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The Best Way to Improve Education

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I was sorta surprised this did not come up in all the discussions about Teachers and Unions and teaching to the test et al, but I have to give my plan to improve the Educational system. If I was a teacher whose future employment was dependent on how my students performed I would ask for one thing. Students whose parents gave a damn. In any level of education, typically the top students are supported by involved parents/guardians who have given the student clear expectations of what is acceptable and what is not. I am not talking about the anomalies that do occur, I mean the norm.


I don't care what you pay teachers, the educaitonal system has students for how long a day? 6-8 hours? What are they learning in the meantime and on week ends and during the summer? Does anyone in their life reinforce what the teacher says matters?


We as a society cannot dump the burden of educating our children on the school system and wring our hands about incompentent teachers when Dad and Mom don't care about their kids education.


How do we get parents to care? I wish I knew, but until then the blaming of Teacher's Unions and incompetent teachers and "the system" for the "educational crisis" reminds me of the song "Blame Canada" from the South Park movie, especially the ending couplet


"We must blame them and cause a fuss

Before somebody thinks of blaming uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus!!!!"



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I think there are a multitude of things that can be done to improve education, but the key that starts the motor is parental involvement. My son is a senior this year. Each year, it was made clear to each one of my son's teachers that his education was a top priority in our home. If they had an issues, we expected to hear from them and if we had any concerns, they could expect to hear from us. I have emailed a good many teachers over the years (in-between parent/teacher conferences) when we had concerns. In grade school, he brought his papers home every night and regardless of anything else we had to do, we went over them with him and had him correct anything that was wrong. We had a concern that his straight A's were a result of this extra coaching at home and wondered if he was "really" an A student. We talked to a few of his teachers who all told us the same thing. AS long as you are showing him which answers are wrong and having him figure out how to do it correctly and are not giving him the answers, then you are doing it the way it needs to be done. As far as what kind of student he is, that shows up in his testing more than his daily papers. While every parent things their kid is an exception, most kids are "normal or average". They will however rise to the expectations given them. That being said, my son thankfully got the smarts gene from his mom. He entered the gifted program in grade school and has taken many honors classes thru junior high and high school. He has an unweighted GPA of 3.81 and scored 29 on his ACT. Because of his academic achievements, he has a decent scholarship and has been invited to participate in the university's Honors College. I don't say any of that to brag. I just want to point out that we could have been hands off during his education and accepted any grade he brought home. Without us being supportive, making education a priority and providing expectations, he could have limped by on C's and turned his mind to higher pursuits like some of his buddies who planned on being skateboard stars as adults. The intelligence and abilities of individual kids is going to vary, but parental involvement makes more difference in the quality of their education than any other component of education. Just my two cents.(This message has been edited by sr540beaver)

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I agree with you completely. Parental involvement is the key to student success.


We have a local charter school and the reason the people who send their kids say it's so great is the parents are all involved. Hmm. Maybe being involved with the local elementary school down the street would yield similar results. Fourtunately, I live in a good school district.


I have a friend who teaches at an "alternative" school in a neighbooring district. You know, the school in the district where the troubled youth get sent. The common thread among those kids is lack of parental involvement. Many times it is single parents struggling to get by in life, working so many hours the just aren't around.


I wish I knew the answer, but I don't know how to make other people care about their own childrens education.

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"I don't care what you pay teachers, the educaitonal system has students for how long a day? 6-8 hours? What are they learning in the meantime and on week ends and during the summer? Does anyone in their life reinforce what the teacher says matters?"


I interpret this to mean that greater or lesser pay for teachers isn't necessarily going to have an effect on student performance - but rather that a living environment in which education matters WILL have a positive effect on student performance. If I am correct in my interpretation, I agree.

I add that such an environment in which education is truly valued by the community will also tend to value teachers more and that will tend to accompany increased pay.


In reality, the trend that I see is that persons who blame teachers for failing students respond by wanting to pay less for those teachers. If anyone can explain how this translates into better students, as Ross Perot said, "I'm all ears".


