Why our elementary education system is ineffective, inefficient and too damn expensive

Reading Time But...

Reading together. By Michael Comeau

I can read and write at a college level. I could do it in the eleventh grade, because of one teacher, David DiCarlo, at Cleveland Heights High School. He taught Political Science and Comparative Government like a college course. I don’t remember a text book- but I do remember high intensity lectures, every day, with writing assignments almost every night. He made us take a ton of notes, pay attention, and work our butts off. He was also the football coach. After him, college at Wright State was a walk in the park. Teachers that pushed students that hard were rare, but more on that later.

Legislators have come to the conclusion that if kids can’t read by third grade, at “level” they need to be held back. I laugh. I never heard of “chapter books” until a few years ago- I thought all books had chapters from as early as my parents started reading to me. When I was four, my father used to read “Gulliver’s Travels” to me- as I fell asleep. If I didn’t know a word, he explained it to me. If I fell asleep- that was OK too- we’d pick back up the next night. I think he also read “Robinson Crusoe” to me- what’s the pattern of a man alone on an island? Sure, there was Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, but, for the most part- reading was something that happened in our house everyday- and to this day, my parents are voracious readers and the Dayton Public Libraries best customers.

Kids should be able to read before they get to the first grade. That’s the first fail- and it’s not the fault of the government, or the schools- it’s the fault of parents who think a TV is a good babysitter.

But- unfortunately, our legislators have a better solution- and it’s expensive:

Ohio lawmakers are considering tweaks to the coming third-grade reading guarantee to make sure enough teachers will have the required credentials to work with students who are struggling….

Even with the proposed change, a teacher working with students under the guarantee must have done one of the following:

  • Taken graduate courses and passed a test for a reading endorsement.
  • Completed a master’s degree with a major in reading.
  • Gotten high ratings for her students’ academic growth in reading for the last two years.
  • Earned a credential from a list of approved programs being drawn up by the Ohio Department of Education.

The department also will be taking bids from contractors for a test teachers could take to meet the requirements.

via Criteria to teach reading not set.

Yes, my parents both have masters degrees, but I’m pretty sure I can teach a kid how to read without a masters. In fact, when I was in the 7th grade, we were asked to go work with second graders to help tutor them in math and reading. This emphasis on graduate degrees as a qualification to teach is absurd, especially when the costs of our higher education system have skyrocketed over the last twenty years.

About a year and a half ago, I was in Paris visiting with friends. Her children were in schools that catered to international students- and the 2nd grader had at least an hour of homework every day, the high school junior had between 2 and 4 hours of homework every night. For the last three years, I’ve complained that my kids weren’t bringing home homework- and if they had any at all, it wasn’t challenging at all. My friend in Paris pointed out an article about the education her daughter is enrolled in- “International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme and Pre-U” (yep- the story is in British English):

The IB Diploma is a timeless classic, an icon of educational sense and high standards in a world where educational fashion shifts like hemlines, and much-needed clarity of thinking is elusive. The IB has never been more necessary. First, it believes in knowledge, and enables students to acquire it. It believes in the autonomy of subjects and academic disciplines, but also in their connectivity. It is global in its outlook, truly an education sans frontières. And it is grounded in fundamental values about culture and character. Visionary and inspiring, the IB can liberate and motivate the teacher and student. Practical, instructive and aspirational, it is the best possible preparation for university, for the workplace, and more importantly, for life.

Why do I believe this so strongly? The IB develops students that top universities want: students with expert subject knowledge; with the skills good students require – research, essay writing, footnoting; but above all, with the spirit of intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, the ability to challenge, argue and ask questions. Universities are clearly aware of this: the offer rate and acceptance rate for IB Diploma students is notably above other post-16 qualifications, including A levels, with an 87 per cent acceptance rate for UK-domiciled IB Diploma students last year. And in the US, the IB Diploma is a sought-after passport to top universities from Stanford to Yale.

The IB develops the future leaders the workplace needs – people who know how to collaborate and who know the value of teamwork, people with analytical ability, versatility, international understanding. The IB develops what a global society and a local community can’t survive without – individuals who want to make a difference, who have developed the compassion and sense of public duty to contribute.

