I posted this post below to the thread "The Race to Nowhere" but I decided to post it here as separate thread and I would love to hear your opinions.
I have not seen the film (The Race to Nowhere" but I agree that differentiation should not be taken place in middle school. What we all need here, in the US, is a universal CONTENT RICH curriculum - the same curriculum across the US. In my opinion, all those fads that ollyoxenfree mentions are absolutely useless and precisely because of them, our education is failing. The group activities, integrated subjects (math and music in "one bottle"), self-paced studies, "learner - centered" activities and other such things have been implemented in our schools for years now with horrible results. The truth is that the teacher-lead classroom is the only thing that really works, provided that the teacher knows her subject well, and she teachers a content - rich curriculum and challenges her students along the way. The group activities could be effective under certain limited circumstances but nothing could replace knowledgeable and passionate teacher leading her students. Unfortunately, the US schools are forever obsessed with the "new learning techniques" that teach "skills" when in reality the skills without the knowledge are useless. What would "good skills" be good for, if students do not have a deep knowledge of a subject matter? For instance, the American students spend countless hours practicing the "skill" finding a "main idea in the text" but that very text is substandard and has nothing to offer to young minds. Students must read classical texts, texts with the wealth of information, texts with beautiful and complex sentence structure. Students must be challenged and led by their teachers. "One size fits all" principle actually works in Finland, South Korea - countries with excellent public education programs. They do have special programs for the kids with disabilities but the rest of the students study the same subjects that are rich in content and are challenging. They teach real subjects to ALL children in similar settings with teachers occupying the central stage. The results? Excellent public education. And we are - with our obsession with the "small groups", over-simplified texts and "acceleration" are lagging behind. Myself and my husband's family were educated in foreign countries and our public schools that we used to criticize so much, turn out to be much better that the American ones. Many of my friends and family's kids including my husband's brother who were actually "C" students in their home countries are "A" students here, in the US. The math they did in their home countries in the 6th grade, the US students are doing in the 9th and 10th grades!!!! Unbelievable! My husband's brother often complained to my husband that he was not being challenged at the school. But he went to a good school in PA, took advanced classes, ended up on the honor roll, got a college scholarship from the governor of Pennsylvania. However, he did pretty much nothing during those four years - he simply capitalized on his knowledge he obtained in his home country and coasted along for four years. I have been a witness to this. And I find it shocking. The only question I have is this - with such low level of public education, how is the US existing? How come it did not fall apart, yet? Or, perhaps our society does not really need good school system? I mean, our secondary education is bad but the country is existing, right? It is quite alive, it did not collapse. So, then why do worry so much about our kids in public schools? Why do want them to study "Singapore" math? Why are we constantly talking about the "school reform"? The deterioration of the public school system started in 1960s but so what? We are alive, our country is surviving and people are living their lives as always.