the yet another school reform? Why do we really worry so much about the public education? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 25 Old 01-09-2011, 09:12 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Hello guys,

 

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.

 

 

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#2 of 25 Old 01-10-2011, 06:44 AM
 
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What do the educational methods in homogeneous countries have to do with how the heterogeneous culture of the U.S. should guide their educational policies?

 

And you list a lot of educational ideas that have been thrown around over the years, but in the vast majority of classrooms what's actually going on is a teacher standing in front of a class. The experience someone has in one classroom will tell nearly nothing about what's going on in another.

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#3 of 25 Old 01-10-2011, 07:51 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I still believe that the U.S. schools need one common core content rich curriculum. This alone could make a huge difference.  I believe that if all students speak English in your classroom, then they all should study the same subjects together in the same setting. This was my case – where rural kids from poor families (like myself) studied alongside better educated city kids. I struggled at first but then I caught up with the rest of the class. If I was going to school in the U.S. school; they probably would’ve put me in some “remedial” or “low level” classes and I could’ve said by-by to my dreams…

Also, I have observed few middle and high school classes in the U.S., and I saw a lot of group activities that were, for the most part, useless mess.  Anyway, the point of my post is not to argue the merits of group collaboration. I am just trying to understand why do we worry so much about the quality of education in our public schools: after all our country is doing a lot better economically and politically(despite the recession) than many, many countries in the world.   

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#4 of 25 Old 01-10-2011, 08:52 AM
 
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I've said this before but I feel it's a mistake to compare our educational system with other countries without comparing the marked differences our children are raised. It's NOT just about school and curriculum. You can't just throw in a harder and nationalized curriculum and expect things to change. They won't. Our kids have some advantages in our culture but a lot of disadvantages too. The U.S. has the highest divorce rate. Americans work more hours and have FAR less vacation and family leave than these countries you mention. Many of these countries have some sort of socialized medicine and so quality medical care for ALL children. There is more expectation for extended family to help with children where here, most families live far from relatives or wouldn't dream of having grandma be the main care provider for thier kids. Add in factors like how heavily American children are marketed too, the quantity of TV they watch, certainly there is a real "anti-intellectual" bias here. Even our news media feeds into that. Oh, the list goes on. My point, it's not enough to look at schooling differences. You have to look at the whole picture.


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#5 of 25 Old 01-10-2011, 09:51 AM
 
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I agree with the pp about comparing the US with other countries.

 

I don't actually think the education system is the problem.  It's the social problems that get in the way of education.  Anybody here read "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell?  Fascinating reading.  I'm not sure I agree with his conclusion about what to do about the educational system though.  To me, the data screams for dealing with the underlying social issues, not with making kids go to school 24/7.  Until we do that, we can blame teachers till we are blue in the face, come up with endless pedagogical approaches, etc., but nothing is going to make any real and sustained difference.

 

Personally, a uniform curriculum is the last thing I want for my kids.  I'm good with the curriculum we have, and I don't want any input from, say, the creationists in my kids' classrooms.

 

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#6 of 25 Old 01-10-2011, 04:51 PM
 
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When people criticize the U.S. educational system and compare it to other countries, they never seem to mention things like how the other countries have universal healthcare, or that (in the case of South Korea) suicide is the 4th leading cause of death and is particularly high among teens, or anything like that. Just "they hold their students to higher standards and it's better."

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#7 of 25 Old 01-11-2011, 06:04 AM
 
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According to you, my kids school shouldn't exist. It's an alternative school with a lot of project based learning, a lot of freedom for the students, and about as far as possible from the "teacher standing in front of the room" model as possible. But my kids love it and are learning a great deal. Our seniors graduate ready for college level work.

Different things really do work better for different kids.

One of my dd's did fine in traditional school, but the other one didn't. She is on the autism spectrum and is also gifted. I find the idea that all children should learn the same way to be quite absurd.

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#8 of 25 Old 01-11-2011, 11:19 PM
 
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I agree with you on some points (I love a lot of aspects of the Finnish school systems!), but there were a couple things I was curious about.

First, what happens when most of the students can't, "speak English in your classroom"?  I live in Canada (and yes, our school system does perform better, but in many ways we are in the same boat), and it is common that the majority of the class are English Language Learners.  It wouldn't be so bad if they were all Japanese learning English or French learning English, but when you have 6 different African dialects, 3 from Eastern European countries, 2 students from Asian countries, and a couple Aboriginal students who only speak English at school, it can be a tough job!