"We as a society cannot dump the burden of educating our children on the school system and wring our hands about incompetent teachers when Dad and Mom don't care about their kids education."


The irony is that these are often the same moms and dads who are blaming the teachers. This is one element of the self-fulfilling aspect of ignorance, a cycle that is almost impossible to break. I am not optimistic.

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As a former HS teacher, I didn't last long I admit, here are my thoughts.


1) Parental Involvement and Support. Not only must parents be involved, they must also support the teacher. I do not know how many times parents said it was not their child's fault they are failing.


2) Discipline and Punishment. Not to sound like an old curmudgeon, but kids need to learn that there are repercussions if they do not meet stated goals and objectives, whether those goals are behavioral or learning objectives. I saw this no only on the HS level, but also the college level: kids expected A's just for showing up; they didn't care about the work they needed to do. You don't do the work, you will fail. Turn in the paper late, you will lose points. You cut up in class, I am kicking you out.


3) Divide students into ability groups. You can have a large groups of high achievers who know what they are doing and motivated. You can have an average class size for the average learners. And have smaller class sizes for those learners who need help.


4) Challenge the students to learn. Give them high expectations and they will meet them. Look at the various teachers and principles that books and movies have been made about.





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I think its much more complicated than that. My kids did the best with teachers that cared. And I could certainly tell the difference between the few that cared, and the ones that didnt. All our kid's teachers knew my wife and I by name and they knew we watched grade trends because we called them now and then. We found not all teachers want that much of the parents participation. I personally blame the system that doesnt reward good teachers and sorts out the bad ones. Could that improved? Not without a dramatic change in the union.


Do parents make a difference, you bet. Even as scouters we know a scout will get more out of the program if the parents are part of the team. But how many teachers even encourage that. Well you have to admit the other parts of the system like litigation beats them up pretty good. While I know its frustrating for teachers dealing with uncaring parents, I know that the school system beats them down even more.


My older Eagle son is in his third year of teaching High School English. In his first year, he taught in a school that was 40% Hispanic, 30% Black or African American, 10% Asian, and the rest every other culture. He came home scared for his life everyday and almost quit teaching that year.


Now he teaches in a school that is 80% Hispanic, 10% Black and 10% everybody else and he loves his job. The difference between the two schools is the Black culture. He said they as a culture are angry, lazy and hold no respect for any kind of authority. Not only do they not want to do school work, they get mad at the teacher trying to make them do it. The school he teaches at now is considered one of the most difficult in the state. But he said he enjoys working with the Hispanics because they do respect authority. AT least enough that he doesnt fear for his life.


The point Im trying to make here is the Hispanic and Black community (culture?) dont have respect for education. They see it mostly as something they have to burden with because of the law. But they (parents and students) dont see themselves needing or using education because they dont view their future needing it. My son says out of his five classes of thirty students, he would have at most six parents visit on parents day for each class.


So that leaves the white and Asian communities. And that is interesting, Asian communities are known for their strict discipline of education and my son agrees that the first generation children from Asian immigrants are very strict and very disciplined. The parents are part of the teachers team to the point of pushing the teacher. But he said the second generation is less disciplined with the 3rd equal to whites. And that is doing the work to get the passing grades, but not excelling to be the top of the class. The 2nd and 3rd generation have figured out just how much than can get away with. The parents are also not as involved.


There are a lot of things that will have to change, but the top of my list are a reduction of litigation threats to the schools and teachers, and a noticeable accountability of good and bad teachers. Then, I think we can start going after the parents.




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There really needs to be a focus on chartered schools. Think like how the BSA style of chartering works. A national Education Organization has the program, communities charter the ability to use that program and pay for it through either property taxes or tuitions.


This raises an issue of standardization, but the federalization of education as it stands is part of the problem. Standardization assures that instead of having some mediocre and some brilliant, that all will turn out mediocre.


