The Failure of American Schools

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby ++$_ » Fri May 27, 2011 6:17 am UTC

Personally, I would be more interested in teaching if it involved higher pay, even there was the chance I would be randomly fired due to having a terrible batch of students. The way things are, I get a low-paying job that I am very likely to keep. Under the new system, I get a higher-paying job that I might lose -- but if I do lose it, I still have the chance to find another job, and I am not very likely to lose it anyway.

However, I think teachers figure the chances of their pay being increased are pretty low (that would involve increased funding for education, which means raising revenue or increasing the deficit, and so on). So the choice from their point of view is actually between a system that provides low pay and job security and a system that provides low pay and no job security.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby RockoTDF » Fri May 27, 2011 6:51 am UTC

jesseewiak wrote:Actually, the truth is, I've never really been convinced that there is a real problem with our schools. Most of them work just fine, and most kids learn well enough in them. I'd imagine that better funding mechanisms would probably help, but we aren't really far behind other countries, those other countries just find effective ways to avoid counting their dummies. India and China simply don't bother measuring lower-income students, and Britian, Japan, France and Germany shunt them off to 'trade schools', where they aren't factored into statistics. The largest problem is simple - child poverty. We have twice the child poverty rate of most Western European nations and that accounts for almost all the difference in various test scores. But of course, since you can't fix child poverty by destroying unions, those who want to get their claws on the 350 billion dollar "industry" that is education don't bring that up much.


Very interesting point about the stats, but it can't explain differences at the primary school level, so I'm not sure how strong it is.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Cathy » Fri May 27, 2011 7:36 am UTC

++$_ wrote:Personally, I would be more interested in teaching if it involved higher pay.


Me too. Most of the people I know who are teachers or have teaching certificates are doing it because the economy is in the hole and they just need a job, any job. They don't love it, they hate the awful pay, they just need money.

I think it would be a ton of fun to teach a high school programming class. Unfortunately, high schools won't pay anything anywhere near competitive rates with the industry. Why would anyone start a job at a 25k salary when they could start a job with a 50k salary? Plus all the crap teachers have to put up with in bureaucracy and parents.

Jesseewiak: trade schools are a Good Thing™. These teach students skills that they can use if they don't plan on doing office job stuff. I think we'd be a lot better off if high school spent less time pretending to teach us Texas History which we had already had a class in twice in the past 6 years, and spent more time teaching us how to knock pieces of wood and metal together. You can get a pretty decent job as a welder. And it's a helluva lot better than trying to get unskilled work.

There are trade schools in the US, but there is a huge stigma (in the culture I know) attached to people who don't go to college. I think that if a highly skilled person with a trade school certificate wasn't looked at as "oh but they didn't go to college", more people would want to do that.

I'm rather tired, so this is probably a ramble by now. I hope some of it makes sense.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby mmmcannibalism » Fri May 27, 2011 7:43 am UTC

There are trade schools in the US, but there is a huge stigma (in the culture I know) attached to people who don't go to college. I think that if a highly skilled person with a trade school certificate wasn't looked at as "oh but they didn't go to college", more people would want to do that.


In my opinion, I think its less trade school is looked down on as college is stressed so hard that most of the smart kids who might consider technical over college work never considered it.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri May 27, 2011 9:48 am UTC

Garm wrote:
jesseewiak wrote:... and Britian, Japan, France and Germany shunt them off to 'trade schools', where they aren't factored into statistics ...


Maybe someone will correct me if I'm wrong but from my understanding in Germany, the "trade schools" that you're denigrating are what churn out engineers. You go to Gymnasium if you're going to become an academic.

I apologise for dragging the discussion right back to the beginning, but time zones sleep etc.... I just wanted to say that Britain doesn't have trade schools anymore. We used to have a selective system based on the "11+" exam, where the top 25% were sent to Grammar schools, but from the 70s onwards this was gradually replaced by the Comprehensive system where everyone goes to the same school (There are some local variations). We were aiming for a one-size-fits-all education, when in reality one-size-doesn't-fit-anyone is closer to the truth. At least my school was large enough that we could "Set" or "Stream" pupils within a year - i.e. after the first year we were divided into classes by ability and the teaching tailored accordingly.

Britain certainly doesn't leave anyone out from the statistics - in fact we went crazy with them during the 90s. My school year had national tests when we were 7, 11, 14, 16, 17, and 18, before heading off to university. Including internal school exams and uni I was tested every year between the ages of 10 and 22. There's a growing backlash against the use of such tests for much the same reasons that have been discussed above - teaching to the test and the constant stress you place on children.
I think another huge problems is the constant attempts at school reform ... Every time the tests change, the curriculum changes as well

We have this problem in Britain too. If the curriculum never settles down teachers don't have time to properly familiarise themselves. Back in 2001 we had a ridiculous situation where the government introduced compulsory "Key Skills" exams for 17/18 year-olds, but hadn't sent any teachers on the course about what to teach. Terrific...

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby KingofMadCows » Fri May 27, 2011 12:27 pm UTC

I would say that the way we teach has a bigger impact than anything else. Sure you can blame the unions but states that don't have unions have crappy schools too. As for private school, they can cherry pick their students and once you take into account SES, they're really not that much better. However, the way we teach has barely changed in the last 100 years despite how much society has changed and the wealth of research in learning and education that social scientists have done. There are systems of instruction that we know are more effective for today's society, like the personalized system of instruction, but no one is bothering to implement them in K-12 schools.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Monika » Fri May 27, 2011 1:38 pm UTC

Regarding trade schools in Germany: Both things are wrong. Neither are the less intelligent kids sent to trade schools and thus hidden from e.g. the PISA test, nur do the trade schools produce engineers.

The German school system (and similarly the Austrian and Swiss one) works roughly like this (varying somewhat by state):

4 years of primary school from age 6 to age 10.

Then either the grades are used or the teachers decide or the parents decide (varying strongly by state) on one of three school types:
* Hauptschule (main school): grades 5 to 9, thought to be a school preparing for more practical trades. Only foreign language is English.
* Realschule: grades 5 to 10. Offers French, sometimes Spanish (or occasionally something else), but only a few students take it, because one has to choose between the language and more technical subjects or some other area (e.g. home economics or environment).
* Gymnasium (grammar school in the British sense of the word): grades 5 to 12 or 5 to 13 (varying by state and changing from 13 to 12 in many states right now, with longer school days in grades 5 to 10 to compensate for the lost year). English plus Latin or French must be learned (something a different choice for the second foreign language), a third foreign language (French or Latin, often one of Italian, Spanish, Russian or Old Greek is offered) can be learned. In some states/schools even a fourth.

