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Improving Education? 1514

Shepherd Book asks: "Not long ago there was a spirited discussion, in the usual Slashdot style, about education, touched off by an article about the value of homework. Even more recently, there was a discussion about the value of grammar. This inspires the following Ask Slashdot question: What, in your opinion, would make primary and secondary education as good as possible? I have no experience of education outside the US, but I can say confidently that public education in my country sucks. And it may always suck. However, what can we do to make it suck less?"
"For the purpose of this question, the following are givens:

1. I know that there is a strong libertarian faction in this community, who might like to see public education disappear. Let's assume, though, that that isn't going to happen any time soon, and that there will be a public school system for the foreseeable future.

2. Similarly, many Slashdot readers are brilliant people who have educated themselves to a large extent. Let's further accept that most people are not capable of doing this, or at any rate need help reaching that sort of educational self-sufficiency.

Thanks in advance, folks."
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Improving Education?

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  • by professorhojo ( 686761 ) * on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:08PM (#13045381)
    for every student.
  • by yagu ( 721525 ) < minus cat> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:09PM (#13045395) Journal

    From the Ask Slashdot post:

    However, what can we do to make it suck less?
    • stop inflating grades (a recent article reflected on how many schools now have so many valedictorians (one in Seattle actually had 47 valedictorians!) that many have had to dispense with the tradition of having valedictorian address the graduating classes). (The New Yorker article is here [] and is a long, but worthwhile read.)
    • more emphasis on (mathematics) basics. Get rid of the calculators, at least until after the fundamentals are assuredly learned. Make students learn how to use slide rules, for the sake and feel of what is really happening during calculations (addition of log tables... illustrates nice short cuts for coming up with fast and accurate estimates for seemingly complex "problems")
    • more emphasis on (language skills) basics. It would be nice to go an entire day without something totally illiterate on the CNN Headline News crawler. (We once had a "discussion" with our daughter's teacher because he said he wasn't so much interested in her spelling correctly and applying grammatical principles correctly as he was in what she was saying. While we agreed what she was trying to say was important, we felt it equally important (for a fifth grader) to be grounded in grammatical and spelling fundamentals)
    • stop moving kids onto the next grade if they really didn't perform at the level necessary. It's become an "everybody gets a trophy" society, and that's not consistent with the real world. Kids more than ever need to understand rewards and accountability.
    • standards of competency for teachers (rather than tenure by unions). We once accused our daughter of "doctoring" a bad grade when she brought it back with an updated "note" from her teacher. We were convinced she had not met with the teacher because the "note" on her paper from the teacher was illiterate. We were all embarrassed when we confronted the teacher and found he indeed had written the note (maybe that's why he was not so interested in our daughter's grammar).
    • stop relying on technology as the next silver bullet in transcendental teaching philosophies and techniques
    • get rid of MTV

    There are probably more, but this might be a good start.

    • Slide rules? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by autopr0n ( 534291 )
      The fact that you learned a certain way doesn't mean it's the best way to learn. The drilling kids get on how to do long division and multiplication is a horribly inefficient way to learn how to do it, in fact most arithmetic can be done without paper (with a reasonable number of digits). Math (even without a calculator) is easy, but kids are taught the hard way, which causes them to lose interest in it.
      • Re:Slide rules? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by superyanthrax ( 835242 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:45PM (#13045973)
        The problem with letting kids have calculators from an early age is that they start thinking that math problems are just button punching instead of learning what adding, subtracting, etc. actually are, even up to say finding basic integrals and derivatives using Mathematica or a TI-89/TI-92. If they are allowed to think that it is button punching they will never learn math at all, and then when they are asked to extend their knowledge slightly to derive consequences (the core of mathematics) they can't do it, because all they know is how to punch buttons to solve the specific problems that they've been trained in. Unfortunately, this is how kids will think if they're fed calculators. We can't expect everyone to have the mathematical ability to say, qualify for USAMO/whatever mathematical olympiad is in your country, and if they don't have exceptional ability, it needs to be trained. And calculators will prevent the training b/c their concept of math will reduce to button punching.
      • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @04:05PM (#13046344)
        If you understand addition, doing 100 problems is as easy as doing 10.