The community can respond best to its own needs and standards. Education is not a federal responsibility. Even big cities and poorer urban areas would benefit more, as there would be a great need for charter programs for those kinds of communities and the market would provide much better than the all-too-encompassing federal system. Think of the training, the competition, the free-market, and overall what could be made available to all children.

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A couple of thoughts on the fly between other obligations:


1. I've taught inner city students, mostly African Americans, too. I think type-casting by race does a great disservice to all. There are lazy, disrespectful, awful, unsupportive people in every racial group and caucasians are not immune. In fact, when I think about the types of students with whom I am most likely to have problems, they are often white kids from the suburbs. Eagledad I am not discounting your son's experience, but I would caution that he should not extrapolate from his specific situation to an entire racial group.


2. Although I'm no fan of GW Bush and certainly not of NCLB which was the biggest federal intrusion into education in, well, ever, at the same time I reckon that Bush got it right when he talked about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that we as a nation have for poor, minority, and difficult-to-reach students.


3. Local standards can be terrible. In my area, until recently, the only state-mandated high school grad requirement was one semester of civics. Local districts might (and the good ones did) add all sorts of other things. But in many local districts, graduation requirements were ridiculously low. And there were no federally mandated comparisons across districts so it became hard for parents to know whether or not their child's school was doing a good job or not. More so, for low-income neighborhoods where parents might lack access to or knowledge about more sophisticated comparisons.


4. I don't think there's a teacher alive in the country today who would argue against what OGE said, that parental involvement matters. There are probably some who would quibble over what "parental involvement" ought to mean. And a few who don't really want to be bothered dealing with parents who are involved. And there's a fine line, just as there is in scouting, between "good" and "not good" parental involvement.


5. Charters have their place but aren't a panacea.


More thoughts later on what to improve.

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As a credentialed teacher who has now subbed for over 12 years in all grade levels and 3 districts, I think I have a pretty good perspective on California schools.


It is definitely important that the parents be involved, and support the teacher and school. The schools that have open style set ups tend to have fewer problems overall, though there are still way too many. And, when I worked one of the charter schools, they seemed to have students that were more interested. Both types are far more family/parent related.


Every school is short staffed, short of supplies, and now trending towards over crowding in classes, even at the lower levels. Until a few years ago, it was obvious how important the class size restrictions from k-3 were. It was far easier to help kids and actually observe those struggling and give them additional encouragement. And they tended to be more attentive as well, partly due to the extra attention, but also because they soon learned it was not that easy to pass under the radar. The attention level seemed to continue into the first half of 4th, but then the kids began to realize they could get by with more, due to larger classes. And by 5th, the patterns were beginning to show as to whom would slide if they could. This is not helped, in my opinion, by requiring mainlining too many kids with various types of special issues. They tend to be far more disruptive and take a lot of the teacher's time, even when they have aides. This is not fair to the other kids, or at least that is my feeling.


Another thing that really gets to me are the numerous disruptions from outside the classroom by intercoms, phone calls, student messengers, or kids with assignments to collect recycling or see if they can help the smaller kids (they apparently get extra credit where this happens; but they just sort of show up). They also seem to have a lot of assemblies that give out ribbons and so on. Most of the kids are bored to death, and you have to watch them carefully, as they will easily find ways to cause mischief. Most of these awards could be given on the class level and take far less time from the actual teaching day.


At least in the districts in which I have worked, there is still some attempt towards exposing classes to music and art. But, it is no longer a regular part of the curriculum in most schools, and is dependent on parent volunteers or hourly temps. They also get P.E., but not every day. Many schools no longer have librarians except one or two days a week; so the teachers have that job added onto the others they already have. And psychologists and nurses are not in every school either, but spread throughout the districts. So far, high schools seem to have retained at least one counselor each, but the multiple counselors that were normal are no longer the case, with obvious ramifications.


Classrooms are no longer being cleaned daily, nor grounds tended regularly in most schools. This is also a factor in the way kids and parents see the school, even though they may not admit it. I can see a difference in classes where the regular teacher is strict in regard to cleaning up the room and keeping it neat; the kids tend to be less problematic and cooperative. HMMMMMMM!