 

My other question is regarding your opinion on the I.B. program used around the world.  It is inquiry-based, learner led, yet is considered academically rigorous.  How do you feel about it?

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#9 of 25 Old 01-12-2011, 09:03 AM
 
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I also have to question whether it is the schools and curriculum that are the problem, or outside issues that get in the way. My school-ager is still very young (1st grade), but so far I have been nothing but impressed with his public school experience. The school's curriculum is split pretty evenly between a traditional teacher-led model and the type of learner-centered approaches you've criticised in your post. To this mom, it appears to be working. He is far beyond where I was at his age with reading, math and science (and I was a child who had the benefit of a mom who was trained in early childhood education - I was far beyond my peers when I started public school). All that, and he enjoys school and learning.

 

That said, we moved to the school district we live in on purpose for the school district. It is one of the better school districts in our state, and we live in a highly educated area, so the vast majority of children come from families with parents who are educated and know how to set their kids up for success. I think that plays a huge role in making the educational system here work.

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#10 of 25 Old 01-16-2011, 06:56 AM
 
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I agree with the OP, although I am not completely in agreement about a universal curriculum. DH and I have been exploring middle schools with our DS, and we have decided to go with just the type of school you described. 

 

 

 

Quote:
They teach real subjects to ALL children in similar settings with teachers occupying the central stage.

 

 

It is a charter school and is one of the top middle schools in the state and is also nationally recognized. We were blown away by the level of academic achievement the students attain in this school, and it is not a school for the academic elite, there is no selection process besides the lottery to get in.

 

 

 


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#11 of 25 Old 01-16-2011, 07:46 AM
 
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I believe that the issue in the US is not an issue of schools, it is an issue of poverty. Other countries treat their poor people very differently, and childhood poverty is not nearly as debilitating as it is in the US--fewer people are poor for longer than 3 years, let alone having countless generations of poverty in their families.

 

But, we don't have the political will to do anything about income inequality, poverty or creating appropriate and positive welfare/safety net programs, so, instead, we focus on the schools, who only have children for 6 hours a day.

 

Jean Anyon has a great quote (which I am paraphrasing here) that basically says, "trying to fix the schools without fixing the communities they are in is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door."

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#12 of 25 Old 01-26-2011, 02:28 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Xeli,

 

I am sure there are multitude of different ways to deal with ESL students. My husband's young family members went to the U.S. schools without any knowledge of English. It took his brother six months to start speaking English really well, and his sister struggled with English for almost a year. After a year she was speaking, reading, and writing English at almost fluent level. And of course, there were getting "A's on math and science subjects from their first days in school. I believe that young children can learn multiple languages very fast, which is why I am not speaking English to my young daughter right now. She will catch up on it when she goes to a pre-school. What I know about an I.B. is that they have knowledge rich and well-structured curriculum that does not change every year, and that teachers lead and engage students into the learning process. How exactly they do that, I do not know.

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#13 of 25 Old 01-26-2011, 02:43 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Linda,

 

By the "teacher-led classroom" I meant that a teacher must guide and lead students in their learning process. In my school, teachers were "standing in front of a room" but they found multiple ways to engage and motivate us. They routinely called on us to answer to the questions that we were supposed to prepare at home; we did presentations in front of entire class, we did plays. we recited poetry; we read aloud. These learning activities were thoughtfully designed but did not replace lectures. There has to be a balance of educational methods. Also, students with disabilities obviously studied in a different setting. Again, I do believe that we need to give our children knowledge rich curriculum. At the very least, students should read real literature and not some substandard, meaninless texts.

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#14 of 25 Old 01-29-2011, 04:57 AM
 
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I see this thread is a few days old but I hope there's no problem if I throw in my 2 cents too. ;)

I don't have a school-aged kid yet (DD will be starting preschool soon).  However, I'm currently living in my third country and have worked with kids.  I also tutored for many years in Germany at the college so I have a pretty good idea what kids are like coming fresh out of high school there.  I do have to admit that, yes, the first year students DO have a much better understanding of mathematics and pretty much all have had some sort of calculus within high school, which is obviously not common in the US.  HOWEVER, there system is very different.  Americans are enamored with the idea that students of all levels can got to college and that's the purpose of high school.  Germany, however, has three different high school, which a student is tracked into before middle school and only ONE of those gives you a degree that lets you go to college (there are some alternative routes but it's my understanding that they are not used often). It ends up being around 50% of kids that attend the school that allows you to go to college, so you're already cutting out a huge chunk of the population that makes it easier for teacher to teach to the upper half of students.  