All students in all three types of schools attend 9th grade and are assessed by the PISA exam!

Now, where do the trade schools come in?

There are (roughly) five types of high school diplomas (Abschluss means "finishing", diploma, degree; Reife means maturity and also refers to a diploma)
* Hauptschulabschluss = Fachschulreife = after finishing 9th grade, no exam.
* Erweiterter (extended) or Qualifizierter (qualified) Hauptschulabschluss = depending on the state after 9th grade + exam or after attending a 10th grade, which however is simpler than 10th grade at Realschule
* Realschulabschluss = mittlere Reife = Fachoberschulreife = in some states just finishing 10th grade at a Realschule (or Gymnasium), in other states an exam is required
* Fachhochschulreife = after 11th grade Gymnasium + 1 year internship or after 12th grade Gymnasium or some other ways that require an exam (I will mention it further down), depending on the state
* Abitur = allgemeine Hochschulreife = 12th/13th grade (whatever the last year of Gymnasium is in that state) + exams, the grade is calculated from the exam grades and the grades in the last two years. This is the only HS diploma that is fairly standardized across Germany (and still there are large differences anyway)

There are other ways of obtaining some of these diplomas and there are some additional diploms (e.g. Fachabitur = subject-dependent Abitur: exams only in a certain area, but means you can also only study such subjects at university), but let's not go into this too far.

So what can the kids do with these HS diplomas?

Hauptschulabschluss:
- Theory: Start one of the more practical (less theoretical) 3-year apprenticeships, like working with wood or metal or becoming a cook (which is pretty hard, a cousin tried this) or stuff like this.
- Reality: Be unemployed. Seriously, 80% of the kids do not have an apprenticeship after one year, and they are supposed to have one immediately.

How do the apprenticeships work? The kids attend a Fachschule = trade school for 1 to 2 days a week and are at work for the remaining 3, 3.5 or 4 days. There at work they are trained. (In some trades it's different, they have some weeks training, then some weeks trade school, then some weeks training and so on.) In larger companies that works pretty well, they actually get training. In some very small companies it works well, too (e.g. bakeries), but in others (e.g. gas stations) they end up being used as cheap labor. (Heck, in some larger companies probably, too.) Just to make it clear: They are being paid. Not a whole lot, whether they can live from the money depends very much on the job.

Qualifizierter Hauptschulabschluss:
- Theory: Same as above.
- Reality: A lot less likely to be unemployed, as they have proven that they are able to read and write :-P (okay, and a bit more, math, English and stuff like this).

Realschulabschluss:
- Start a 3-year apprenticeship in either one of the more practical professions (as nobody wants to employ Hauptschüler, the chances for Realschüler to get in are much better) or in one of the more theoretical professions like merchant. All apprenticeships should be open to Realschüler, but some (e.g. those involving computers) often in reality only hire kids with Abitur or at least Fachhochschulreife.
- Attend a 2-year full-day trade school ... especially "Handelsschule", which is the literal trade school, but also e.g. "school for sociology" for becoming a preschool teacher. Full-day sometimes means 4 day school + 1 day internship (which I think is not paid). Some require a year internship before, some a year internship after, some both. If taking additional classes (typically math) and passing an exam, the completion may additionally result in a Fachhochschulreife.

Fachhochschulreife:
- Any of the apprenticeships.
- Attend a Fachhochschule = university for applied sciences. College would probably be a better word - these "universities" don't research and the level is lower than at what we call Universität, but they have more practical classes. Traditional courses are 4 years, with two semester of internships. Now with the new bachelor-master system they shorten them to 3 or 3.5 years. (It's not much difference, a lot of people attending a Fachhochschule completed a 3-year apprenticeship before and then didn't have to do one of the two semesters of internships anyway.)
- Some states renamed these to Hochschule to water down the difference to Universität :P .

Abitur:
- Any apprenticeship.
- Fachhochschule.
- Universität: research, academia and stuff. Bachelors, Masters, PhDs. (Until recently: Magister, Diplom = both being 4.5 to 5 year programs. No bachelor or other shorter study at that time.)

(Some variations: Some states have comprehensive schools traditionally, some introduced them recently, some abolished them. Berlin primary schools are traditionally 6 years, Saarland recently went to 5. Some or all Hauptschulen in some states allow getting a Realschulabschluss. There are alternative ways to get a Fachhochschulreife or Abitur, e.g. there are three-year Gymnasiums that only cover grades 11 to 13.
There are some different kinds of tertiary education, too, e.g. a kind of college that runs three years where exactly half the time is working at a company.)

So, yeah. There are a lot of things wrong with the German school system, too (most importantly that we split kids up into three school types at age 10). But that we hide kids into trade schools so they are not assessed by PISA or other international exams is certainly bullshit.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Zamfir » Fri May 27, 2011 2:18 pm UTC

Thanks for the input! The Dutch system is similar, although different in the details.

People get tracked at 12 into VMBO (4 years), HAVO(5) or VWO(6) , although moving between tracks is fairly easy in the first years. VMBO is easily half the students, and is a merger between roughly our versions of Haubtschule and Realschule.

The principle is that VMBO leads to MBO, a large and diverse system resembling your apprenticeships and trade schools. HAVO goes to HBO (Fachhochschulen), and VWO goes to WO, universities. If you finish VMBO or HAVO with good marks, you can also flow into the year-before-last of the higher track.

And there are various paths from MBO to HBO and from HBO to WO, depending on how well your specialism matches the specialism you want to go to.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Griffin » Fri May 27, 2011 2:46 pm UTC

As always, I want to point out that one of the big issues in the states as that your teacher education absolutely sucks as well. A whole lot of teachers don't actually learn how to teach until they get their own class, and it usually takes them a few years to get the hang of it. Considering the fact that so many teachers drop out after a few years...

For me, it wasn't the pay that kept me out of teaching, it was the crazy regulations. I mean, the salary for new teachers is in the 50k range here, and 70k for experienced teachers, and that's not too shabby.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Monika » Fri May 27, 2011 2:54 pm UTC

Garm wrote:There's precious little evidence that vouchers work while there's some pretty good evidence that they don't. Same with charter schools.

I would like to see that evidence for the vouchers.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby podbaydoor » Fri May 27, 2011 3:29 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:The only thing I have left to say is that a lot of the disrespect teachers get is because we've all had bad teachers. Most of my teachers were average. But if I had to make a tally of the exceptionally good teachers compared to the exceptionally bad ones, the bad column would be longer. Being able to fire incompetent teachers isn't playing " blame the teachers" or "forcing them to jump through so many administrative hoops" it is common sense. The union fights even this.