The best teachers always find a way to succeed, and most are generally trying and somewhat successful. There are a few that concern me. They are either burned out, or really should not be in the job. But there are not nearly as many of these as you would think from some of the comments we see or hear. There are, in my opinion, too many superintendents with high salaries. Too many principals still seldom get involved with the students directly, especially in larger schools. This is partly due to the simply overly burdensome demands put on them. But, it would be great if they actually taught once or twice a month in various classes. You know what they say about being in the trenches.


Discipline is a real problem, and educators are paranoid about law suits. This leads to many ignoring whatever they can, rather than take the chance of being threatened by parents. And, as pointed out, expectations of actually doing the work is not there for many kids (and parents encourage this). Nor, do most schools seem to actually hold students responsible for much, unless it is extremely bad. Getting away with small infractions all the time simply leads to trying to do it with larger ones. And, grade inflation is rampant. Somehow, "average" is no longer acceptable. Getting a C is somehow like failure to many kids. Finally, somehow, the connection between basic language skills and elementary math as building blocks for everything else is lost. Reading, and as an extension, writing are "absolutely" required to be able to learn other subjects, even math beyond basic arithmetic. Yet, kids constantly are not given the early help when they need it, and become discouraged and eventually the most challenged simply give up. That of course leads to many of the the other problems already noted.


No easy answers. Certainly it is not the teachers' fault for the most part, though a few surely should be weeded out. In California, they pay into their own retirement, and they are not eligible for Social Security; so certainly they should not have that pulled out from beneath them. And, most, even after many years, only make a little more than $60k, while starting pay is less than $40K in most districts, with the likely hood of pink slips every year now, as well. Most dedicated teachers also spend large amounts of their own money for basic supplies today; at one time they spent that money on extra items to enhance the classroom experience.


Finally,those who continue to trumpet the short work days, and so on, please open your eyes and see the realities. Most teachers are at the schools a minimum of half an hour early, and many earlier; and they stay after for staff meetings, prep, special help classes, and grading. Then they take stuff home with them a lot of the time. Add on special evening activities, counseling clubs, and, especially the newer teachers, teaching summer school. And, at least in California, they also have to have at least 5 years of college, then get additional updated training.


Surely I have missed a lot. I should note that I too quit subbing in high school. After the 2nd physical threat in two assignments, I figured it was not worth it. And, now that I am older, I find myself sticking to the mostly 2nd through 5th, as the middle school kids are becoming more difficult; or I am simply losing my patience.




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What you mentioned about elementary math being a building block is a very important piece of the puzzle. I just started tutoring in a after school program at a local Middle School, and every day I am showing kids who are in Algebra 1 how to do multiplication and long division.


There also seems to have been a shift in when different things are taught recently. I know that when I was in middle school just a few years ago my 8th grade class started algebra 1, but we were an advanced class. My math teacher said that the 6th and 7th graders at that time probably wouldn't be doing the same math we were doing when they got up to 8th grade. He occasionally had us help correct the 7th grade tests or worksheets, and they definitely weren't doing the math we were doing in 7th grade.


I am now tutoring these 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who are doing math that is way above them. The pre-algebra that the 7th graders are doing was what my 8th grade class was taught as algebra 1. The 8th graders are doing stuff that I didn't even see until I took intermediate algebra at my first community college. It is obvious from their work that they are completely unprepared for it. If someone is having trouble multiplying and dividing + and - numbers, and doing squares, and square roots, how can you even think about trying to tech that person how to complete a square, or use the quadratic equation?


These aren't just isolated kids either. The ones in this program make up a solid percentage of there class, and almost all of them need help with everything I have mentioned and more. If that doesn't signal a problem then what does?