Now that choice of whether or not you get to go to that school is a pretty hot debate.  I know of a two kids who weren't allowed in both I know were more than capable to attend college in the US (one ended up taking an alternative route to be able to study) and both happened to foreigners (and specifically, one was non-white).  I've also have two friends who are teachers and both have mentioned that it's hard dealing with foreign parents because they don't also speak the language, don't always understand what it means to send their kids to which school and wouldn't advocate for their kids if the teacher made a bad placement.  It's much more than being a non-native Germany speaker, you see (and I do agree with you in that children can pick up languages fast, we're basically doing the same thing as you are with DD in that we speak English at home with her).  Obviously, if the parents are foreigners but speak German well and have many German friends they probably would have much more knowledge about the system and would be more able to advocate for their kids but that is not always the case.  Add into that I know of at least one person who was discrimanted against (pretty badly, actually) for being a non-native speaker by a teacher.  

What I saw at the university level is that the kids who are starting are almost all German (with a few exception) and there are very, very few Turkish students (one of the largest immigrant populations there).  The students also come from more afluent families (I actually didn't know a single one who I would've guessed was poor).  So I'd say the system is faaaaarrr from perfect.  

We're now living in Brazil (DH's motherland) and they definitely go by the cookie cutter curriculum to all students (very teacher led).  Basically, because of that we'd never, ever consider sending DD to a public school.  DH is a smart guy and basically skipped all of high school and still passed.  He then went on to college and did amazingly well, so there really was no point for his education here since everything her learned for college was from books that he picked up on his own from the library, basically 100% student led.  The cookie cutter curriculum here has led to low standards for teachers and boredom in a lot of students.  

Basically, you end up with a choice between teaching EVERYONE and lowering the standards or you track the students (leaving many good students behind) and teach to the upper part of the classroom (Germany, for instance, teaches to about the top 25%).  

Personally, we've decided on very child-led learning for DD.  She's insanely curious and I want to cultivate that passion in her, not replace it by what the teacher feels she needs to learn.  We'll be sending her to a Montessori school in the hopes that that will be the best environment for her.  I can't say yet how it will work since she's not there yet but I've been reading about it extensively and have really fallen in love.  I think the results speak for themselves too (http://www.arbormontessori.org/montessori_graduates.shtml).  

FWIW, I grew in the US system in a "top school" I was able to take 9 AP classes there and almost entirely honors classes and I was still bored out of my mind.  Others had to struggle in them (and some were also bored like me) but a teacher led classroom is not just about creating interest but you have a whole bunch of different levels of understanding in every classroom that just can't realistically be dealt with by one teacher.  Tracking helps with that but even that has it's limits.  Don't get me wrong I did have some great teachers and some classes were definitely better than others but it's unrealistic that you can turn every teacher into a good teacher.  Instead, if you let the child become the teacher you open up a lot of new possibilities. 

 

I also wanted to add, I'm not a big fan of group work that's forced by teachers so I guess I agree with you on that one, though. ;)

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 Also, students with disabilities obviously studied in a different setting.



so all children with differences would be taken out of your perfect schools? All the kids with LDs, attention issues, sensory issues? 

 

You really aren't going to have many kids left.


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#16 of 25 Old 01-29-2011, 09:56 AM
 
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Thanks for the post, physmom. It was very interesting!

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Linda,

 

By the "teacher-led classroom" I meant that a teacher must guide and lead students in their learning process. In my school, teachers were "standing in front of a room" but they found multiple ways to engage and motivate us. They routinely called on us to answer to the questions that we were supposed to prepare at home; we did presentations in front of entire class, we did plays. we recited poetry; we read aloud. These learning activities were thoughtfully designed but did not replace lectures. There has to be a balance of educational methods. Also, students with disabilities obviously studied in a different setting. Again, I do believe that we need to give our children knowledge rich curriculum. At the very least, students should read real literature and not some substandard, meaninless texts.