The problem is that politicians/pundits who talk about firing bad teachers don't contribute much thought to the problem of attracting good teachers in the first place.

Semi-related:
Michigan superintendant outraged at cuts writes an open letter to the governor:
http://gcherald.com/letterseditor/lette ... ssue.shtml
Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future...by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz
Superintendent
Ithaca Public Schools
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Monika » Fri May 27, 2011 3:35 pm UTC

So, my view why US schools are significantly worse than e.g. German ones. Note that I have attended high school in the US for a year.

It's certainly not the unions. Know why German teachers can't join unions? Because they are civil servants: unfirable, fairly high pay, good benefits, high pension. (Well, in West Germany. East German states can't afford that and just employ most teachers without making them into civil servants.)

Using how much the students progressed as a measure for the teacher seems good at first - it is good when it's used for comparing teachers at the same school. As soon as you compare teachers from different schools (and this appears to be done in New York) you would need to factor in how wealthy or poor the parents are and how the level of education of the students was before - students with the highest level of prior education/knowledge also benefit the most from any kind of teaching and progress the most. (This was tested in adult education, i.e. at universities, but I do not doubt that it applies to K-12.) I doubt very much that any effort was made to factor in the school demographics or prior level of education of the kids when evaluating teachers by their students' results. So I understand that the union would reject this.


So, what *is* wrong with US schools?
- Expectations are low and tests are simple. Almost all tests are multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank or true-false. Almost all tests are open book or open notebook or both. There are even take-home tests or students might continue a test in the next lesson. Students never actually *study* for a test. Teachers and parents don't encourage them to do it, classmates actively discourage it. (Don't get me wrong, I don't want to go back to 19th-century rote memorization ... but no memorization at all?!) Really, it's pretty obvious to anyone who has attended schools here and there. Number 1 reason for all problems in my opinion.
- US students are worst in math (at my college prep US high school 2 years behind the lowest type of German high school) because of the pervasive exploratory teaching of math, which is horribly ineffective. When I read the first information about this math exploration stuff it sounded very intriguing. It sounded perfect to get students to love math, and if they loved math, surely they would be good? I needed a while to accept that it simply doesn't work that way. Essentially it means not teaching anything. And the students don't even enjoy it more than before, either.
- Choice. Again, something that I had a very very VERY hard time accepting to be the cause of problems. As a K-12 student I totally could not admit that. I loved choice. Who wouldn't? And it also sounded logical that if students could pick the subject they liked most at the level of difficulty they wanted they would like school more and be better. Yeah, except not. Many just choose what's easiest. And splitting students into good and bad students for class does not make the good students better, but makes the bad students worse (shown by studies in Germany; after all we are world-record holders in splitting up students). How else can you explain that US elementary school students rank pretty high on the IGLU study, but from middle school / junior high where students can pick classes and are split by level of difficulty the level of education suddenly deteriorates *by years*? (How I came to acknowledge that this is the problem? It was mentioned as the cause for why comprehensive school students are worse than Gymnasium students in Germany.)
- US students suck at foreign languages because they are taught one language in primary school (or none), another at middle school / junior high (or none) and another at high school, where they might have to take only two or three years. When it is finally taught, expectations are low (trivial tests, see above) and a significant amount of class time is spent on watching videos or doing art stuff. Easy fix: At least decide for the schools in one area that all primary, middle and high schools offer the same languages, building up on each other (not taking Spanish 1-3 in middle school and restarting with Spanish 1 in high school), do not waste class time on lots of nonsense, apply hard and frequent testing (e.g. daily vocabulary tests).
- US American adults suck at geography because they typically had 1 year of geography (rarely 2) and it only dealt with the US states (or so Americans told me). Easy fix: Be done with the US states by the end of elementary school (end of 5th grade). Then require a certain number of years / lessons in middle and high school, covering world geography. (German students have anywhere from 4 to 6 years of geography in grades 5 to 11 (and may take more in 12/13), but "a year" means "2 lessons a week", not "one lesson per day" as in the US, and lessons are always 45 minutes.)


/edit: event -> even
Last edited by Monika on Fri May 27, 2011 10:06 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Zamfir » Fri May 27, 2011 3:57 pm UTC

That's pretty scathing, Monika... Though i have to say it fits with everything I hear from people who went to US high schools for a while. But it seems high school specific, both US primary and tertiary schools appear to be just fine, both from anecdote and statistics.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby RockoTDF » Fri May 27, 2011 4:12 pm UTC

Monika wrote:So, what *is* wrong with US schools?
- Expectations are low and tests are simple. Almost all tests are multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank or true-false. Almost all tests are open book or open notebook or both. There are event take-home tests or students might continue a test in the next lesson. Students never actually *study* for a test. Teachers and parents don't encourage them to do it, classmates actively discourage it. (Don't get me wrong, I don't want to go back to 19th-century rote memorization ... but no memorization at all?!) Really, it's pretty obvious to anyone who has attended schools here and there. Number 1 reason for all problems in my opinion.


This does not generalize to most US schools. I've lived all across this country and take homes in high school have been more of the exception than the norm.

- US students are worst in math (at my college prep US high school 2 years behind the lowest type of German high school) because of the pervasive exploratory teaching of math, which is horribly ineffective. When I read the first information about this math exploration stuff it sounded very intriguing. It sounded perfect to get students to love math, and if they loved math, surely they would be good? I needed a while to accept that it simply doesn't work that way. Essentially it means not teaching anything. And the students don't even enjoy it more than before, either.


What do you mean by "math exploration?" (US math education is pretty much universally crap, no contest there)

- Choice. Again, something that I had a very very VERY hard time accepting to be the cause of problems. As a K-12 student I totally could not admit that. I loved choice. Who wouldn't? And it also sounded logical that if students could pick the subject they liked most at the level of difficulty they wanted they would like school more and be better. Yeah, except not. Many just choose what's easiest. And splitting students into good and bad students for class does not make the good students better, but makes the bad students worse (shown by studies in Germany; after all we are world-record holders in splitting up students). How else can you explain that US elementary school students rank pretty high on the IGLU study, but from middle school / junior high where students can pick classes and are split by level of difficulty the level of education suddenly deteriorates *by years*? (How I came to acknowledge that this is the problem? It was mentioned as the cause for why comprehensive school students are worse than Gymnasium students in Germany.)


True, but probably also a problem outside the US.

