sarah_sensei: Midna: LoZ Twilight Princess (Default)
I love when people write articles for news organizations such as CNN and don't really back up anything they say with real data...

Today I came across an article called, "We need year-round school to compete globally," written by a guy who regularly writes for ESPN (I'm sure he's an education expert seeing as how sports are more important than academics in this country anyhow). He starts off with the usual shtick about American students being way behind their peers in other (usually Asian) countries. (Yeah, I remember the commercials in the late '80s/early 90's when I was a kid. The one where the teacher is calling roll and each of the top performing countries raise their hand and the American student in the back of the class is called on last. So, this whole "American Education Sucks" thing isn't new). What I found annoying about this particular article was that he really doesn't present any data to back up his claims (and honestly completely ignores some studies that contradict the claims made) and he doesn't take social factors into consideration at all.

This article by Education Week, while a little dated, presents a more well rounded view of what actual data is out there on the subject. The fact is, year round school has so far only been effective in certain situations and with certain groups of students. Many districts have had mixed results and some have even shown no gains at all. The notion that year round school would somehow increase test scores and academic achievement by large margins have simply failed in reality. There are probably many complex factors, but I'm willing to bet that the ones who did have significant gains were probably the students who would have had gains anyhow.

Let's drop the political correctness for a moment and talk about some real struggles that kids deal with and some of the cultural differences that may have an influence.

Poor kids are usually also hungry kids. Parents don't always have the money to feed their kids and they rely on school lunch programs to feed them. Some kids don't get any other regular meals. Hungry kids also don't perform well on tests. Would year round school cure their hunger? It might help, but it doesn't fix the underlying problems. Some gains have been seen in year round schools that are in poorer areas. Might it be because the kids are getting fed more regularly?

Parents leave the raising of their children to other people. Some parents dump their kids in childcare from the moment they are born. I know some people are single parents and don't have a lot of choices. It's either daycare or the bills don't get paid. However, we are seeing more and more kids who go home at night and do not get any help or additional instruction from their parents. Parents seem to assume that learning stops in the classroom, when it's really their responsibility to act as a partner and help the learning process continue outside of the school building. Parents also can help by exposing their children to as much history, culture and meaningful experiences as possible. This kind of "learning by experience" should begin the day they are born. If parents are so disinterested in their own kids, I don't see how year round school is going to help fix broken family dynamics or help kids get their parents more involved.

Now let's look at some cultural differences.

Asian cultures emphasize the family and community, not the individual. Most of the "high performing" Asian competition comes from countries in which shame is collective and shared by a whole family. Kids are taught from an early age that "if you do something wrong you shame the rest of us." There is a lot of pressure to conform and to bring honor to your family. Americans emphasize the individual and people do not see your failures as their failures. Getting back to the uninvolved parents, they feel no "shame" when their kid brings home bad test scores. In fact, recent generations like to play the blame game and try to turn it into a reflection on someone outside the family. It couldn't be that the student didn't care to study, it must be the fact that the teacher "didn't teach." No one seems to want to take responsibility for their actions. In our so called "successful" Asian counterparts the kids would be shamed by their own families and drilled incessantly until they improved. The parents see their children's failures as their own and correct it, immediately.

Many of the most successful Asian countries also go to extremes to ensure that their children are educated. Many parents shell out the equivalent of thousands of dollars to send their kids to after school programs where they essentially put in a second day of school after they finish their regular education. These programs are sometimes general studies, language programs, music programs and other activities that take up hours of their children's free time. Kids in Korea, for example, often don't go home until well after 8pm. I don't see too many parents in America lining up for anything outside of the usual sports fare. I also don't see too many families willing to pay for private tutoring programs and for-profit special schools.

Asian kids work HARD and are PUSHED HARD. They are also pressured to pass exams to prove that they are worthy of even a high school education. If you fail, you often cannot take the test again until the following year. In America, you practically just have to show up to school to pass thanks to counter productive laws like, "No Child Left Behind" where kids have essentially been pushed from one grade to the next. If you even consider holding one back you are met with tons of resistance.

The all or nothing attitude of Asian cultures puts tremendous pressure on the kids, which has its good and bad points.

One of the bad points is the high suicide rate among teenagers who can't pass that entrance exam, whether it be for high school or college. Failure is punished harshly and they are not given second chances. I cannot imagine this attitude working well in American society. The good news is that on paper, they appear to have higher success rates. Maybe all the "dumb kids" committed suicide.

Asian cultures also do more "drill and kill" exercises than American schools do. These days, in America, they frown upon children answering in unison, doing worksheets and memorizing facts. However, many Asian schools still do this quite extensively. There has been a lot of pressure on teachers in the US to get their students to think outside the box and get away from "meaningless exercises."

