I received this stats graphic recently and found it very interesting. If there’s one thing that I learned from grad school, it was to ask questions, and stats like these bring all kinds of questions to my mind. Questions about the sample, about correlation vs causation, about significance and the almighty “if so, then what” question. But I want to hear from you. What did you find here that made you go hmmmm? What do you think about the state of education in the US (or in other countries for that matter)? Is the system broken and if so, how do we start to fix it? Did you make doodles like these in high school? (OK, maybe that last question is less important.) Check these out and then chime in in the comments section (then come back Friday to see where we go from here):
I can’t vouch for the validity of these statistics, but I can share an observation. I taught high school for a while until I became a full time parent. In my school district, we bent over backwards to keep kids from dropping out: special interest classes, flexible schedule, alternative schools, extra help, you name it. The real problem was that these kids saw no value in finishing high school. At that point in their lives, they were content to end their education, live with their parents indefinitely, hang out at home, maybe work a few hours at a dead end job.
I often thought that if we just allowed them to quit school we could better use our resources on the kids who did see the value in a high school diploma. Those drop outs should always have the option to complete their schooling when they are ready — when they realize the importance of the education they didn’t complete.
Instead of begging would-be dropouts to stay, we should have them yearning to get back in.
First off, college is ridiculously expensive. With a college degree now being roughly the equivalent of a high school diploma, college needs to be more affordable. Kids who can’t pay for college will not get the higher paying jobs. Sounds like a cycle to me.
Early childhood education teachers are paid much less than elementary school teachers (After 27 years in the field as an infant/toddler teacher, I make the starting salary of a public school teacher! So if you think their salaries are low….) Brain research says that in the first 2 years of child’s life, the brain pathways for learning are basically laid down. We need to pay attention to those years of a child’s life and pay ECE teachers a living wage.
I agree with Bonnie completely. Early Childhood is so important. I think the most important part though is not necessarily more programming there as it needs to be education for parents, empowering them to know that THEY can teach their child as well. I think quality care is also important and you don’t get that as well when you’re paying your lead teacher, who’s supposed to be responsible for the lives of 8-17 small children, just above minimum wage. Makes no sense.
When it comes to k-12 education, the system is broke – badly. Our local district just announced it’s “educational” plan to move toward academic success. One of the bullet points was to implement a curriculum that allowed for lessons to be relevant to the children’s lives. WOW there’s a revelation for you. This is how the majority of teachers are trained, yet once they get to a classroom, they aren’t allowed to do it because everyone is so worried about passing standardized tests. On top of that no one seems to want to offend a parent by failing a child and holding them back for another year. Most will only do it for one year and that’s only if the parent agrees to it. One major fix would be to allow teachers to teach the way children learn… no just using seat work and lectures. Get hands on, get messy, let the kids experience what they are learning. It will stick so much longer than memorizing facts and figures.
Since running on less than one cup of coffee this morning I cannot even begin to give suggestions on how to fix this. However, although I knew the state of our public education system was in bad shape, I thought this was an awesome, eye-opening presentation. I like the doodles particularly. Watching my step-daughters grow up through the public school system, I’ve been appalled at how “cookie cutter” their education has been and how their worth and intelligence is determined by their performance on a standardized test. In 3rd grade, my youngest step told me she thought her class was still going to win the Coke party for top performance on the TAKS test “even though Billy Blank is in our class and he’s remedial.” (Yes, I made up that name but the rest is totally true.) I wouldn’t be surprised if Billy is a drop-out later in his life since he was essentially labeled “stupid” in 3rd grade…and all his classmates knew it. We have models out there of what education could be (Waldorf, Montessori, etc) and these models adapt to children’s learning style and celebrate them for who they are. There has to be a way to implement them in our public schools. And, yes, pay our teachers more. I am a lawyer who retired to raise her family (Baby Boy, 3, and Baby Girl, 2) and now teach preschool part-time at a whopping $8/hr. Have to say though…my job(s) may not pay a lawyer’s salary but I am one happy mama 🙂
I think parents should be way more involved in their child’s education. Too many parents just drop off their kids at school and expect the teacher to teach EVERYTHING to the child. I say this because my aunt was a teacher and it blew her mind how little the kids knew by the time they come to school when they are 5 years old. Parents just are not “teaching” their children the way they should be. Schools can not do it all. Homeschool seems to be the answer for me. 🙂
As a Pre-K teacher in a small rural-area school, I am frustrated at the red-tape and bureaucracy (actually not just in education but in every part of our lives it seems). Education funding is at a crisis point. We are a small enough school that we only have one teacher for every grade level — this change was made about 8 years ago when school funding was dropping along with the population in our community. However, we are now experiencing a re-growth in population (which should be great for our local economy) but there is no $$ to hire more teachers, a fear of hiring someone who may end up losing their job after only a year because of funding or another rural exodus. I have been very fortunate with my job. Our community banded together over 30 years ago to create a community preschool program (headed up by parents with special needs children who wanted their kids to have an opportunity to socialize with the other children in our community). That program was funded by parent-paid tuition and donations — but when the rural exodus hit our farming community and our class sizes dropped from 30+ children to 17 or fewer per grade level (in one year might I add) our school district, believing in the importance of early education, absorbed our preschool program and took it over — state funded or not! Our parents now pay $20 for the entire school year (that is a snack and supply fee).
