The counter-argument is that parents have no motive to discipline their children, or to encourage them to do well in schools. Parents have learned that if school principals and teachers discipline their kids, or fail to promote them, all they have to do is complain, and the school will back down. (More on this subject on the pages which discuss how the promotion and discipline problems can be solved.)

D. It’s impossible to devise tests which fairly determine what a student knows. There are various counter-arguments. One is that every good teacher knows, without giving a test, which of his or her students have learned the semester’s materials. Another is that universities give tests on math and English to incoming freshman, determining whether the freshmen must take remedial courses. (Country-wide, about half of incoming students must take such courses.) And finally, the Government makes use of the federally funded testing program NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), to judge how students (and schools) are doing.

E. The tests we use aren’t the best ways to find whether our students are doing well. This statement has become more widely expressed since schools have been required to show that they are making “adequate yearly progress” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Some have said that tests force schools away from curricula that are aimed at the arts, and question whether a student without some exposure to the arts is really better-educated. The counter-arguments here are that our object is to have high-school graduates who can, at the very least, read, write, and do elementary math. Simplifying the tests will merely let children pass from grade to grade without knowing the material they should have learned. We should make the children smarter, not make the tests easier. And education in the arts is fine, but not at the expense of English and Math.

F. Classes are too big. We need more teachers so we can reduce class size. But there is much evidence that class size has little to do with education quality. If the children are motivated (see Solution to Problem 1), if the teacher is well-qualified (see Solution to Problem 3), and if there is no class disruption (see Solution to Problem 2), a teacher can handle a class of 30 students quite well. Here’s a web site which discusses this problem, and concludes that small classes appear to be beneficial only where average teacher quality is low: http://www.educationnext.org/20033/56.html

G. We are handicapped by having to teach so many low-income, underprivileged children, especially Hispanics. But we might remember Jaime Escalante, who famously taught calculus to such Hispanic kids in Los Angeles a few years ago. And a State Legislature, in a recent report, said (among other things) "…every child can learn and succeed, and the [educational] system must meet the needs of all children by recognizing that student success for every child is the fundamental goal [of public education]." Would anyone disagree with this statement? We might also look with pride at the children who do well -- for example, two young Hispanic ladies from Espanola, New Mexico, who recently discovered an entirely new way of looking at an old mathematical problem. Read about it by clicking HERE. And we might remember that many parochial and private schools which teach underprivileged children under Voucher programs do an excellent job with those children. Finally, we might remember that low-income underprivileged Vietnamese and Russian children manage to do very well in public schools. Why shouldn’t Hispanic kids do as well?

H. Private schools interfere with improvements. They draw the best students, leaving the less-prepared and less-talented behind. And the parents of children in private schools have no interest in improving public schools, so a pool of potential school-improvers is lost. The counter-arguments are that good schools can teach anyone, even those less-prepared and less-talented; and that parents of students in private schools have plenty of motive to improve the public schools -- the financial motive of not having to pay for the private school.

I. Too many children are dropping out of school, especially at the high school level. This is of course true. Here are some of the reasons:
a) The kids are bored, and find the material taught irrelevant and poorly-presented. One cause of boredom is that material is ‘dumbed down’ to help students who have been promoted in earlier grades despite not knowing the material. Another is that there are some teachers who don’t know the material they teach. A dropout recently said in a interview that in his high school English class only one book was read during the year. He added, “Teachers didn’t care if you went to class. There was this attitude of teenage babysitting.”
b) Children don’t realize the importance of getting an education. That’s not surprising. Why would they think learning is important, when they know they and their friends will move along whether or not they learn anything?
c) It is easy to ignore what’s being taught, since (in schools with discipline problems) they can talk with their friends or look out the window without being punished or chastised by the teacher. They can even cut class a few times without penalty.

Action hoped-for from the reader.

We’d be delighted to hear from anyone having comments on these other problems. 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. We’d be glad to hear from anyone. 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. But please let us know which state you live in.)

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