        The same goes for subtraction, multiplication and division.

        The PROBLEM is our attitude towards the classroom and students.

        If the teacher assigns 100 addition problems to 100 students, and 80 students have no problems with them, what happens next?

        Well, the next day another 100 problems are given to see if the 20 students who didn't get it right last time have managed to catch up.

        And so on until you have kids who are bored because they spend a month repeating something they understood the first day and kids who still can't grasp it but cannot be left behind, re-assigned and their parents won't put in the effort to educate their darling angels.

        You will not find a kid who is failing any subect who has parents who are interested and involved in his school work.
        • >> You will not find a kid who is failing any subect who has parents who are interested and involved in his school work.

          Really? I guess you've never met anyone with a learning disability. Try to explain to a kid why they can read and write at a college level in junior high but can't do elementery school level math.
        • by klossner ( 733867 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:01PM (#13047136)
          You will not find a kid who is failing any subect who has parents who are interested and involved in his school work.

          That's just nonsense.

          I volunteer as a math tutor in a sixth-grade classroom, one hour a week. One kid has parents who are right there with him every evening, but he doesn't learn the material. I have spent many hours teaching him a particular algorithm (e.g., dividing two fractions), drilling him over and over, and then asking him to apply it. He can't do it.

          This kid will go through life using a calculator to add two-digit numbers, just as another kid I know will always ride a wheelchair. Thank heavens that we have calculators and wheelchairs.

          • by the_weasel ( 323320 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:40PM (#13047636) Homepage
            Damn straight. Not everyone is the same. Things that are easy for some people are damn hard for others. I have a twin sister. She cannot read a map. Period. You won't be able to teach her - for some reason the whole idea never worked.

            Now my sister isn't dumb by any means, in many respects she is frighteningly bright. You would be lucky to read as fast as she does, or retain even a quarter what she does from what she reads, for example.

            You can tell my sister a 30 digit number once, and mention that she should remember it. Don't mention it again for a month. Ask her what the number is and she will have it dead accurate 9/10 times.

            But for some reason graphical representations of data leave her completely unable to comprehend the material.

            She almost failed statistics entirely because the course was so reliant on graphs. Her professor for that course was completely unable to understand the source of the problem until we discussed it with him in a special meeting, and demonstrated literature showing the problem isn't unique to my sister.

            At that point he allowed her to complete her exam without a time limit. That gave her the time to translate the charts into tables she could actually work with.

            It took a long time for me to believe my sister was not faking it. I would have said that understanding graphs is intuitive - but here is a case of a very specific learning disability that proves me wrong.

            So is it suprising that some students are better at math that others? Not to me.
        • by ( 813139 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:08PM (#13047209)
          This is what drove my crazy this year. It was my first year as a substitute k-6 teacher, and I hated going to a class and seeing some kids that could barely recognize letters in a grade 1 class vs others who could complete math designed for Grade 3 children. I wish the education system was more fluid, particularly in the younger grades, so that children with the same abilities could be in the same classes. Nothing is more difficult than trying to teach kids on a topic when everyone is not on the same page. I mean why the hell do they need to stay in the same class just because they are the same age? In almost any other activity you partake in you are assigned a group based purely on your achievement level, not based on your age. Groups created that way are more fair to those learning, and to those teaching.
      • I would tend to agree. Once the basics of arithmetic are learned (emphasis on learned) the calculator merely becomes a tool to speed through the rote arithmetic and on to more important concepts. Once you get into things like trig or logs, it's far better to use a calculator to chug through the digits than to laboriously calculate it all by hand or look it up in a table. Hell, I managed to get a degree in physics without ever using a slide rule. Yes, I know people would say that doesn't mean much, but
    • by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:24PM (#13045623)
      You are 110% correct. I am a high school history teacher and if there's one thing that I would change it's reading. Kids don't read, period. They need to read books, litereature, histroy, etc. The nonsense that they need to read what interests them is ruining kids. They don't like it, hah, they don't read it, and we give them the perfect excuse.