How does the IB do this? By a mixture of the compulsory and the optional; the IB offers a combination of testing assignments. In addition to traditional written exams at the end of the two-year programme, students analyse world literature (not just their national literature), focus on world events, create mathematical models to investigate them, and show practical skill in the laboratory. An IB student is required to continue studying in all areas of the curriculum at either Higher or Standard Level. All study at least one language, their native literature, maths, the individual and society and at least one science. Within the six subject groups the choice is wide, from French to Japanese, from biology to computer science, from medieval history to ecosystems and the environment.

The IB is assessed in varied and creative ways, including good old-fashioned terminal exams, proper essays, graphical calculator tasks, and the Group 4 Science project, in which students collaborate on a presentation of a broad scientific topic such as “Environment” or “Colour”, drawing on their knowledge across all four science subjects offered within the IB – physics, chemistry, biology, technology and sports health and exercise science. This year students are investigating “Water” and our students will be collaborating with students from around the world through email, Skype and other real-time communication technology to collect and analyse local water samples, explore local environmental issues and present comparative analyses.

But what makes the IB more than the sum of its parts are the three core elements – the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and CAS (Creativity, Action, Service). The extended essay is a 4,000-word piece of original research, tackling a specific question devised by the student and supported by a supervisor. Recent research includes the impact of invasive species on sub-Saharan food crops, or to what extent our brains can compensate for hearing loss. Other exam systems have imitated this, but the IB’s original model leads to truly outstanding pieces of work – some at Sevenoaks have led to publication or patents!

Theory of Knowledge remains unique to the IB. More than its imitator – so-called “critical thinking” – “ToK” requires students to think across their subjects, to connect them, and to take one step back from their own perspective. It requires students to unpick their own assumptions, to think with clarity about real and challenging questions, such as the extent to which disagreement sparks knowledge, or how economic and social circumstances prime us to think in certain ways about the world.

And then there is CAS – Creativity, Action, Service – which carries no points but gives students a structured opportunity to allow and reflect upon the flourishing of mind, body and spirit.

The impact of the IB on a school is liberating and motivating. It fosters a shared purpose and common ethos; it brings students and institutions around the world in touch; it validates the belief that there is no limit to intellectual endeavour. Our students prove this daily – they are getting into the world’s top universities, are moving onto employment with relative ease – to the delight of their parents. Employers worldwide know that IB students know a lot, and more, can do things.

via ‘The IB develops the students top universities want’ – Schools – Education – The Independent.

This doesn’t sound anything like what we’re doing in our schools does it?

A friend, who is a veteran teacher in Cincinnati commented on Facebook about his experiences compared to this:

I taught for four years at the largest IB school in the U.S. It’s an incredibly rigorous program that does truly prepare students for the future. We had many students who would return to us at the end of their first year or first semester of college and tell us that college was easy, compared to high school.

Always remember that education begins at home. The program was driven by parents who demanded much of their kids and much of their kids’ teachers.

I’ll never forget that the first TWO times I got into trouble with my administrator, it was for the same offense: I wasn’t assigning enough homework, and parents were complaining about it.

Compare that to where I teach now. I don’t really assign homework. Why? Students won’t do it. If they won’t do it, the teacher can’t simply give the student a zero on the assignment and move on. It’s expected that we give a second, third, fifth, and tenth opportunity to complete the work. We’re expected to accept work from students even if the work is WEEKS late. For, you see, failure to accept late work would cause a spike in the number of Ds and Fs for that teacher…which means that the teacher will be called into his/her administrator’s office for a lecture and browbeating…because an increase in the number Ds and Fs will threaten the school’s rating on the Ohio state report card.

Thanks for reading. Now, go find a kid, shut the TV off, and read to them. If we built a coordinated network of neighborhood after school programs, I’m pretty sure that my 84 year old mother, would walk down the street every day and spend an hour reading to kids. A few years ago, she had the Iranian kids who lived on the corner in almost every afternoon to help them with their English. If we build the framework, we can fix the problems- and it won’t take more masters degrees.

And, btw- we need more teachers like David DiCarlo- who weren’t afraid to push students way far outside of their comfort levels and make an A almost impossible to get. Thank you Mr. DiCarlo- again.

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