- US students suck at foreign languages because they are taught one language in primary school (or none), another at middle school / junior high (or none) and another at high school, where they might have to take only two or three years. When it is finally taught, expectations are low (trivial tests, see above) and a significant amount of class time is spent on watching videos or doing art stuff. Easy fix: At least decide for the schools in one area that all primary, middle and high schools offer the same languages, building up on each other (not taking Spanish 1-3 in middle school and restarting with Spanish 1 in high school), do not waste class time on lots of nonsense, apply hard and frequent testing (e.g. daily vocabulary tests).


Typically there are no languages in elementary schools. That is normally limited to affluent school districts where parents push for it. Agreed, this is a huge problem that needs fixing. Unfortunately most Americans don't see the point because we don't have the same interaction with those who speak other languages as Europeans do. Even then, people take Spanish because it "is practical" and slack off. I have friends who teach languages (at the university level) and complain that lazy students take Spanish, and the motivated ones take other languages that they actually want to learn.

- US American adults suck at geography because they typically had 1 year of geography (rarely 2) and it only dealt with the US states (or so Americans told me). Easy fix: Be done with the US states by the end of elementary school (end of 5th grade). Then require a certain number of years / lessons in middle and high school, covering world geography. (German students have anywhere from 4 to 6 years of geography in grades 5 to 11 (and may take more in 12/13), but "a year" means "2 lessons a week", not "one lesson per day" as in the US, and lessons are always 45 minutes.)


I'm not at all defending the geography teaching in the US, but I think you are really overgeneralizing about all US schools based on one year of high school here based on specific details ("lessons are x minutes long"), even though many of your broader points are valid.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby podbaydoor » Fri May 27, 2011 4:16 pm UTC

Some schools have 45-minute periods. Schools with block scheduling have 1:30 long periods.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby weasel@xkcd » Fri May 27, 2011 7:59 pm UTC

You raise some interesting points Monica so I thought I'd through in my perspective. Australian schools are supposedly some of the best in the world, ranking above Germany for example in the PISA tests and tied for world first in the UN Education Index. I've never been convinced how accurate those are but they must have some basis.

I might as well start with a brief outline of the education system in Australia (or at least in NSW though other states will be similar).

From K-6 students go to primary school which can basically be public (government) or private (mostly Catholic, and with varying fees). The curriculum is reasonably similar across the schools with private and religious schools tending to do better. High-achieving students are often funneled into Gifted and Talented programs or Opportunity Classes (although the G&T program at my primary school consisted solely of missing music classes to undertake an group media project with a focus on self-guided learning)

High school is from 7-12 although some students graduate in Year 10. Just as in primary education, secondary schools can be public or private however there are also selective government schools which require an exam to enter. Generally selective schools achieve the highest marks (often by a huge margin) followed by the various private schools and then open government schools (obviously these aren't hard and fast rules). Students can also undertake years 11 and 12 through Tafe (Technical And Further Education), the body providing most vocational education.

Upon finishing Year 12 students receive an ATAR, a rank against students throughout the country which is used to determine entrance into tertiary education. The ATAR is composed half of marks throughout the year and half from results in the final exams combined with some crazy voodoo scaling to balance the results of people doing "easier" courses such as drama against those doing subjects such as physics or economics.

Trades don't have nearly the stigma they appear to in the States or the UK and a lot of students go to Tafe (although not, generally, from selective or private schools). Tafe courses are generally more practical and shorter than university degrees and cover areas such as plumbing, massage and carpentry as well as accounting or business management. They're not as highly regarded as degrees but they're far more practical with greater industry exposure and really the only pathway for people wanting to study a trade. Most schools also offer the opportunity to undertake Tafe courses as part of Years 11 and 12 which count towards the ATAR.

Australia doesn't have such a test based education system as America seems to with NCLB and stuff although it looks to be heading in that direction. One of the big media issues for a while has been the publication of schools' test results in league tables ranking different schools. The government went into a great deal of effort trying to ensure that schools were only compared with those from a similar SES but it didn't work out how they wanted. This was really just horizontal comparisons and an interesting result came out when the department of education released vertical comparisons using value-added data, lots of selective schools were shown to improve students results by significantly less than predicted while many very poor schools showed the opposite.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby weasel@xkcd » Fri May 27, 2011 8:00 pm UTC

And here's my reply to Monica's points

Monika wrote:So, my view why US schools are significantly worse than e.g. German ones.


So, what *is* wrong with US schools?
- Expectations are low and tests are simple. Really, it's pretty obvious to anyone who has attended schools here and there. Number 1 reason for all problems in my opinion.


This might be quite accurate. I did a complete double take when I heard how common multiple choice and open books exams are in America. Most Australian subjects after Year 10 lean towards extended answers. All English and all Maths above General (the most basic of the 4 levels) have no multiple choice while 6 of the marks in Modern History come from multiple choice.

Monika wrote:- US students are worst in math (at my college prep US high school 2 years behind the lowest type of German high school) because of the pervasive exploratory teaching of math, which is horribly ineffective.


I can't comment here, not sure what you mean by the exploratory teaching of maths so it might be right.

Monika wrote:- Choice. Again, something that I had a very very VERY hard time accepting to be the cause of problems. As a K-12 student I totally could not admit that. I loved choice. Who wouldn't? And it also sounded logical that if students could pick the subject they liked most at the level of difficulty they wanted they would like school more and be better.


I don't know how much choice there is in the American system but I've always felt the Australian system was very flexible. Students from Year 7 on have to do certain mandatory courses but are able to choose from a huge number of electives in whatever areas interest them. The number of mandatory courses decrease as one gets older until Years 11 and 12 (the only years marks really count) when one only has to choose some level of English (from English as a Second Language, Standard and Advanced). Generally students study 5 or 6 subjects with English counting as at least one.

Monika wrote: And splitting students into good and bad students for class does not make the good students better, but makes the bad students worse (shown by studies in Germany; after all we are world-record holders in splitting up students).


Having gone to a selective school in Australia and a comprehensive in London I definitely think I got a better education in the selective school buuuut that's just an anecdote. Selective schools are almost always the best performing by far but I admit this could easily be because the students in them would've done well anywhere.

Monika wrote: - US students suck at foreign languages because they are taught one language in primary school (or none), another at middle school / junior high (or none) and another at high school, where they might have to take only two or three years.


Australia suffers from a similar problem. Most primary schools teach one language (Indonesian at one school I went to and Italian at the one in an area with a lot of southern European migrants). In high school (in mine at least) we did short taster courses in French, German and Japanese before choosing one to continue with. Foreign languages weren't mandatory long before the time results mattered and a lot was watching movies like you said. We did have daily vocab tests but I never studied for them because I knew I didn't want to continue with them.

Monika wrote:- US American adults suck at geography because they typically had 1 year of geography (rarely 2) and it only dealt with the US states (or so Americans told me).