      Second, stop treating them like helpless, esteem-craving babies. We are more concerned if they "feel good about themselves" than if they actually learn something. Demand high performance and if they don't meet it, than they need to work harder. Period. School is where you get an education, not job training. The dereanged idea that it has to have meaning, relevance, etc., or it is worthless is ruining schools. I get kids ask all the time "when are we gonna use this...". It's like they have no understanding of why history matters, and then, educrats and the morons running teacher schools give them perfect out. Oh, we didn't make it meaningful enough, we didn't relate it better, we didn't culturally norm it.

      I assume most, many, at least some, /. readers are taxpayers. You have a right to demand that your schools don't cave to the latest trends, fads, and edu-babble. Authentic assessment, alternative learning styles, etc., are ruining basic instruction.

      as for technology, you're right. get computers out of schools completely. (by the way, I have an MA in Ed. Technology) They don't help kids learn and in fact they hinder the writing process. Plus teachers see lab days or weeks as a vacation. I use Keynote to present notes, maps, etc., on the overhead big screen, but that's entirely different than having a kid do a powerpoint on WW2. We need to focus on fundamentlas, reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. They need to read more and write more, and be able to construct cogent arguments and analyses in both written and oral form. They need classes in rhetoric and philosophy. Lastly, I would add this: stop diminishing school. We allow seniors (and some juniors) to leave at lunch. What are we telling them? Hey, hurry up and get outta here, there's nothing important going on. I could scream. In fact, I have.
      • The nonsense that they need to read what interests them is ruining kids. They don't like it, hah, they don't read it, and we give them the perfect excuse.
        That stuff is very important - for those first learning how to read. It's important to keep them interested, because learning to read can be very frustrating to some kids.

        After that point, however - tough titty. Learning to read is one thing - reading to learn is quite another.
        • by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:48PM (#13046033)
          True, and by high school, I should be able to assign them more difficult reading than their texts. What just kills me is that I'll assign a source document and yes, I know it's hard. But I do expect them to read it, and even reread it, perhaps ghave a dictionary and use it. They will go a paragraph or so, find a hard word, then stop. I hear "it's too hard" all the time. Yes, earlier in grade school they need to develop the reading skills and they will gt it by reading what they enjoy. But in the higher grades, they need to be able to read more than the sports page of gossip column.
      • by iplayfast ( 166447 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:38PM (#13045854)
        You are a history teacher so you should know...

        Those who do not know history, are doomed to repeat it.

        Those who do know history, are doomed to watch it being repeated.
      • by icefaerie ( 827772 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:42PM (#13045912) Homepage
        110% correct? I can see why you're a history teacher.
      • Dogg... (Score:5, Funny)

        by Marc2k ( 221814 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:45PM (#13045960) Homepage Journal
        They need to read books, litereature, histroy, etc.

        What...the....hell? I could have sworn we were just having a conversation on literacy..
      • by abradsn ( 542213 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:45PM (#13045968) Homepage
        1. Try to relax.
        2. Computers and Tech do help, but are not the only ingredient. You are overexagerating the idea of removing them entirely.
        3. Reading more would help -- though you could say that removing the books would cause teachers to actually stand and deliver. Probably too idealistic though.
        4. Good teachers are rarely asked how their subject relates to real life. Try starting every lesson with examples of how the history you are teaching relates to things that your students understand.
        5. It would be really nice to see some modern approaches to teaching classes. Such as props, demonstrations, and truely interesting visuals. Creating lesson plans that involve simultaneous participation of 10 or more students would help keep interest.
      • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:47PM (#13046005) Journal

        I could go on and on replying to your message but I'll try to make it short. In summary, I agree with almost everything you wrote but I want to comment on one thing in particular:

        We need to focus on fundamentlas, reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. They need to read more and write more, and be able to construct cogent arguments and analyses in both written and oral form. They need classes in rhetoric and philosophy.

