We have to have a serious discussion about our children’s schooling. Not just you and me, and surely not the arrogant angry talking heads on political television. The education “air” is poisoned, just like the Washington air.
Before you blame the unions or before you blame the billionaire hedge fund managers who call themselves “reformers,” visit your local schools. Just put on a visitor’s badge and go visit a classroom. Believe me; you will walk out of that visit with a new attitude about our education system. The system stinks, the standardized testing stinks and teachers are working harder (with less results) than at any time in our history. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In the first decade of this young century, many other countries were exploring new methods of teaching and new methods of teaching “teachers” to teach, but not America. We were learning to teach to “the test.” Damn if we were going to let one child be left behind. Everybody, regardless of their personal situation, was going to learn the three “Rs.” If a school couldn’t get their kids up to “standards,” then by gosh, we’ll shut them down and let the state take over the school. We’ll shove that education money over to charter schools. How has that worked out? According to recent stats, the charter schools aren’t doing any better than the public schools…so what’s the answer?
It’s not that complicated. But, we Americans have a strong sense of pride and refuse to look at other education systems that are working well. We are as headstrong about our education system as we are about our health system. Both have been broken for a long time and most other countries in the world have passed us up with better delivery at better costs….health and education.
This is my 5th year of tutoring 2nd grade students that have below “standards” reading ability. The first two years I tutored two days a week but that was harder than factory work. One day is enough. I love “my kids,” and I’m amazed every year how these non-readers advance when they have “personal” attention. When I say these kids are below standards, I mean that they plain and simply can’t read…period. Most of my kids are testing below kindergarten level when I get them as they start 2nd grade. If they can’t read at “standards” by the end of 2nd grade, they are lost in the system forever. The odds are they will never get through high school.
Now we can talk about WHY. And here’s where we are stuck in the poisonous “air.” First of all, let me tell you the demographics of my elementary school. The school is about 61% Hispanic, 25% white, 6% Black, 5% Asian, 1.4% Native American, .7% Pacific Islander, .5% mixed race. The demographics do NOT matter.
My four kids this semester are 3 white and 1 mixed race. The mixed race kid will be up to reading standards quickly, he’s sharp as a tack.
So, now let the finger-pointing begin. Parents? Sure, that’s always a big reason kids go to school unprepared. There is no reading to the kids when they are little (remember bedtime stories?) and there’s not learning to write their names, let alone learn the alphabet. BUT, don’t stop there. We have one more big “WHY” to deal with. This is where the debate seems to end in shouting matches.
It is my opinion that “poverty,” is the main source of under-achieving kids. I know you will hear “important” folks (usually very wealthy) disagree with that theory. All I have to go on is my own small involvement and the statistics I read. Here are some facts: Poor kids enter kindergarten with 17,000 less vocabulary words. Zip codes will determine the children’s abilities more accurately than any other measurement.
So we have two problems to fix to properly educate our kids. We have to do something about poverty, employment and mobility, but at the same time, we have to design new ways to train teachers and understand that teachers are as important in our society as doctors, engineers and scientists. We expect them to work miracles with our kids in 5 hours every day when the kids may be living 18 hours in an environment that is not safe, not nutritional and not motivational.
The TWO big differences that very successful programs (Ontario, Canada, Finland, Japan, and Shanghai) have implemented that we haven’t are the teacher’s education in college and the methods of teaching in the classroom. The countries above don’t rely on “standardized” testing as heavily as we do and value their teachers like other white-collar jobs.
As far as changing methods, I’ve been reading about the tremendous results in Scotland in teaching reading, which is what I’ve been trying to do in my volunteer tutoring weekly.
If any parents or teachers reading this want to check out a new reading methodology that has a proven track record, click on this link: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/02/20682/52383
In the meantime, please volunteer your time in your schools to help these youngsters succeed. They are our future. They deserve to learn to read so they can read to learn…and they are so damn cute, too.