I guess my suggestion for improving education is to give teachers more latitude in when they teach different things. That is how it was done in my catholic school. Of course it was a small school. There was just one math teacher, one english teacher, one social studies teacher, and one literature teacher for the 6th-8th grades, and one of them was also the religion teacher for a class. That school most definitely never taught to a test, but overall the school did very well on the standardized tests we did take. Almost everyone in my class scored above the 80th percentile on the IOWA tests, and a good chunk of us scored above the 90th percentile. I attribute that to the teachers taking an active interest in each student, and the teachers having the freedom to teach at whatever pace they felt was best.

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Yah, interestin'. I agree with everybody. ;) What's interestin' is that nobody has mentioned da parallels to Scouting.


In Scouting, we see the benefits of active, supported parents in kids' lives. We also see the downside of inappropriately active "helicopter" parents in kids' lives. Like teachers, we are torn between wanting to encourage parents to engage, and being gun-shy about da small subset of parents whose engagement is disruptive. Like teachers and school administrators, most good scouters are a bit conflict-adverse, and don't hold the line on disruptive parents or misbehaving, low-performing kids as well as we should.


In Scouting, we see da benefits of those magical people, da adult Scouters who really know the woods and who really love sharin' it with kids. We know that just one of 'em can have a huge impact on many lives. We know how little pay, how little thanks, and how much grief they get, and how much it means when even one former scout says "Thanks." And in Scoutin' we see many adults who are well-meaning but just go through the motions, eh? Who give out A's ... I mean badges like candy. Who follow the textbook blindly and without really understandin'. Who won't do patrol hikes or youth leadership because of the tyranny of low expectations. Yah, and then, like teaching, we in Scoutin' occasionally see the scouter who should be fired but who hangs on because nobody has the gumption to do it.


In Scouting, we see the benefits of stability, eh? Havin' one basic curriculum guide that doesn't change much, havin' a unit that retains adults and kids year after year. Our weakest units are always da ones with high turnover. Just like our weakest schools and school districts are da ones with the most disruption and "reform" and highest turnover.


In Scouting, we promote a small amount of training, and we all recognize that it doesn't amount to much. But we extol and promote it as the answer to all problems. I reckon da same thing is true in schools, eh? They have a bit of teacher "professional development" which each year is supposed to solve all problems. They even require it, but it never seems to really accomplish much. Folks who really love kids and love their subject just tend to figure things out. Those that don't really love their subject or don't really grok kids no amount of "training" will ever help.


In Scouting, we've got some really impressive programs, a lot of OK programs of various sorts, some grade-inflation/badge-mill weak programs, and some programs on life support. But most all get "Quality Unit" even if we have to inflate da numbers to do it. ;) Same with schools, eh? And just like with schools, urban Scouting just seems to mostly fail.


If anybody decided to implement a standardized Scouting test, I reckon we'd all be surprised by how many of our Eagle Scouts did poorly on it. Because we all know just how much we "teach to the requirements" rather than teach for real proficiency. If there were an international comparison test, I expect our best kids would compare with da best kids other places, but on average we'd be less fit and less skilled than fellow nations. Just like da schools.


Da only thing that's different between Scouting and the schools is that in Scouting, we encourage kids and families to go find a unit that's a good fit. We don't force kids to attend da unit closest to them, or demand that the family pay a quarter of their annual income per child if they want to attend da better troop down the road. If a troop isn't workin' out, we try to find 'em a new one that will be better. Yah, and we expect da family to be payin' their way, mostly, or at least have some financial skin in da game.


So I reckon for the most part we have da same challenges as the schools, eh? And we do about as well. Where we see motes in da schools' eyes, I reckon if we take a moment we'll recognize da same planks in our own.


Now I wonder... "What's the best way to improve Scouting?" If we succeed at that, then maybe we can go teach those edumacators in the schools a thing or two. ;)



(This message has been edited by Beavah)

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parental involvement? When the kids are home, they're buried in an Xbox. When they're not in school, they're with their friends where their real learning takes place.

How to improve education? Make it necessary in their lives. One way is to abolish all long-term welfare so they understand learning is necessary to get ahead. It's all about motivation. Of course, our educational system will need to become more flexible to meet different learning styles.