        This needs to be emphasized. I think having kids confront all the stuff they hold dear by having them learn Philosophy would be wonderful. I think a Senior-level course would do great things. Just before they go out the door into the so-called "real world", they get a glimpse of the fact that they are about to enter a period of their life where the answers aren't so easy. Where they really will have to think for themselves rather than review what was in Section 3.4 of their textbook. I would couple this with the need for critical thinking and analysis. If kids are so obsessed with how they are "going to use this", then present them with articles from the daily newspaper and have them examine the issues and think about what the story didn't mention or glossed over.

        The problem is that parents wouldn't stand for any of this. Can you imagine trying to have a debate in a high school philosophy class about abortion? It might be a much-needed chance for kids to see the side of the issue that their parents haven't crammed down their throat but the parents certainly would never stand for such a thing. Alas, the critical thinking and analysis skills that kids need to develop would never be allowed in public schools.


        • We need to focus on fundamentlas, reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. They need to read more and write more, and be able to construct cogent arguments and analyses in both written and oral form.

          So... tell me your opinion on the importance of spelling.

        • At my (public, non-magnet) high school, we had a class called "Contemporary Issues" which dealt specifically with such topics. The class split into groups and was given 4 days out of each week (90 minute classes) to form a cohesive argument, and a fifth day to debate it. We tackled issues such as abortion, the role of religion in modern society, libertarianism in a post-9/11 world, etc. It was easily the most enlightening class I had in school.

          I wasn't exactly in the most enlightened school district in the
        • by npsimons ( 32752 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:49PM (#13047718) Homepage Journal

          Can you imagine trying to have a debate in a high school philosophy class about abortion?

          I don't know about you, but we did exactly this when I was in high school (1992-1996). Not that it didn't get a little inflammatory, but was still amazingly civilized, especially for high school students, and more importantly, compared to some of the flame fests called "public debate" these days.

          One of my friends was on the "pro-life" side. I was on the "pro-choice" side. We remained friends , even afterwards, and probably still would be good friends today if we had kept in touch. If you ask me, that's what's causing all the problems today: there is no respect for your "opponents"; there is no attempt to understand the other sides' arguments. In the end, discussion is stifled for fear of offending someone, and people never learn valuable consensus building skills.

      • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @04:19PM (#13046576) Journal
        Funny, as a father of successful, home-schooled kids, I see solutions 180 degrees divergent from yours.

        Learning is INTRINSIC to humanity. Not only is it not difficult to educate, it's actually AUTOMATIC if we'd just get out of the !@#@! way! Children are NATURALLY curious! Why do we spend 12 YEARS teaching our children that their "curiousity is irrelevant, shuddup and do the odd problem set on page 122"?

        In my experience, children who learn math when they want to, and they're good and ready, will digest YEARS of material in a matter of days or weeks. It's a matter of trusting them. We just have to provide the understanding and the materials when the kids are good and ready for it.
        The dereanged idea that it has to have meaning, relevance, etc., or it is worthless is ruining schools.
        No, teaching irrelevant information at schools is ruining the kids! If the kids figure there's no point, you're just setting yourself up for an uphill battle, which accounts for much of the failure in public education. Humankind is WIRED to be curious about things that are IMPORTANT. (Heh, look at the tagline up above: "Stuff that matters" would YOU be interested if it said "Stuff that's irrelevant"?) By your logic, teaching children about proper use of buggywhips should never be questioned by the kids being taught!

        Part of the process of education is evaluating the relative importance of the experience so you know what to ignore.
        alternative learning styles, etc., are ruining basic instruction.
        No, they are simply an acknowledgement that the education system is *failing* to produce children educated to meet today's job requirements.