In Australia we had regular geography into year 10 but almost none of it was learning where places were. We dealt with stuff like environmental management, ecosystems, navigation and weather patterns.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Aetius » Fri May 27, 2011 8:22 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:If pitchers started outlawing the calculation of ERAs because they weren't a perfect metric


That's why we use xFIP damn it!

(Actually I usually use a combination of xFIP, ERA, WHIP, K/9 and K/BB)

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby kiklion » Fri May 27, 2011 8:49 pm UTC

As always, I want to point out that one of the big issues in the states as that your teacher education absolutely sucks as well. A whole lot of teachers don't actually learn how to teach until they get their own class, and it usually takes them a few years to get the hang of it. Considering the fact that so many teachers drop out after a few years...

For me, it wasn't the pay that kept me out of teaching, it was the crazy regulations. I mean, the salary for new teachers is in the 50k range here, and 70k for experienced teachers, and that's not too shabby.


I agreed with this completely. Around here teachers make 60-100k a year, the salary is fine. However it just isn't worth it with the regulations that the state puts in your way. (New York) I still tutor because I do enjoy teaching, however between the requirements my college had for an education degree, and NYS own requirements, I had no intention of going that path compared to getting a degree in computer science.

I should add though, that I have only had one bad teacher. 3 really good ones from 9th grade through college grad, but only one bad one and that was in college. I only have evidence from my school, but in my school the only reason for doing poorly was you were either just not that bright, or you couldn't be bothered to try. There were 2 fights in the 4 years of H.S, no cliques and teachers that cared about the student.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Garm » Fri May 27, 2011 10:28 pm UTC

Aetius wrote:
Heisenberg wrote:If pitchers started outlawing the calculation of ERAs because they weren't a perfect metric


That's why we use xFIP damn it!

(Actually I usually use a combination of xFIP, ERA, WHIP, K/9 and K/BB)


No VORP?

Also, too: Pitchers don't really care about their ERA. If the number in their win column is greater than that of what's in their loss column (for starting pitchers at least) they probably care about ERA tangentially. They're getting paid millions of dollars to play a game 162 times a year. I'm sure teachers would be much happier if they had a win/loss record and were making 7 figures.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Vash » Fri May 27, 2011 10:59 pm UTC

There are a few things you can do. One can raise the pay for teachers, but at the same time, it must become a respected profession rather than a dead-end job. Packaging scientifically verified educational techniques in a way that will not allow them to be distilled down by flawed school systems or teachers can also help. Another thing is to actually check the science you are using. Don't use things with tiny effect sizes. The factors with the largest effects are: individualization, team competition (balanced methodically with the most valid, up-to-date metrics), and reinforcement. There was a study funded by the Ford foundation in Ocean Hill-Brownsville even back in the 1970s that advanced a class on average 2 grades in 1 grade. Only 2 students did not perform (class of around 25). Students in the control group actually went back a grade. Multiple teachers were also fired, and that is actually what started the strike. Teachers also have to be fired if they are not good. Some will claim that teachers are not the problem, but sometimes, they are. I had a geometry teacher in high school that drank spiked orange juice during class, and did a horrible job.

In Massachusetts, we have been rolling back to more traditional schooling methods. It's foolish. There is no evidence that any of these changes will have any effect. They are also unnecessary. I suppose I should have informed the state of this research, but in the past such actions have been ignored.

Almost every article I read just makes me frustrated. No one knows what to do, and basically just makes up a solution. Some are better than others. I think creating a system of elite teachers can work, because they can figure out through classroom experimentation better methods. Even that system is inferior to the one I described above, however.

Edit: In fact, supportive teachers with great techniques would do the job. Combining both is a good idea.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Monika » Fri May 27, 2011 11:03 pm UTC

RockoTDF wrote:
Monika wrote:So, what *is* wrong with US schools?
- Expectations are low and tests are simple. Almost all tests are multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank or true-false. Almost all tests are open book or open notebook or both. There are even take-home tests or students might continue a test in the next lesson. Students never actually *study* for a test. Teachers and parents don't encourage them to do it, classmates actively discourage it. (Don't get me wrong, I don't want to go back to 19th-century rote memorization ... but no memorization at all?!) Really, it's pretty obvious to anyone who has attended schools here and there. Number 1 reason for all problems in my opinion.

This does not generalize to most US schools. I've lived all across this country and take homes in high school have been more of the exception than the norm.

Yeah, take-home exams seem to be rare (or maybe only typical for some states? there was none at my school, but students from other states mentioned them), but all the other things are extremely common.

- US students are worst in math (at my college prep US high school 2 years behind the lowest type of German high school) because of the pervasive exploratory teaching of math, which is horribly ineffective. When I read the first information about this math exploration stuff it sounded very intriguing. It sounded perfect to get students to love math, and if they loved math, surely they would be good? I needed a while to accept that it simply doesn't work that way. Essentially it means not teaching anything. And the students don't even enjoy it more than before, either.

What do you mean by "math exploration?" (US math education is pretty much universally crap, no contest there)

Apparently it's called Constructivism: http://www.usask.ca/education/coursewor ... study.html <-- a case study that sees this approach as positive.
Sounds pretty good at first, right? If it were just used for learning to measure or for some things here or there it would probably be no harm, possibly helpful. The problem comes in because absolutely everything is "figure it out yourself".
This video (partially) explains what's wrong with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr1qee-bTZI I don't think it's doing the very greatest job (no, kids do not need to learn an arithmetic method for calculating roots ... and we could generally cut down a bit on the "written math" arithmetic methods nowadays), but it gives you some ideas.


- Choice. Again, something that I had a very very VERY hard time accepting to be the cause of problems. As a K-12 student I totally could not admit that. I loved choice. Who wouldn't? And it also sounded logical that if students could pick the subject they liked most at the level of difficulty they wanted they would like school more and be better. Yeah, except not. Many just choose what's easiest. And splitting students into good and bad students for class does not make the good students better, but makes the bad students worse (shown by studies in Germany; after all we are world-record holders in splitting up students). How else can you explain that US elementary school students rank pretty high on the IGLU study, but from middle school / junior high where students can pick classes and are split by level of difficulty the level of education suddenly deteriorates *by years*? (How I came to acknowledge that this is the problem? It was mentioned as the cause for why comprehensive school students are worse than Gymnasium students in Germany.)


True, but probably also a problem outside the US.

Not, it really isn't. In most countries children do not get to pick classes or difficulty levels until *much* later (in Germany: grades 11-13, before that only the language(s) or a "profile").