 

 

As a teacher, and a parent of a child with special needs, I would hate to have my child in a special school setting. There is no need for it.  And I don't think that children learn best by being lectured.



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#18 of 25 Old 01-29-2011, 03:56 PM
 
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Thanks. :D

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Thanks for the post, physmom. It was very interesting!



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#20 of 25 Old 01-31-2011, 10:26 AM
 
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I think motivation of students is the key to their success. But it has to be the right motivation. Wording is everything. I am currently reading the book "Bounce. How Champions Are Made" by Matthew Syed. He talks about two mindsets: fixed (those that subscribe to the talent or intelligence based theory) and growth (those that have an effort based mindset) and two pathways, the path of mediocrity and the path of excellence. The path of mediocrity is the path of least resistance. It is flat ,straight, you can cruise along on autopilot with a nice smooth and steady progress. It doesn't matter which mindset you have, fixed or growth because the end result is the same: mediocrity. Neither group will forge ahead, nor will they lag behind, both will arrive at their destination: mediocrity with time to spare. The path to excellence could not be more different. It is the path of purposeful practice without which excellence could never to achieved.

 

Syed quotes the work of psychologist Carol Dweck on how praise: intelligence based or effort based can effect test performance outcomes of children. I won't go into the details, but those children that were praised for effort succeeded to a far greater degree than those praised for intelligence. How does this all relate to schools? Over the years schools in the US, and likely elsewhere in Europe have lowered standards in an effort to bolster students' self-esteem and presumably improve attainment. Given Carol Dweck's research it is clear this won't and doesn't work. Lower standards leads to poorly educated students who feel entitled to easy work and lavish praise. It is the path to mediocrity which is where our schools seem to leading children down.

 

If a child is encouraged to work hard and put in effort (this is where Tiger Moms may be onto something), they are going to achieve regardless of socio-economic status, in sports look at the Williams sisters for example. If a school fosters a culture of excellence through work and effort, students will succeed. Teacher-led education, with the right motivation can achieve this, as can a system that is more child-led. Success is a mindset.


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#21 of 25 Old 01-31-2011, 01:02 PM
 
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If a child is encouraged to work hard and put in effort (this is where Tiger Moms may be onto something), they are going to achieve regardless of socio-economic status, in sports look at the Williams sisters for example. If a school fosters a culture of excellence through work and effort, students will succeed. Teacher-led education, with the right motivation can achieve this, as can a system that is more child-led. Success is a mindset.


They may achieve regardless of socio-economic status, but the idea that a child can learn anything with enough effort and a culture of excellence still won't work out with every child succeeding. There still need to be acknowledgement of individual strengths and weaknesses. If most or all children in a class are achieving excellence, than the content is too easy. There is going to be a large portion of the class that isn't even trying or learning anything. It's one of my issues with the grading system in the US and Canada, people are so obsessed with A's, even a B is considered by many as not being good enough. Yet the system is based on the bell curve. For all intents and purposes of the letter grading system most students should be getting C's, which is average, where as only those who have already learned the subject or excel at the subject should be getting A's and B's.

 

The problem with the system isn't that there is no expectation of excellence, it's that the level of understanding required to achieve excellence ( an A in the majority of US and Canadian schools) keeps dropping so that parents won't complain when their child gets a B or C instead of the A the parent thinks their child deserves. Which means that when held up against other countries where the A margin is hardly ever achieved, they come out below. 

 

I am half in agreement with the OP, I don't agree with teacher led learning really. I do believe that most people excel at topics that they are interested in and choose. I do agree that in the US and, to a lesser extent, Canada the bar for excellence has dropped so low that A in these country is the equivalent of C in other countries. So obsessed with this ideal of "excellence" we are, that the definition of excellence has become "average".


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#22 of 25 Old 01-31-2011, 05:07 PM
 
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I agree with musiciandad that we really don't encourage excellence.  Teachers don't seem to give feedback the way they once did.

 

I also believe that curriculum is important. One advantage to having a national curriculum is that we would save a lot of money by not having numerous small districts figuring out curriculums. 

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#23 of 25 Old 02-02-2011, 06:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
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 Also, students with disabilities obviously studied in a different setting.



so all children with differences would be taken out of your perfect schools? All the kids with LDs, attention issues, sensory issues? 

 

You really aren't going to have many kids left.