        Classroom based education is a system whereby naturally curious, intelligent children are forced to sit in a boring classroom, and forced to stand in line, in preparation for a mundane manufacturing job that won't be there when the children graduate.

        Today's workforce requires flexibility and creative thought, not mind-numbed automatons. Beating them with lines, artificial schedules, algorithms, and pointless history dates will not result in creative thought and problem-solving. Having them learn by doing, by participating, and learning where data (which is now a commodity, see Wikipedia [] for an example) needed to solve a problem can be found.

        The rise of independent study, charter schools, and other "alternative" education methods are society's response to the dysmal, dysfunctional failure that is classroom-based public education.
        (by the way, I have an MA in Ed. Technology)
        And of course, that fancy, embossed paper is proof that there is nothing more to learn than what you know, right? If you aren't too pompous and ossified, you might try checking out [] some other methods [] that have clearly proven to work. []

        The solution is out there, and in my book, you're part of the problem.
        • by Reapy ( 688651 )
          Thank you, I totally agree with you. I have heard a lot of times that school teaches you to learn to do stuff that you don't want to, discipline, blah blah blah.

          In reality I'm 25 and I don't really remember anything from high school. The only thing I got from high school was a good understand of what I need to learn and where to start looking to relearn it when I find that I need it.

          Example; I was never too strong at math, but averaged B's in my math classes. Recently at work I had to figure out why a for
        • Heh, look at the tagline up above: "Stuff that matters" would YOU be interested if it said "Stuff that's irrelevant"?

          Y'know, fark [] seems to be doing pretty well...

      • "Get computers out of schools completely"? Is this a joke? Before too long, it'll be uncommon to find a person who isn't wearing several computers interwoven with the fibers in his clothes, and you want to remove them from schools?

        Human brains are very, very poor at doing arithmetic and remembering lots of stuff. Fortunately, computers are excellent at these things, so computers are what will be doing that sort of stuff from now on, like it or not.

        If your complaint is that computers aren't being used
      • Job Training (Score:3, Insightful)

        School is where you get an education, not job training.

        I totally agree.

        The bit I quoted above reminded me of a Poli/Sci professor I had in junior college. One day, as he's going over the finer points of Constitutional law, one of the slackers at the back of the class raised his hand and asked, dead seriously, "Yeah, but do I really need to know any of this stuff?"

        Without missing a beat, the prof responded, "Maybe, maybe not. The world will always need fry cooks."

    • Good points. But slide rules and logarithms aren't at all neccessary for I'd guess 99% of people. People really only need basic math up to squaring and square roots. I have a masters in EE, and never use calculus or logarithms in my job.

      Other than that the check plus, check minus system needs to go. Kids need to learn how to fail and deal with it. They also need to learn what they're good at. Everybody's a winner doesn't help anyone, it creates little helpless retards. These are the people who whine
    • by Seumas ( 6865 ) * on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:43PM (#13045939)
      As a former jock (for ten years), I'd like to say that one of the most important things is to stop putting all the emphasis, attention, reward and prmotion on sports. You can be a dumb jock with inflated grades and get school-wide assemblies with every student in school attending and a couple dozen cheerleaders leading chears on your behalf and screaming when you give a "speech". I never once saw any sort of academic get that sort of response in school. At best they were completely ignored by everyone. At the worst, they were harassed for being incredibly smart and excelling at all things scholastic.

      Additionally, we need to stop focusing on "keeping seats filled so we can get our funding". From personal experience, I know that it's more important to a school district that you fill up a chair for enough days per year for them to get full funding for you and for you to do that for as many years as possible. I was actually denied extra credits in highschool because of this practice. That and "it wouldn't be fair to the other students you DID NOT do the extra work that you did". Complete fucking bullshit.

      And, finally, we need to have academic heroes in the world again. Take NASA. We haven't been on the moon in almost 40 years. Astronauts used to be the go-to dream for a young boy. You saw them doing amazing things on television and the newspaper. You wanted to be an astronaut. You knew you'd have to do extremely well in school and work hard and be skilled in reading, math, chemistry, astronomy, physics and a number of other areas. We have nothing to promote this today. Today's heros are Eminem and Allen Iverson.