- US students suck at foreign languages because they are taught one language in primary school (or none), another at middle school / junior high (or none) and another at high school, where they might have to take only two or three years. When it is finally taught, expectations are low (trivial tests, see above) and a significant amount of class time is spent on watching videos or doing art stuff. Easy fix: At least decide for the schools in one area that all primary, middle and high schools offer the same languages, building up on each other (not taking Spanish 1-3 in middle school and restarting with Spanish 1 in high school), do not waste class time on lots of nonsense, apply hard and frequent testing (e.g. daily vocabulary tests).


Typically there are no languages in elementary schools. That is normally limited to affluent school districts where parents push for it. Agreed, this is a huge problem that needs fixing. Unfortunately most Americans don't see the point because we don't have the same interaction with those who speak other languages as Europeans do. Even then, people take Spanish because it "is practical" and slack off. I have friends who teach languages (at the university level) and complain that lazy students take Spanish, and the motivated ones take other languages that they actually want to learn.

My US school district was very poor (IIRC 70-80% of the city's families lived below poverty line, measured by the children being eligible for free or reduced lunches) and they were starting to teach foreign languages in elementary schools, but kids would first have Russian in elementary, then e.g. Spanish in middle school and then Chinese. BTW Chinese was predominantly taken by students who just wanted to slack off.

- US American adults suck at geography because they typically had 1 year of geography (rarely 2) and it only dealt with the US states (or so Americans told me). Easy fix: Be done with the US states by the end of elementary school (end of 5th grade). Then require a certain number of years / lessons in middle and high school, covering world geography. (German students have anywhere from 4 to 6 years of geography in grades 5 to 11 (and may take more in 12/13), but "a year" means "2 lessons a week", not "one lesson per day" as in the US, and lessons are always 45 minutes.)

I'm not at all defending the geography teaching in the US, but I think you are really overgeneralizing about all US schools based on one year of high school here based on specific details ("lessons are x minutes long"), even though many of your broader points are valid.

You misunderstood (or I wrote it unclearly).
US schools: 1 to 2 years of Geography at 5 lessons a week (at a number of minutes I did not mention, which typically seems to be a bit longer than 45 minutes ... ours were 54 IIRC).
German schools: 4 to 7 years of Geography at 2 lessons a week, with German lessons always being 45 minutes.
I wanted to express that you could not just compare the number of years and say German kids have tons and tons of more Geography in school.

I am aware that some things were particular about my US high school. For example students cheated excessively during exams, while most US high school students seem to reject the very notion of cheating. This may be a typical problem of city schools, not sure. There were probably more students who were parents or pregnant than in many other schools. And "I couldn't do my homework because an armed man ran into our apartment and hid there from the police" is also less likely to occur. But I think the things I listed above are mostly common for public schools. Exchange students from other areas reported the same. And Americans told me the same about their schools.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby aleflamedyud » Sat May 28, 2011 5:11 pm UTC

I have never heard of American schools giving open-book or open-notes exams. Ever. As far as they're concerned, if you haven't memorized the sheet of trig identities, it's because you're stupid. Bizarrely, my university (quite a good one) allowed every student an 8.5x11 formula sheet during most mathematics exams. I feel it should be the other way around, because if you've really learned integration-by-parts you should be able to crank out the formula for yourself, whereas most of the major trig identities actually required memorization.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Cleverbeans » Sat May 28, 2011 6:22 pm UTC

aleflamedyud wrote:I have never heard of American schools giving open-book or open-notes exams. Ever. As far as they're concerned, if you haven't memorized the sheet of trig identities, it's because you're stupid. Bizarrely, my university (quite a good one) allowed every student an 8.5x11 formula sheet during most mathematics exams. I feel it should be the other way around, because if you've really learned integration-by-parts you should be able to crank out the formula for yourself, whereas most of the major trig identities actually required memorization.


Actually most of the major trig identities can be derived from the additive angle identities and the Pythagorean identity. If students actually understood the *definition* of the sin and cosine functions the identities aren't really all that hard to figure out for a student who've had exposure to formal reasoning. The bigger problem in my mind is that the focus is on formulas in the first place, rather than their derivation. You would think that a high school student should be able to accurately answer fundamental questions like "What is a circle?", "What is a line?", "What is a number?" or "What is Pi?" but the sobering reality is that the definition of such common objects are at best misunderstood, and more commonly not even known. The focus of American math education is the memorization of formulas and their manipulation rather than axiomatic reasoning which constitutes *actually mathematics*. This is a direct consequence of centralized curriculum development done by people who aren't mathematicians.

Also, the idea of "practical math" is an oxymoron; math is an abstraction which uncouples structure of the problem from the problem itself. The computational aspects are certainly important, but true mathematical ability stems from having to reason and think, not the blind plug and chug of formulas. This makes the power and beauty of the subject completely opaque to the student and denies them exposure to, and practice with rational thought. I think this is one of the reason America is doing so poorly in mathematics in particular.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Cathy » Sat May 28, 2011 9:06 pm UTC

aleflamedyud wrote:I have never heard of American schools giving open-book or open-notes exams. Ever.


I'm impressed -- where did you go to school? At my high school, if it was a history/english class and it was being taught by a coach, you were almost guaranteed to have open book/open notes tests. Most of the algebra teachers did it too.

In fact, a classmate of mine's Cal 1 and 2 teachers both had open-book finals. In college.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Monika » Sat May 28, 2011 10:25 pm UTC

My US high school may have been extreme, but literally all tests were open-notebook and a few were open-book.
Well actually my Child Development teacher tried doing the first test without notes and book. Everybody got really low grades. She gave up and let us use notes.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Zcorp » Sat May 28, 2011 11:35 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Which, if teacher's are the greedy bastards they're being made out to be, contradicts the argument, because they're not staying to see those benefits.

Thats a fundamental misunderstanding of some of the criticisms on teacher pay.

The criticisms are on the system as a whole and how it hurts teachers and our students. While some people are advocating reducing teacher pay we can just agree that those people are idiots for now and look at proposed changes on how to improve teacher pay and how that can relate to improving the educational system.

However, politics of course play a large role in this matter as do unions failing to understand the goal and proposed effect of a redesign and re-designers making some mistakes that will get exploited (just like what happens with everything) there is a lot of fear and political pressure not to change anything at all. The unions job is to protect the teachers (not to improve the system), and sorting through various proposed plans is quite difficult; especially when some people are trying to hurt the teachers. The result of which is the unions being a large impediment to the re-designers, even when the re-designers are genuinely trying to improve teacher pay.

So the criticisms of the behavior of the unions are not that teachers are greedy, but rather that they are reactionary, untrusting, uncompromising and unwilling to fight for the future of teaching rather than support entrenched teachers. They also have very good reasons to be all of those things as politicians, corporations and the public treat them like shit.

