The U.S. Education System
The changes that need to be made and why
Education Reform FAQ's
As U.S. students are falling behind other students internationally, Americans have been discussing the need of the education reform. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions that will help you get educated about education reform.
- What is “education reform”?
It is an attempt to change the educational system.
- What is causing students in the United States to fall behind?
Many different factors have contributed to the current situation. Our culture’s treatment of teachers, increased time expectations for students, overuse and misuse of standardized tests, and insufficient curricula have all been suggested as reasons. There is no one answer, but there are definitely issues with the current system.
- What are common examples of education reform?
Examples from the U.S. include Race to The Top, No Child Left Behind, and Common Core. They are all government programs that have come under fire for various reasons. More recently, educators have pushed for Project-Based Learning.
· How do we bring about these changes as individuals?
Vote for lawmakers who share your common interests. Get involved with your local school districts. Do whatever you can to make sure that your voice is heard. While this may not directly affect you as an individual, it is essential for the future success of this country.
Finding the Best Way to Evaluate a Teacher
As I touched on in my speech, a method for determining a teacher’s performance is in need, and of great debate right now. Basically, there are three factors that go into the decision, but the debate arises over how much each should be weighted. The three inputs, as of now, are standardized test scores, observations from principals or assistant principals, and student surveys and self-assessments. Each has its issues on their own. Focusing too much on test scores may lead to teaching-to-the-test and limiting teacher’s creativity and leeway in creating a course plan. Student surveys and self-assessments have potentially large and obvious biases, but could be important in showing how well a teacher connects with their students. Observations from bosses are great if a teacher’s boss’ presence does not alter how he teaches the class, but that could happen. Also, very few observations could be done throughout a school on a yearly basis. Clearly, a combination of these would be best to enhance the strengths of each without having the weaknesses unfairly portray a teacher. In fact, Hayley Munguia of FiveThirtyEight covered a study called Measures of Effective Teaching that researched four models with different balances that gave interesting results.
[Reference the first picture, for a graphical view]
From the results, the first model that heavily weights state testing, had the highest correlation to state test improvements, but that should be expected because of the teaching-to-the-test dilemma. Higher test scores is a positive improvement, but there are debates on whether teaching-to-the-test limits learning to what is only covered on a generalized test. It must be decided whether there is a difference in college-readiness, the de facto goal of an improved education system, and high test scores. The second model has majority weight on state tests as well, although slightly lower than model 1, and it produced the highest correlation with higher-order, college-readiness tests. However, both these models also share a relatively low reliability in the data compared to models 3 and 4; although, model 2 did beat out model 1 pretty significantly in that area. Lastly, model 3 is equally balanced, and model 4 has a majority weight to observations. They both produced similar reliability, higher-order tests, and state tests correlations with model 3 edging model 4 in all of them. Each model produces improvements in different areas, so it is up to the government and school system to decided which product they most desire. If they want higher-order tests, model 2 seems to be the choice, for instance. To figure out what they really want from the public education system, it would be best to define college-readiness and what measurables correlate most with it. Personally, I think higher-order tests like the SAT and ACT are the best measures of college-readiness, but that could result in teaching to these higher-order tests. This is a complex issue with each side having its pros and cons. However, this increased debate in the media and in academia could find the best answers with this concerted effort. Also, researchers have access to more data than ever, and all that data could unearth the right balance qualitatively. Once found, identifying the best teachers would be beneficial because they could be rewarded, thus raising the incentive to become a teacher or improve as a teacher, and education schools could learn from their teaching methods and styles.
Low Income Students & Better Teachers
The importance of the teacher and the need for reform is especially prevalent in low-income environments. Despite efforts of the government lower income schools have less funding. According to an article written by Cindy Long entitled “How Do We Increase Teacher Quality in Low-Income Schools?” on May 24th, 2011 there is a huge lack of funding in lower income schools. You would think lower income schools would get less funding, but the opposite is true. These schools have tons of other issues, which keep them from attaining appropriate funding. This lack of funding puts lower-income schools in an unfair situation. The schools use the “comparability” loophole, meaning they simply compare the amount of students enrolled rather than the dollar amounts of salaries. As long as each school has equivalent student to teacher ratios Title I money is distributed. This results in less pay for the teachers in the high stress environment of low-income schools. As a result of less funding teachers at lower income schools are paid less than their counterparts at more influential schools. This fact incentives teachers to want to work in more affluent communities, and better quality teachers get the jobs at the schools with more funding. Title I was made to make sure all teachers are given fair pay, even those at lower income schools. Under Title I schools are able to manipulate a certain loophole, which keeps them from having to pay all the teachers in their district equally. Schools with lower income students have more teachers who are inexperienced, because teachers quickly burn out in these types of environments. The veteran teachers at more affluent schools get twice the pay as newer teachers. This results in lower quality teachers. These teachers are burnt out and upset due to their low pay. This is reflected in the way they teach. According to an article in the Washington Post published on April 9th, 2010 written by Joel Klein, Michael Lomax, and Janet Murguia there is a huge difference in the scores of students in low-income schools. Data taken when students are between the fourth and eighth grade show minority Detroit students scoring on average 20 to 30 points behind their peers in Austin or Miami-Dade. The difference between the different districts is the quality and attitude of the teachers. Students struggle through no fault of their own.