Please rest assured that I am not planning on building my "perfect school" in your neighbourhood anytime soon. Pardon my ignorance but I do not know what theses issues are. I have never heard of them before. By the phrase - the "kid with disabilities" I meant the kids who have severe mental problems that prevent them from functioning without assistance. I remember one specific child  in MY middle school who was severely mentally retarded (Is this word can still be used in the U.S? I hope I did not offend anyone). He was in the special education class, and I would highly doubt that he would've benefited or enjoyed taking my algebra class. We did have special education classes in my school. Note: we all studied in the SAME school not the different ones as you are implying.  I also thought there are all sorts of special education programs for severely disabled children in the U.S. schools. I guess I was wrong then?

 

And anyway, the reality is that the secondary education in the U.S. is going to continue to deteriorate. But I think this country will find a way to survive; hey, we are doing it now and are much better off than other nations!  In the worse case scenario there are always us, foreigners coming to this country and working in the brain-intensive fileds.

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I see this thread is a few days old but I hope there's no problem if I throw in my 2 cents too. ;)

I don't have a school-aged kid yet (DD will be starting preschool soon).  However, I'm currently living in my third country and have worked with kids.  I also tutored for many years in Germany at the college so I have a pretty good idea what kids are like coming fresh out of high school there.  I do have to admit that, yes, the first year students DO have a much better understanding of mathematics and pretty much all have had some sort of calculus within high school, which is obviously not common in the US.  HOWEVER, there system is very different.  Americans are enamored with the idea that students of all levels can got to college and that's the purpose of high school.  Germany, however, has three different high school, which a student is tracked into before middle school and only ONE of those gives you a degree that lets you go to college (there are some alternative routes but it's my understanding that they are not used often). It ends up being around 50% of kids that attend the school that allows you to go to college, so you're already cutting out a huge chunk of the population that makes it easier for teacher to teach to the upper half of students.  
 


Thank you for the great post! I did live in a  country (not for long, though) that used the tracking system you are describing, and I believe that there are some benefits to this system. Personally, I do not believe that every kid MUST go to a college; many can do well by getting some sort of vocational training instead. There is really no perfect system out there; each one has its own pros and cons. However I see nothing wrong in learning about the educational succesess of other countries and investigating the possibility of implementing some of their techniques here.  

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If a child is encouraged to work hard and put in effort (this is where Tiger Moms may be onto something), they are going to achieve regardless of socio-economic status, in sports look at the Williams sisters for example. If a school fosters a culture of excellence through work and effort, students will succeed. Teacher-led education, with the right motivation can achieve this, as can a system that is more child-led. Success is a mindset.


They may achieve regardless of socio-economic status, but the idea that a child can learn anything with enough effort and a culture of excellence still won't work out with every child succeeding. There still need to be acknowledgement of individual strengths and weaknesses. If most or all children in a class are achieving excellence, than the content is too easy. There is going to be a large portion of the class that isn't even trying or learning anything. It's one of my issues with the grading system in the US and Canada, people are so obsessed with A's, even a B is considered by many as not being good enough. Yet the system is based on the bell curve. For all intents and purposes of the letter grading system most students should be getting C's, which is average, where as only those who have already learned the subject or excel at the subject should be getting A's and B's.

 

The problem with the system isn't that there is no expectation of excellence, it's that the level of understanding required to achieve excellence ( an A in the majority of US and Canadian schools) keeps dropping so that parents won't complain when their child gets a B or C instead of the A the parent thinks their child deserves. Which means that when held up against other countries where the A margin is hardly ever achieved, they come out below. 

 

I am half in agreement with the OP, I don't agree with teacher led learning really. I do believe that most people excel at topics that they are interested in and choose. I do agree that in the US and, to a lesser extent, Canada the bar for excellence has dropped so low that A in these country is the equivalent of C in other countries. So obsessed with this ideal of "excellence" we are, that the definition of excellence has become "average".



Unfortunately, grade inflation is commonplace now not only in the secondary schools but also in colleges. That is very sad and might create big problems for the country down the road. I do agree with you that the people excel at the topics they are mostly interested in. But that usually happens when the students are older. When they are still in the primary and middle schools, they should be given content-rich and well-rounded curriculum that includes arts, physical education, English, math, history, geography, botany, astronomy. We need to expose our students to the broad base of knowledge, so they will have enough substance to pick from when they are older.  

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