Friday, January 15, 2016

Dinosaurs That Can Actually Read, Write and Add

If you are over the age of 35, your educational experiences were probably the same as mine: days spent on rows of uncomfortable wooden or plastic chairs behind fake wood-topped desks, endless recitation and memorization of facts and figures, lugging around hard-covered textbooks with page after page of black print and few if any pictures along with softcover workbooks filled with problems that were all to be solved longhand, while teachers stood at the front of the classroom and wrote everything out with white chalk on a black chalkboard, while calling on random students to prove they were learning the material in front of everyone else.  It was boring, somewhat intimidating and certainly effective.  You have become a productive member of society that can write, read and do math in your heads.

In the 18-years that I have now been covering public education and school boards, I've been told repeatedly that the way we learned back then was terribly ineffective.  Gone are the classrooms with 25 or 30 kids in them--replaced by SAGE class limits of fewer than 20.  Gone are the desks and chairs--replaced by balance balls to help kids "build their core strength" set out in a circle so that students can "work collaboratively" to solve problems.  Gone is the memorization of facts--replaced by concepts that help kids "learn how to learn".  Gone are the big, heavy textbooks, the chalkboards and the lectures--replaced by multi-media presentations sent right to every student's personal, school-supplied notebook computer.  And forget about waiting until you are six-years old to start going to "school"--that now begins at 3 or 4.

A review of recent "education" stories we've had here at the Radio Ranch finds elementary school students who designed their own smartphone app, high schoolers that took part in a rally to end human trafficking, kids helping senior citizens to use computers and smartphones and middle schoolers harvesting the fruits and vegetables they grew in gardens located on their own campuses.  The Superintendent's Report at every School Board meeting is filled with more examples of kids learning about renewable energy, preparing food pantry bags and helping to pick up trash in a park.  All of which may lead you to say "Wow, we never did stuff like that when I was in school."

And then comes the reports this week that make you realize why we never did stuff like that when we were in school.  I'm talking about the reports that show just 51-percent of elementary school kids are rated as "proficient" or "advanced" in reading--and less than half meet the same standards in math.  Fewer than half of our high school kids are "proficient" or "advanced" in reading and less than 40% reach the same levels in math. 

I want you to think back to your days in the classroom again.  Were half the kids in your school unable to comprehend what they read in their textbooks?  Were almost 2/3rds of them unable to do math?  When you headed off to college, did you have to enter a specialized Freshman curriculum that was basically remedial math and language skills because your primary education had you totally unprepared for higher learning?  And now that you are the bosses or business owners, are those the kind of graduates that you want to employ?

I can guarantee that we are going to get the same excuses we do every year for these results: "you can't really measure what a child knows through standardized testing", the standards were raised after curriculum was adopted and we are still adjusting", and my favorite "kids face far more challenges in their lives today than they did just a few years ago".  Perhaps us older folks should stop telling the younger generations how "special" they are--and start bragging up ourselves for being more successful despite being burdened by "outdated educations".

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