So, how do we fix this issue? There are six ways
1. Attract teachers who performed well in college. In countries with strong education systems their teachers come from the top third of their class, ours come from the bottom third. This is not giving students the quality education they need to beat poverty.
2. Reward excellence in teaching rather than seniority. It is common sense that a good teacher should be rewarded more than a bad teacher. Still, many bad teachers are paid more than good teachers simply because they have been teaching longer.
3. Attract our teachers to the cause of teaching students with higher need. Teachers can be required to take a class in “teaching economics”, explaining how teaching the needy benefits our country as a whole.
4. We need to improve new teacher retention through older teachers mentoring the new teachers. This will help them get confortable in high stress schools.
5. Equalizing salaries across teachers in a district. If anything, teachers who deal with high stress environments should be paid more than those who do not have to endure this. This will keep teachers from being incentivized to move to better schools.
6. Teachers need to be required to go through a more rigorous education in order to be up to par with the needs of students.
A quote which embodies the stance we need to have on education as a nation: “Apologists for our educational failure say that we will never fix education in America until we eradicate poverty. They have it exactly backward: We will never eradicate poverty until we fix education.”
Standardized testing is easily one of the most talked about topics in regards to education reform. Some believe that the only way for students to truly focus on learning is to completely do away with testing. Others see it as the best way to gather data about how students are processing information. In reality, there is certainly a need to better measure student performance. The effectiveness of the tests themselves has been brought into question. In November 2012, Monty Neill, director of the non-profit National Center for Fair & Open Testing, explained how Performance Based Assessment Tasks could replace standardized tests [Strauss]. The tasks would be based on an entirely project-based curriculum. He explains, “These include an analytic essay, a social studies research paper, a science experiment, and an applied mathematics problem. They incorporate both written and oral components.”
This type of assessment would simultaneously measure performance and better prepare students who would like to continue their education beyond high school. For example, for the English Language Arts Assessment, 8th grade students at Bate Middle School in Danville, Kentucky are given a major prompt at the beginning of the semester over a major social issue, and are supposed to create a 10 minute presentation in response to the prompt [Schneider]. Then in turn they must defend their presentation in 5 minutes of discussion, 5 minute of content questions, and 5 minutes of evaluation in front of a panel of judges. This is more than what most middle school students are accustomed to doing in most school. A multiple-choice exam asking about subject matter will test knowledge, but the tasks will certainly test mastery of the content. The success of the programs have yet to produce conclusive results as only a handful of schools have participated in them so far, but as more data comes in, it is becoming clear, that students have responded positively to the new types of assessments. The best ways to see if this reform would work is to give it time, collect more data, and see how other countries have benefitted from the changes.
A Funny Take on Common Core
Why We Need Better Education to Stay Competitive
As touched previously, America is plagued by many domestic problems surrounding education, but why are they problems? The answer lies in the quality of students that we produce. Standardized international tests such as PISA have ranked us against other systems and has showed that we are no longer number one in education and actually below the global average a link to the results for the 2012 test are here http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-overview.pdf .
Action is now urgent if we wish to remain a competitive global economy. In this link you can see how other nations are getting ahead in education http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2014/01/27/america-falling-behind-in-education-and-economy/, which also states education is closely linked to economic growth. If true, it will be a short span of time before the most rigorous systems such as the Korean, or the more creative ones such as the Finnish produce a better international stock of students. While many still have their trust in the American system, numbers don’t lie, and foreign students are increasing in numbers at our higher education systems and it is not by mistake. In this next interactive map you can see the different numbers in foreign students at higher education institution per metropolitan area http://www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/2014/geography-of-foreign-students#/M10420 .