      Most importantly, STOP DUMBING DOWN CLASSES. Even fifteen years ago, I felt like I was being ripped off because the classes were so incredibly easy. I'm talking so easy that I would complete the entire period's study and work in ten minutes, turn it in and go hang out in the library or lobby for the remaining 40 minutes. I'm talking so easy that we were using science textbooks in highschool that I'd already used in fourth grade. I'm talking so easy and so ridiculously dumbed-down that most students find themselves having to take remedial courses in a community college just to catch up to where they SHOULD be to compete with other college students, because their own school district failed to make them competitive.

      Children love to learn. Children love to excel. Children love to have a future and have something to aspire to. Adults have failed to give them hope and give them an ambition to cling to. They're too busy at work and watching television to get involved and nourish their own childrens' dreams. Without involved, supportive adults around you, most children will fail to ever be more than mediocre.
    • I agree with most of these responses.

      I would also add:

      You have to start from the ground up. People keep trying to throw money at High School, but the kids have been lost at that point, you have to keep them locked in through Elemnetary School. Gotta have a foundation of learning first.

      As part of my Elementary school education, I'd have kids make webpages. Probably around 4th or 5th grade, I'd split the kids into teams: 1 of the logical kids, 1 of the writing kids, and 1 of the artistic ones and then ha
    • Seriously, this guy won awards in teaching excellence in New York. He points out that our education system is marvelously successful for what it was designed to do--produce an obedient populace. An excerpt:

      In the 1934 edition of his once well-known book Public Education in the United States, Ellwood P. Cubberley detailed and praised the way the strategy of successive school enlargements had extended childhood by two to six years, and forced schooling was at that point still quite new. This same Cubberley

  • Elements of Style (Score:4, Informative)

    by `Sean ( 15328 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:09PM (#13045404) Homepage Journal
    Simple. Hand out copies of Elements of Style [] to every single student. Had that book been given to me in High School I probably wouldn't have hated the class so much.
  • Paul Graham's take (Score:3, Interesting)

    by __david__ ( 45671 ) * on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:10PM (#13045414) Homepage
    This question reminded me of the classic Paul Graham essay "Why Nerds Are Unpopular" []. Despite the title, much of the essay is about how much high school sucks and what could be done to fix it.

  • by Ieshan ( 409693 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:11PM (#13045428) Homepage Journal
    Eliminate American Anti-intellectualism. Geeks and nerds, while sometimes socially inept, don't deserve to be bullied for good grades. Fostering environments where it's okay to tear kids down because they're doing well in school (we've all seen first hand how little teachers and parents actually do to stop this sort of thing).

    Yeah. I'd say that's the biggest issue. Putting kids in an environment where success means social punishment.
    • by maddskillz ( 207500 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:19PM (#13045544)
      When I went to school the nerds weren't bullied for their good grades. They were bullied because they were weak and easy targets.
    • by Nf1nk ( 443791 ) < minus math_god> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:22PM (#13045594) Homepage
      some time ago I droped out of society, that is I unpluged the TV stopped listening to the radio, dropped my newspaper subscription, etc. I am happy about that. At work recently they started turnig on the TV in the break room, and I watched a little, The sitcoms were as unfunny as I remember, but what shocked and appalled me was how fucking rude everybody is on TV.
      The characters on the shows were willfully stupid, arrogant, and unwilling to follow directions.
      Children mimic what they see, and if they watch that drivel I can see why we have such strong anti-intellectualism.
      Now I take my break in my car and avoid the whole mess.
      The point is, that we need to unplug the children from the box, not just my children, but eveybodys children. The box seems to part of the problem
    • by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) * <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:26PM (#13045669) Homepage Journal
      Quick way to fix the problem: hire whores for the boys with the good grades. Make the stupid boys play hopscotch at recess. When girls get the good grades, make them Miss America with a little crown and roses. Make stupid girls wear burkas.