Don’t even get me started on testing….but I guess we’re already started on that subject — ha! Teachers KNOW that there are better ways to teach, but everything is so tied up in these tests that aren’t even created by people who understand education.
Our district also has a Parents as Teachers program for birth to age 3. It’s a great program, but like everything else, relies on funding to stay afloat. Along those lines…parents have changed. They no longer support schools or teachers. We have several families who have pulled their children out of school (either to homeschool or drive them to another school 30+ miles away) when their kids are disciplined or when we actually expect them to do their work. Not surprisingly, they usually end up right back here after having the same experiences at the other schools or deciding that homeschooling or having to drive their kids to school everyday is too much work for them. I should add that these same families are the ones who shopped around at all the daycares in town before their kids were school-age for the same reasons — and then complained when they ended up without daycare at all because they had been at all of them and — unlike the public school system — those daycares could turn them away.
A large part of our issues in education are issues with our society. The data showing that teachers come from the bottom of the class is largely due to the ability for teaching families to support their own families on a teacher’s salary. Our society places priority on sports figures, movie stars and musicians — many of whom are not what I would consider a good role-model and who are not really talented in their craft — I think singers are now chosen for how they look and they rely on the studio to enhance their vocals!!; there is more “reality” TV than educational programming and those so-called reality shows are leading our children into believing that is what the real world is really like — people don’t seem to have to work they can just get famous for fighting and getting drunk on national TV. Our society places to high of value on illusion vs. hard work and education is the first area to see the effects. I hate to think what fine citizens we will have running the country when these kids take over….
WOW — I wasn’t sure I had anything to say on the subject…..lol!!!
I taught college English for 8 years (composition and British Literature) — and saw some of the best and brightest students who still struggled. I had fellow professors complain that students coming out of my class couldn’t use commas correctly, but the reality was that I had students coming into my class (I would even go so far as to say the majority of them) who couldn’t read critically and carefully (many would stop 1-2 pages into a scholarly article and just give up), who couldn’t analyze an argument, and who lacked basic research and writing skills — if comma usage had been all they had to master, it would have been a breeze! I loved teaching — it was far and away my favorite part of being an English professor, but it was frustrating as well, since there was so much to work on and so little time. Students also tended to be apathetic if the material wasn’t inherently interesting and relevant, and I did my best to create content that was both substantive and engaging, but that isn’t always easy (and it was my job to teach, not to entertain).
The problems with education are far reaching — I saw Waiting for Superman and have serious concerns about it — the solution there is union busting and firing bad teachers. Our governor here in WI has used it to defend his excessive cuts to education (and subsidies to big business). There are indeed bad teachers and bad union contracts, and the like, but I think that the previous comments get at the heart of the matter much more effectively. I find the statistics like the ones in this post overwhelming and depressing — what CAN we do? The reality is that I can only control my own life and work with my own kids and just do my best. I also agree that early childhood education is the place to start — and there should be some accountability to make sure that core skills are mastered before kids can move on — it is amazing that kids can get to college without the ability to read carefully and critically – much less use grammar correctly.
In my world, I would pay teachers a good salary, have very high hiring standards, a method for evaluation of teachers, students, and schools beyond standardized tests, small classes, involved and engaged parents, and a society that genuinely values education.
I hit publish a little too soon (and had the wrong web site link in my name)
I just wanted to thank you for inviting commentary on such an important issue. Despite all of the problems with education (which few deny), the topic has become almost taboo in some ways here in WI. Our governor’s recent actions have opened the door to countless letters in the paper (and elsewhere) railing against “lazy and ineffective teachers who need to suck it up and work hard like the rest of us.” There is such need for meaningful, genuine conversation, and even something as universal as educating our children has become politicized, polarized, and difficult.
Normally a lurker, but I do have to comment. My husband is an assistant principal and working on his dissertation in school leadership, and I worked with Teach for America in the school he currently helps run for 5 years, so we definitely have an inside track on the problems these schools face. Boy is the answer to this complex!
First of all, I do want to point out that in some of these countries it may be the case that not all students are required to attend school. I know I read a few years back (hence my inability to say exactly which countries do this), that in some places only the top students are actually permitted to attend school past a certain point (or at all), and so the results are inflated and not an actual reflection of the entire population, especially special needs students. I don’t know if that’s the case for the countries they mention. Stats can be tricky, although I’m not saying these aren’t accurate!
Poverty is difficult to understand, but even more tricky to counteract, which is much of what’s at play in these schools. It’s ALL the problem. I remember one time sitting at lunch with my kids and EVERY kid at the table was sharing an instance of severe domestic abuse. Algebra and nouns are just not a priority. Not to mention the other chaos and low expectations that surround them. Add to that the fact that many of them have parents who work second and third shift, and many of them are the “parents” in their homes! Teachers and administrators often function as counselors and social workers, which they are often unequipped to do, and I know I often felt very overwhelmed.