If our students don’t gain the edge we need for the modern society the foreign labor market will step in. So now that we have seen what other nations doing to stay ahead, let’s touch back on the solution on how to do the same. The solution is to make education programs more competitive to enter, and making elementary education more rigorous. Making programs more difficult is nothing new, engineering programs that have done so have increased the competition and quality of engineers across the board. Similarly if being a teacher means that you help a student challenge himself and grow as an individual, the teacher himself must have been challenged. This high bar for education majors has been implemented in Finland for years now, where there is a 10% acceptance rate to teaching programs according to Amy Choi form TED ideas (Choi). Furthermore, Choi explains how teachers in Finland work only 600 hours teaching, but are reinforced with professional development to make them better teachers every year. Even with almost half of their time spent in the classrooms compared to US teachers, the Finnish score higher in every major area of study than the United States, while the Asian systems top the chart overall which can be largely accredited to their year round persistence based education system. By making elementary education more rigorous instead of longer and having better equipped teachers, we can maintain the American system identity of lax school years while maximizing learning when inside the classroom. If we can overhaul the system to incorporate the best of both worlds that are the Finnish creative school system, and the Asian traditional work-to-succeed, the American system can get the edge it has lost in the past years.
My Alternative Education Ideas
As I stated in my speech, I believe that when students become overloaded with too much school work, then their performance in school is negatively affected. Often students are so busy after school with various extra-curricular activities that they don’t have time to do all of the homework that is assigned to them by teachers. In an article written by James Campbell from the Central Education Center, “A major problem that most students face is dealing with lots of homework while doing extra activities outside of school. Teachers plan homework according to their schedules and do not realize that some students do not have enough time to do all of their homework which can lower students’ grades.” Some high school students get swamped by 4 hours of homework a night and they either have to stay up late to finish it or risk hurting their grade. According to another study conducted by Denise Pope, a Stanford University professor, “High-achieving students who are swamped with homework can suffer from poor mental and physical health.” This is due to lack of sleep and sometimes stress from not being able to complete all of their homework. http://www.today.com/parents/homework-overload-gets-f-experts-1B5010666
My proposed website would help make this a little better. The website would be like an online gradebook, but it would be an agenda. The teacher would be able to add her assignments to her class’s agendas and they would be able to see their homework from any computer. But it wouldn’t just be for the teacher, the student would be able to add their own events for the week for the teacher to see as well. This way, the teacher could know if their students were having a busy week and plan accordingly. The teacher would also be able to see the students other class’s assignment and when they are due. The teachers would then be able to see how best to spread out the load so the students don’t get overloaded. Some elementary schools today already require their students to write in an agenda every day for a homework grade. If we replaced that homework with the website, then they would grow accustomed to using it.
This website would help student’s performance in a few different ways. One way is that it would reduce student’s stress because all of their assignments would not pile up as often.
Another way is that the students would always know what assignments were due so their grades would improve due to completed homework assignments and full comprehension of those assignments. In the same article by James Campbell, he states “A homework overload can hurt part of a student’s life by adding pressure, nervousness, and the burden of the consequences of NOT finishing it. Students stay up late to finish, skip important things, and even make poorer grades from doing homework instead of studying.” By keeping the homework from piling up, several aspects of the student’s life increase. They would be able to come home from their extra-curricular and not have to worry about a crushing amount of homework. Overall, the adoption of this website and allowing our students to grow up without the constant crushing pressure of homework overloads are something that this generation of students need.
Strauss, Valerie. "An alternative to standardized testing for student assessment." The Washington Post Nov. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.
Schneider, Carri. "Performance-Based Assessment in Action." Getting Smart 16 May 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
Munguia, Hayley. "New York's Complicated Teacher Evaluation Proposal Is The Exception, Not The Rule." FiveThirtyEight. N.p., 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.
OECD (2013), PISA 2012 Assessment and Analytical Framework: Mathematics, Reading, Science, Problem Solving and Financial Literacy, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris.
Klein, Joel L., Michael Lomax, and Janet Murguia. "Why great teachers matter to low-income students." The Washington Post9 Apr. 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
Long, Cindy. "How Do We Increase Teacher Quality in Low-Income Schools?" neaTODAY 24 May 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.
Choi, Amy S. "What the Best Education Systems Are Doing Right." Ideastedcom. TED, 04 Sept. 2014. Web.