But maybe we really do need a better balance of "worksheets" and "creativity." Some of the practices I see in my own school seem to only serve to confuse the kids. For example, they are given "math exemplars" which are word problems that they have to solve using various techniques. They are graded with rubrics and students are graded higher if they show their work, do the problem in more than one way, explain their work, and make connections to other personal math experiences. First, of all, the last one sometimes distracts them from the real problem and often they write completely unrelated connections such as, "This reminds me of the time I had to measure flour to make cookies..." Ok, that wasn't the kind of connection we meant, we meant "what other problems have you solved like this?" They are also given points for solving the problem even if their answer is incorrect. I don't have a problem with partial credit, but what I do have a problem with is the fact that some problems are intentionally written in a manner that makes them appear more open ended when math generally is NOT open ended. There is usually a RIGHT answer and a WRONG answer. Creating the illusion of math being open ended through the use of poorly worded problems, that serve as better examples of the limitations of language than mathematical situations, do not help our kids with their struggles. Perhaps a little more drill and kill and a little less grammar problems in the math room would help us more than year round school.

A common misconception about year round school schedules is that the kids are getting "more school." They are often getting the same amount of school, just spread out all year. I personally think it would be more annoying, from a classroom management perspective, to have the kids going on vacation for 2 weeks every few months than dealing with "spring fever." Kids are always harder to manage after a break, even a shorter one. I think teachers would just have to spend a lot more time going back over the rules again each time the kids are off for a few weeks.

I think the article on CNN was way too simplistic and does not at all even begin to take into consideration what we are doing wrong, culturally speaking. I understand that it takes a village to raise a child, but you're not supposed to dump your kid in the middle of the village and hope for the best. A lot of American parents do just that when they don't help their kids "grow" at home when they are away from school. I'm willing to bet a few hours a day during the summer reading with mom or dad about various topics and doing some family activities would also help improve not just relationships at home, but school performance as well.

I don't believe that the borderline abusive practices in many Asian countries are healthy, but I do think there has to be a happy medium where kids can enjoy being kids and still succeed.
sarah_sensei: Midna: LoZ Twilight Princess (Default)
So, I was watching HLN and they had some blurb where this guy was talking with Anderson Cooper about tying teacher pay to student performance. His argument was that if a teacher was really good and could "prove it," "we'd pay them 6-figures." His example involved a math person with a masters thinking about working for Microsoft for $200,000 a year or teaching if a district had the power to offer that kind of money.

Yeah right.

I'd LOVE to see a school district promise that kind of pay and actually deliver. It's SO EASY to make stupid statements like that and have people actually believe you and think it's a good idea. How about we stop and think about how many school districts have said that they are cutting their budgets, cutting their staff or who are bankrupt right now? Do THEY have the cash to shop for the "best" teachers and promise them that kind of pay? If they don't have enough money to buy books or pay for janitors [I'm looking at you Pittsburgh Public Schools], they sure as hell aren't going to hire someone for over $100k a year. It's NOT going to HAPPEN. I don't care HOW good they are. Many school districts can barely afford paying teachers $30-50,000 a year. So, unless this country gets more serious about investing in education, you really can't back up promises of 6-figure salaries even if the teacher is totally awesome. I KNOW I'm a kick ass art teacher but there isn't a public school district in the US that would pay me more than $100,000 to do it 9_9 (even with a Doctorate and 30+ years of experience my salary would currently cap out at about $89,900 and that's with the federal government ;p ).

Now, let's say that some struggling districts decide to change it up and start hiring only the "BEST" teachers. In order to pay them all a wage like that they probably couldn't afford as many. So, you'd probably have to sacrifice the teacher:student ratio and turn it into something ridiculous like 1:90. That means more lecturing, more student group work (so they can sort things out themselves, or NOT), and less one-on-on contact. Let's see how long you retain those great teachers or how long they can keep it up when they are outnumbered because you can't afford as many.

Think of it this way:

one awesome teacher = $150,000 each
three average/above average teachers = $50,000 each [high estimate, as some districts only pay $27,000 a year]

Which option do you think most districts will choose?

I also see this as a way of "punishing" those who are good at what they can do. If I can get three average/above average people for the price of one awesome one, I might be tempted to have more "bodies" from a budget/financial standpoint. Also, imagine how much it would hurt you to disclose that District A paid you $100,000 a year when applying to District B who might only want to pay you $50,000... you'd never get hired again.

The other ugly side of this is how many school districts would try to give a favorable teacher an unfavorable review just so they could have an excuse to decrease their salary? I suppose the idea is if the "test scores" are high then the teacher must be good and I guess that is supposed to be your "proof." Would that "proof" be enough to counter false claims? Or would they come up with some ridiculous counter argument like "Oh well, only 95% of your students are operating in the top two standard deviations you need 97% to get that salary range..." What about teachers who aren't directly tied to test scores (specialists like Art, Music and PE?) How do you judge who is a good art or PE teacher? By how much the students like them? By the quality of the student work? By examining lesson plans for content standards? If test scores are the only measure, then this would just encourage people to teach to the test even more.

So many districts are struggling financially. I just don't see this being a viable option or valid argument unless we put more money in education. This comment that I heard doesn't sound like anything more than some guy dreaming of big salaries. I wish I had seen the rest of the interview (they were only sharing that snippet) because I'd like to hear if there were any financial counter-arguments. Because I just don't see the money. I'd want them to show me the money because that extra cash for high performance must come from SOMEWHERE. I want to know what/who they'd cut in order to pay for this.


sarah_sensei: Midna: LoZ Twilight Princess (Default)

January 2015

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