Not enough resources (I didn’t have any textbooks or resources my first TWO years of teaching), large classes, emphasis on testing (I think 10 – 15 days of the school year are devoted to actual tests and benchmarks… not including test prep).
Then, add to that teacher pay and inequity in teacher pay. For instance, I live in a rural county outside the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area. Teachers who work in my county make around $6000 less per year than teachers just down the road. Administrators make $12,000 – $50,000 less for similar positions than those just down the road. So, guess what most do when they get training and experience… move on! We’re left with the “bottom of the bottom” and high teacher turnover.
Okay…. I’ll stop. I could obviously write 20 pages on this topic. It’s such an incredibly tough issue!
D Christensen says
Amen to that! This issue is so very complex–much more complex than that average person thinks. I wanted to second your thoughts about the statistics. A lot of them are skewed–“Waiting for Superman” had me fuming because I saw how they played the statistics in favor of their agenda. It was very irresponsible.
US students who are not living in poverty perform at the highest levels in the world on international tests. The problem is poverty, all other factors controlled. Our average child poverty rate in the US is 20% (90% and higher in many inner-city and rural schools). The average poverty rate in other industrialized nations is 2%. We’re always saying we want to be more like Finland because they tend to rank at the top. It’s comparing apples to oranges when Finland’s poverty rate is so low and their population so homogeneous (very few second-language learners), but I think we could learn some things from them: paying teachers very well, encouraging the best and brightest students to become teachers, avoiding high-stakes tests, insisting on smaller class sizes, and educating teachers to make the curriculum relevant, engaging, and tailored to students’ needs.
Why does poverty have such an impact? David Berliner provides a primer (http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/PB-Berliner-NON-SCHOOL.pdf) but there are many people out there writing about this. Ironically, those who claim to be making things work for poor kids (such as Harlem Success Academy, highlighted in “Waiting for Superman”) are actually pouring much more money into each student’s education than local districts in order to provide health care, dental services, child care, etc. They are doing this through grants and donations from wealthy philanthropists. Let’s acknowledge that poverty matters–anyone who has taught school for more than a day knows this.
With the current legislative stonewalling over the budget, I have little hope that as a nation we will address child poverty anytime soon. The children and society will pay the price for being pound foolish…and teachers will continue to get the blame.
While I appreciate the attempt, I really wish there were more initiative than simply to suggest a thought from these statistics. Then again, perhaps that is precisely why we find ourselves in such a devastated system, by which many of us have been educated, and essentially why these alarming, appalling, and frankly, disgusting facts and figures may only “make us go hmmmm”.
I believe that until each of us demands critical thought and empirical reACTION to our educational condition, we should not expect anything to change for the better, nor have a word to say in critique. I, for one, will continue to do my part to make sure that my voice is heard, and to challenge people to instigate more than mundane “what a shame” conversation.
I totally agree… which is why both my husband and myself have committed ourselves to education reform in high poverty areas, although I’m currently staying at home with my kids. We always joke that we donate $100,000 a year to charity (from our low salaries):). More people need to be IN the schools working for change, not just tisking from the sidelines.
And I agree about experience and education. My husband is one of the few administrators with doctorate level education (just dissertation to go… yeah!), and also has 10 years experience as a special needs teacher. He’s the only administrator in the area with EC experience, which also says something about why those kids perform poorly. But, I would like to point out that even weak administrators and teachers often work EXTREMELY hard. School administration is an incredibly demanding job (there has to be someone there ANY time something is going on at the school), and administrators and teachers need an enormous amount of support from the community.
It takes real leadership and vision to teach and run a school effectively, and often those with those skills won’t teach because the pay is just so low.
Oh, and thanks D Christensen for the info on Finland. I think situations like that are more prevalent than we often realize. Stats don’t always give a complete picture!
A huge problem not being addressed in education today is administration. As a country we are quick to call out “leaders”; however, in education everything seems to be blamed on teachers. Administrators with little to no classroom experience are making significant decisions in schools across the country. Administrators like these are being hired because they are significantly cheaper than a teacher who has been in the classroom 10 to 15 years and then wants to move to an administrative job bringing along much relevant experience. With all districts facing budget problems, many districts are now being run by people who don’t know what they are doing. No one blames these people and if they do a poor job they strangely move UP to higher-level positions. By what qualifications and standards are we holding our administrators? Also, what standards are board of education members being held? Furthermore, why are so many small districts not combining with other small districts and elimination top-heavy administrative costs? It seems it is the financially respinsible thing to do. More money should be spent DIRECTLY on students rather than on people who rarely know any child in the district’s name. Cleaning up education NEEDS to begin at the top. Administrators should need to be in the top 5% of their graduating classes. We need intellugent leaders to lead teachers and students intelligently.
Its staggering when you see the information when it is presented in such a vivid way.
I would like to point out how ridiculous I find it that I have a college degree, work as a paraprofessional in a school (which requires graduating from high school and preference is given to people with college degrees) and make 1/2 the median income of a high school drop-out. Also, my husband has a college degree and is a teacher in his 4th year of teaching and he makes several thousand less than the median high school graduate. We were both in the top 1/3 of our graduating classes.