The country also needs a better vocational program; at present it is often a baby-sitting dumping ground for kids who don't want to be in school at all. Let kids leave school after 11th if they go right into a real apprenticeship program.

No driver's license without a pass on a school leaving exam

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It is defenitely throwing me for a loop helping my 6 yo grandson with his homework. I do not understand how they are teaching the kids nowadays. I went to grade school in the 60's and it seems we went at a much slower pace in reading and math. We also did alot of practice learning how to write. We had alot more free time with Mom at home, and did not usually do preschool. Exercise and music and art were all included. It was interesting to go to a sixth grade class re-union last year and see what everyone was up to.Some real surprises! Most everyone was doing quite well, and the kids you figured were going into trades who weren't the best at academics did just that and are working successfully, owning their own businesses or in partnerships. Some people just went way into other areas you'd never guess. Except for one boy who died in prison everyone came out OK.We had discipline in the classroom, a multi ethnic environment(Chicago's south suburbs)came from not-rich working class families, and no one was seen as particularly"special" Come in and do the work, if you act up, go to the corner, or the principals office(very scary!)The male teachers were intimdating as well as respected!They did not beat our butts at school, but our Mom's sure did at home!A slower time, and most importantly. there were FAMILIES. Big difference from today.Mom and usually Dad.Many brothers and sisters. Our kids are stressed to the max now with 10plus hour long days with before and after school care.Everybody has a "syndrome" of one kind or another.Everybody thinks their kid is so "special". Hey we were alot less "special " when there were 4 or 5 more at home.I say bring back uniforms for kids, get back to teaching the basics the "right" way( like don't tell kids to spell the words anyway they want, and then expect them to unlearn all that and jack them up to a third grade vocabulary in first grade and expect them to be good spellers)They are mixing in decimals, tally marks, dominoes, money and everything all together in the first grade!What IS that?I try to help with the math ,but I cannot figure out what the hell they are tryng to teach.A good program for kids does not have to be high cost. We used to get graded on handwriting. I do not think they care at all about that anymore.Really I don't think kids brains are being alLowed to develop properly anymore. Too much video, not enough exercise, too much immediate gratification, no discipline.Art and music are great for kids brains.We learned to read music .We sang alot.Scouting to me is a much better learning program than what the schools are offering. At least kids get to do things with their hands, go explore, dig into different areas of science etc... and be physically active. It's way more holistic.Bring back a well rounded approach to children, and restore the family, that would be a big help.But hey, in all fairness, I don't try to keep up with everything people do now, I see no value in it.We can't even take care of our own planet. Teaching kids to pick up trash is great, and also letting them just run around and scream and yell, and fall and get hurt and laugh with their friends WITHOUT grownups hanging around all the time.There is alot to be said for letting kids be kids.Stop trying to cram so much in their brains at one time. Most kids can't process it.Remember...chew before swallowing???

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I can't answer to all of that, but about the "new" math:


The idea behind "everyday math" curriculum, which is widely used these days, is to introduce topics to kids multiple times, rather than all at once and then move on to the next thing. For example, intro decimals a little bit now, and again in a little more depth later, and again later still, etc. Think of it like a spiral, growing wider (deeper) each time.


The advantage is supposed to be that kids see that different math topics are connected, and also that if they don't quite "get it" the first time, that's ok because they'll see it again soon.


The disadvantage can be that it is fragmented and can feel like jumping around, especially in the hands of a less effective teacher.


But if you think about it in comparison to scout skills, we kind of do the same thing. The requirements for T-2-1 all kind of build on each other. Many times, something you are introduced to at a pretty basic level at an earlier rank, comes back again in a little more depth at a later rank.


And scout skills tend to be inter-related too, of course. You don't teach a kid to build a fire only for the sake of building fires, and then next month you teach a kid to cook (on a fire) just for the sake of learning that skill. Probably most of us teach in an integrated fashion - here's why using an ax to chop kindling is useful, so that you can build a decent fire, which you might then use to cook on.


When done well, the "everyday math" curriculum is kind of like that. When done poorly, it is just one big jumble.







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