Cathy wrote:
aleflamedyud wrote:I have never heard of American schools giving open-book or open-notes exams. Ever.


I'm impressed -- where did you go to school? At my high school, if it was a history/english class and it was being taught by a coach, you were almost guaranteed to have open book/open notes tests. Most of the algebra teachers did it too.

In fact, a classmate of mine's Cal 1 and 2 teachers both had open-book finals. In college.

Yeah...your perception of this is way off. This is not something to be impressed by this is something to be outraged by. If students can get certified in the application of knowledge without having to utilize that knowledge in useful way then the certification is useless. If I give a student a test that is less difficult in applying that knowledge because of open books all I'm asking is for is to student to have memory storage and retrieval skills. Thats not what education is about. Not to say that memorization isn't useful. But that it isn't, and shouldn't be, within the priority of skills we are trying to develop in students.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby quantumcat42 » Sun May 29, 2011 5:13 pm UTC

Cathy wrote:
aleflamedyud wrote:I have never heard of American schools giving open-book or open-notes exams. Ever.


I'm impressed -- where did you go to school? At my high school, if it was a history/english class and it was being taught by a coach, you were almost guaranteed to have open book/open notes tests. Most of the algebra teachers did it too.

In fact, a classmate of mine's Cal 1 and 2 teachers both had open-book finals. In college.

The hardest final I ever had in college was open book. We were tested on our understanding of the material, not just our memory of it.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby The Reaper » Sun May 29, 2011 5:46 pm UTC

quantumcat42 wrote:The hardest final I ever had in college was open book. We were tested on our understanding of the material, not just our memory of it.
Because in the real world, you have reference materials.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Prefanity » Sun May 29, 2011 9:09 pm UTC

The Reaper wrote:
quantumcat42 wrote:The hardest final I ever had in college was open book. We were tested on our understanding of the material, not just our memory of it.
Because in the real world, you have reference materials.


And I doubt an open book test would be significantly easier for a student that had say, slacked off and did very little of the required reading covered in the test, simply by virtue of tests needing to be finished relatively quickly. Having all your class texts to call upon doesn't do a lot of good when one only has a passing familiarity with them.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Monika » Sun May 29, 2011 9:37 pm UTC

This may all be good and well for college tests. But the high school tests were like this (in the most difficult way, fill-in-the-blank ... more often it was multiple choice and occasionally true/false):
______ are buildings where the higher floors are wider than the lower ones, often inhabited by the poor.
Ten questions like this. The ten answers were the ten words that were bolded in that chapter of the history book.

(The answer is dumbbell tenements. I am not sure if I got the description right.)
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Zcorp » Sun May 29, 2011 10:26 pm UTC

Monika wrote:This may all be good and well for college tests. But the high school tests were like this (in the most difficult way, fill-in-the-blank ... more often it was multiple choice and occasionally true/false):
______ are buildings where the higher floors are wider than the lower ones, often inhabited by the poor.
Ten questions like this. The ten answers were the ten words that were bolded in that chapter of the history book.

(The answer is dumbbell tenements. I am not sure if I got the description right.)

So do you not understand how high school vs college is irrelevant? How bad test are still bad tests regardless to them being open book?

There are no 'the high school tests.'

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby CorruptUser » Mon May 30, 2011 12:38 am UTC

Monika wrote:This may all be good and well for college tests. But the high school tests were like this (in the most difficult way, fill-in-the-blank ... more often it was multiple choice and occasionally true/false):
______ are buildings where the higher floors are wider than the lower ones, often inhabited by the poor.
Ten questions like this. The ten answers were the ten words that were bolded in that chapter of the history book.

(The answer is dumbbell tenements. I am not sure if I got the description right.)


Had to look in up on wikipedia. Floors are the same layout, just that there are "air shafts" on each side so the middle apartments can have their own "window" to plain air (in accordance with NY law), so the middle is thinner than the front or rear of the building.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Glass Fractal » Mon May 30, 2011 3:00 am UTC

Griffin wrote:As always, I want to point out that one of the big issues in the states as that your teacher education absolutely sucks as well. A whole lot of teachers don't actually learn how to teach until they get their own class, and it usually takes them a few years to get the hang of it. Considering the fact that so many teachers drop out after a few years...


This really can't be emphasized enough. Programs like Teach For America are killing inner city schools. They get an endless stream of teachers that have no experience, are willing to work for nothing, and leave after two years to go teach rich white kids.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Garm » Mon May 30, 2011 4:07 am UTC

Glass Fractal wrote:
Griffin wrote:As always, I want to point out that one of the big issues in the states as that your teacher education absolutely sucks as well. A whole lot of teachers don't actually learn how to teach until they get their own class, and it usually takes them a few years to get the hang of it. Considering the fact that so many teachers drop out after a few years...


This really can't be emphasized enough. Programs like Teach For America are killing inner city schools. They get an endless stream of teachers that have no experience, are willing to work for nothing, and leave after two years to go teach rich white kids.


Because despite incentives, the money isn't good enough to teach in these schools. Or to stay there and teach anyway. Teach For America is one of the only ways to get these kids teachers. The other is a program like the STEP program at Stanford, where an education school takes over supplying teachers for a district (in this case, East Palo Alto. Avg. income, ~12 large/yr). Teaching in the bad parts of Denver (not really very bad, all things considering) would have paid 35-40k. That's for Math (in high demand), in a difficult to hire area (so more money). If I taught in Boulder (almost impossible to get an entry level job), I'd make more but I wouldn't start at a salary that would allow me to live in the community in which I worked. Don't blame TFA for high turnover, there are any number of other factors.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Vash » Mon May 30, 2011 4:42 am UTC

That doesn't really summarize my experience, though I agree with parts of it. It may have been the school you went to. Regardless, school should be learning the material and being tested. Flash cards are generally the most effective method (look at precision teaching), and testing on the material needs to be accurate and complete. Not seperating the students is also hugely important. In the study I mentioned previously, good students worked hard to improve the worst on their team. On the other hand, I was in a school for a year where classes did not have teams, but were integrated. Good students did significantly worse. The material was also greatly watered down.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Glass Fractal » Mon May 30, 2011 5:33 am UTC

Garm wrote:
Glass Fractal wrote:
Griffin wrote:As always, I want to point out that one of the big issues in the states as that your teacher education absolutely sucks as well. A whole lot of teachers don't actually learn how to teach until they get their own class, and it usually takes them a few years to get the hang of it. Considering the fact that so many teachers drop out after a few years...


