Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Call for Thoughts and Ideas on Education

Here is a chance to share thoughts and ideas about education. I'd lke to develop this over time so anyone can (hopefully) gain new insights or ideas that are useful for those in education or with interest in education.

The first topic I want to encourage discussion, commentary and contributions on deals with education in general. Questions to think about include: What is good and bad about American public schools (can be elementary, middle or high school level)? What can government, industry, business, and universities do, if anything, to help improve primary and secondary education? Should there be a national standard and law (such as No Child Left Behind) to drive public schools? I have already begun to add my own thoughts at
http://vonscience.blogspot.com/2005/06/suggested-modification-to-no-child.html and http://vonscience.blogspot.com/2005/05/american-model-of-public-schools-needs.html.

Thanks for anything you have to offer on these or any other topics I've touched on below.

4 comments:

epi said...

Doc V - I really like your commentary about No Child Left Behind. This legislation seems to promote a one size fits all approach to learning that doesn't mesh well with what actually happens in schools. One place I believe it doesn't work well (among many others, but this is one i feel particularly passionate about) is in measuring what students who perform above average are getting from public education. These kids tend to be ignored (at least in the rural school district I have experience in), especially in the early/middle grades, because they're already raising the school's average test scores and improving their performance further does nothing to increase, for instance, the percentage of 4th graders who read at grade level. However, I would argue that ignoring these kids does more than simply leave their education stagnate - it fails to expose them to challenges and means they do not learn study skills at an early age because they don't need to study. As a student I attended summer programs for several years upon reaching high school and took AP classes; these finally provided challenging and interesting experiences. Summer programs are, in many cases, though, available to a select class of the population, and we should not rely on them to provide challenges for our above average students. The AP classes were great, but I know that even at a slightly smaller or slightly more rural school I would not have had them. Thus, my secondary point (which I certainly have no solution for), is that location and local resources greatly determine the education a child receives. While the part of me that still believes the world should be fair balks at that on principle, I think it also is problematic because it suggests that students in high class areas are "more deserving" of better education and also ignores the minds that might lie beyond the scope of this "better" education. Hopefully that makes some sense... : )

vonny said...

epi -

So correct about location. In Illinois, for example, school funding is based largely on property taxes. A North Shore school like I presently teach at, which is wealthy, can spend twice as much per child as a Chicago Public School, where I used to teach. It is almost night and day what can be offered, and the opportunities that the schools can offer to children. It is unfair and inexcusable, as well, especially when everyone is asked to be judged by the same criteria.

Public schools will not be 'fixed' until there is real political will and backbone at all levels of government. NCLB is supposed to be the fix in many minds, but then it falls shy on funding by an estimated 20$ to 30$ BILLION nationally, which is why most districts are in the red. This will not be easy, of course.

Upper level kids may be vulnerable as you mention, as well as the lowest performing group of kids, because schools are forced to focus on kids just making the test scores and those who are just below the test scores. NCLB is a numbers game, let's face it, and school administrators are going to put resources where they need to to meet the scoring levels required by the law. I know the main drive at my school is to get a block of kids who are just below meeting state standards additional attention. This is reality in schools right now, and it won't change unless a more reasonable set of criteria is passed. MANY students are being left behind in reality.

mark said...

Check this out:

http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2005/05/training-tweakers.html

epi said...

Doc V - thanks for the link! I think the ideas for institutional ways to develop (and how not to hinder) Tweakers is great. One thing that a commenter on that site touched on but that was not addressed further was how gender plays into categories like this (as well as, clearly, class). Given the way we currently socialize girls and boys quite differently, I worry (like the other commenter) that this is something where boys might be labeled tweakers and more innovative more commonly than girls. This can apply based on the social rules we teach our children, such as that girls should be quieter, work more towards agreement, etc., or based on what domains we acknowledge "Tweakers" in (for instance, boys are encouraged more towards building/engineering toys and pursuits, which seems to be what this article predominantly involves, but girls often are encouraged towards more social pursuits or make believe games in which they might exhibit "Tweaker tendencies" but not be recognized based on the domain). I'm not in any way trying to say boys and girls are "naturally" different in this way, but that social mores differ in major ways for boys and girls. Thus, I think the emphasis on how to encourage Tweaker skills (which seem to come down to a lot of critical thinking and analysis) in a variety of domains might be more productive and less biased than trying to identify tweakers in general. This would also lead to greater generalizability; for instance, I would say I was fairly adept at mathematical and scientific critical thinking and tweaking in high school, but having it suggested to me that I might apply these skills to such domains as social structure or feminist studies was somewhat of a surprise (partially because of the lack of emphasis on critical thinking in the humanities in my high school). Overall, really thinking seems to be something we don't encourage enough in school. It reminded me of an entry test I took in late elementary school to try to qualify for an advanced math program. I went quickly through the problems and then got a bit stuck on one. I remember stopping and sort of "digging around" in my mind to find an idea that would work, and for a split second thinking "wait, you can't do that, that's cheating" before remembering that all intellectual skills i had, not just those someone told me were "okay to use" or that were intended for the assignment, were fair game. This sort of creative problem solving is not encouraged enough.