This really can't be emphasized enough. Programs like Teach For America are killing inner city schools. They get an endless stream of teachers that have no experience, are willing to work for nothing, and leave after two years to go teach rich white kids.


Because despite incentives, the money isn't good enough to teach in these schools. Or to stay there and teach anyway. Teach For America is one of the only ways to get these kids teachers. The other is a program like the STEP program at Stanford, where an education school takes over supplying teachers for a district (in this case, East Palo Alto. Avg. income, ~12 large/yr). Teaching in the bad parts of Denver (not really very bad, all things considering) would have paid 35-40k. That's for Math (in high demand), in a difficult to hire area (so more money). If I taught in Boulder (almost impossible to get an entry level job), I'd make more but I wouldn't start at a salary that would allow me to live in the community in which I worked. Don't blame TFA for high turnover, there are any number of other factors.


Obviously there are lots of reasons for the turnover rate but the thing is, from what I hear, TFA (which is just the best known example) has it has an inherent problem. When you bring people in from the outside who have no intention of staying you guarantee a dwindling supply of experienced teachers. It strikes me as just about the worst possible system. These areas need to be encouraged to - or provided with a mechanism to - produce teachers of their own rather than provided with people who barely know how to teach. So, no, I don't think TFA is at fault exactly but I do think they're helping to perpetuate the problem they're supposed to be addressing.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Monika » Mon May 30, 2011 9:27 am UTC

Vash wrote:In Massachusetts, we have been rolling back to more traditional schooling methods.

For example?
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby LaserGuy » Mon May 30, 2011 5:54 pm UTC

quantumcat42 wrote:
Cathy wrote:
aleflamedyud wrote:I have never heard of American schools giving open-book or open-notes exams. Ever.


I'm impressed -- where did you go to school? At my high school, if it was a history/english class and it was being taught by a coach, you were almost guaranteed to have open book/open notes tests. Most of the algebra teachers did it too.

In fact, a classmate of mine's Cal 1 and 2 teachers both had open-book finals. In college.

The hardest final I ever had in college was open book. We were tested on our understanding of the material, not just our memory of it.


This has pretty much been my experience as well. Open book tests were an excuse for the prof to put much, much harder material on the exam--and the book didn't help anyway, since if you didn't know the concepts going into the exam, the book isn't likely to help you anyway. 2-3 pages good notes will be far more useful than the textbook anyway, since you don't have to sort through 500 pages of unnecessary filler when you're probably just looking for a few words or a formula that you can't remember exactly.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Silknor » Mon May 30, 2011 6:48 pm UTC

Article on a new study from the National Center on Education and the Economy:
http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_1816 ... ck_check=1
Spoiler:
In public education, America has stuck with a 100-year-old model originally intended to churn out factory workers -- while top competitors abroad have designed sleek new systems that mass-produce tomorrow's professionals.

That conclusion could be drawn from a provocative new study that suggests American schools have been looking for reform in all the wrong places.

It's not for a lack of trying. By the thousands, U.S. public schools have undergone overhauls, launched pilot projects and experimented with "best practices." Yet despite countless reforms, overall student achievement has stagnated for about 10 years, according to national and international measurements.

The National Center on Education and the Economy suggests that almost everything embraced by both the establishment and renegades, from smaller class sizes to cash infusions to charter schools, simply has not worked. Instead, the report from the Washington, D.C.-based think tank recommends emulating foreign success stories, primarily by expanding national standards for curriculum, administering smarter and less frequent testing, improving teacher quality, salaries and authority.

"In Singapore, beginning teachers make as much as beginning engineers," study author Marc Tucker said.

And there's more: Pare down administration, and forget the spiffy new school buildings, textbooks and even intramural sports. Focus money on disadvantaged students and, above all, build a
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coherent, coordinated education system.

The stakes are high, as the study points out. The United States needs to educate all its children to compete with the best from around the world. "Part of the price paid by the American education system for being built on the mass production model is that we tolerate an exceptionally high rate of wastage. Only in our case, what is being discarded is young people," the study says.

At the request of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the study looks at Finland, Japan, the Canadian province of Ontario, Shanghai and Singapore, all of whose students score near the top on international tests. Over decades, all five designed and improved their education systems. The study looks at strategies of those successful systems, Tucker said, because it makes sense for the U.S. to bench mark the best.

That's what this country did when it designed its education system a century ago, by borrowing mainly from Germany and Scotland. But in recent decades other countries have surpassed the United States in student achievement, educational quality and equity -- even while spending less than American systems, according to the report.

Sherri Taylor, a parent at Hammer Montessori Elementary in San Jose, liked almost everything she read in the report. But, she said, "I'm concerned it's going to be difficult for any changes to come out of it."

The report suggests expanding on the "common core" standards in math and English that most states adopted last year. In the five exemplary countries, national curricula also cover science, social sciences, arts, music and often religion, morals or philosophy.

Of course, not all those can be measured by multiple-choice tests. The report argues against computer-scored standardized tests -- the kind California students take each spring -- and instead suggests exams that assess students' depth of knowledge and whether they can effectively apply what they've learned.

And rather than annual testing, the study advocates a system of "gateway" tests at key transition points in middle and high school.

In arguing against small classes, the study takes on one of California's most popular reforms. "Of all the strategies available to improve student performance," the study says, "decreasing class size is among the most expensive and least effective."

Besides establishing a comprehensive system and curriculum, the U.S. could best improve education by boosting teacher quality, the report said. First off, move credential programs to higher-status universities, and stiffen entrance requirements.

In Finland, for example, only one in 10 applicants is accepted into teacher-training programs, which take five or more years to complete. By contrast, in 2008, U.S. high school graduates intending to major in education scored in the bottom third on their SAT college-entrance exams. "We cannot afford to continue bottom fishing for prospective teachers while the best-performing countries are cream skimming," the report said.

Once in college, teachers need to be trained in their subjects, class management and a host of other skills that new teachers often lack, the report says.

Charles Weis, Santa Clara County superintendent of schools, agreed. "Now would be a great time to increase the requirements for teaching," he said.

And on the job, rather than the adversarial management vs. union mentality of a factory, teachers need to be given the responsibility and autonomy to improve teaching and student performance.

"The focus on great teachers in the classroom is the thing you have to get right," said John Danner, CEO of the charter-school organization Rocketship Schools. Charters, he said, serve as a good model for moving forward.

But the report dismissed charters as well. As a whole, Tucker said, they do not perform any better than do public schools when student background is taken into account. And charters are small in number and influence, compared with Singapore or Ontario's centrally directed changes.

"While we try to change things on the fringes,'' Tucker said, "they've changed their systems."
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