      We're sick of seeing the stupid kids thought of as beautiful or jocks succeeding on their dodgeball skills. Turn the tables - forcefully.

    • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:36PM (#13045806)
      Eliminate American Anti-intellectualism.

      This is problem number one, and I firmly point the finger at pop culture in America. Success in school is not rewarded with prestige in our pop culture. In our TV programs, you don't ever see the stock character of "the popular kid that's good at everything." Popular kids in American pop culture are very rarely acadmeic success stories, while good students are always unpopular.

      It didn't start with our entertainment though, and so it can't end there. Politics and religion in America has long had an anti-intellectual tendency dating back to the Dark Ages in Europe through the lineage of Puritanism and our down-to-business focused work ethic. An intellectual was seen as an idle person and often was a person who defied the Will of God by questioning dogma. While this attitude has weakened over the past few centuries, it has still left its stain on the philosophy of blue collar America.

      Asian countries have been fortunate to have had Confuscian philosophy as an influence. A virtuous man is a studious man in Confuscian philosophy. Asian religions also have rarely held onto a dogmatic streak in their worship -- though they have been just as capable of putting believers of other religions to the sword. They have been more encouraging of questioning and seeking which has overall led to a culture that prized education more than the West.

      Even so, many European nations have shaken off the past and gained a far better attitude towards education. The problem runs deep in our culture, and until the public attitude towards intellectuals and education changes, no amount of shuffling about the cirriculum will help. However, I think we've been sliding backwards on this since the 60s. I don't forsee any significant improvements in my lifetime unless a major political and philosophical land change occurs.
  • I realize many parents arent able to do this, but home schooling is probably the best option.
  • LOL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RealityMogul ( 663835 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:12PM (#13045451)
    "2. Similarly, many Slashdot readers are brilliant people who have educated themselves to a large extent. Let's further accept that most people are not capable of doing this, or at any rate need help reaching that sort of educational self-sufficiency."

    Yes, the readers are absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately the posters are a different breed so you may not get the types of repsonses you were hoping for.

    Yes I realize what group I've just put myself in by making this comment.
  • Teach the basics: reading, writing, history and math. Ditch the crap. Two hours of athletic activity per day all through school. Encourage discovery and show them how to use libraries and the internet to delve deep into other topics if they are interrested. Right now schools cover so much crap that nothing sticks for a big chunk of the students. Gifted students will find their own way with a little nudging.
    • Teach the basics: reading, writing, history and math. Ditch the crap.

      I'm sorry but I beg to differ. I say teach the basics ABSOLUTELY, yes, but I'm not sure what you call crap. A child's brain is like a sponge, it learns everything you put in it. If you wait till the child is older to introduce a child to other subjects, it's too late.

      I think kids should take up 2 other foreign languages as early as possible. Propose them classical latin or greek too. No, they're not "useless in our modern world" as I so
  • by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:13PM (#13045462) Homepage Journal
    Despite the fact that education is basically the most important thing we do (aside from reproducing) it's amazing how rarely it's actually studied in a scientific way. And when it's studied by psychologists, their research is ignored. Crap like "No Child Left Behind" is just a collection of things people made up and thought might help, with no verification whatsoever, yet it's the law of the land.
    • Wow, you just said something I've tried to say in a few other comments in a much more succinct way that I managed.

      For a bunch of engineers, you'd think it would be obvious to most slashdotters (not to say that I haven't seen a lot of good ideas and suggestions here).

      1) Diagnose the problem
      2) Propose solution
      3) try solution on a pilot basis
      4) if failure, repeat 1-3; if success, proceed
      5) adopt solution everywhere appropriate
      6) ...
      7) profit! (due to a better educated workforce, of course)
    • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:01PM (#13047131) Journal
      It *has* been studied, endlessly. Go visit an academic library and you'll find journal article after journal article about it.

      So why don't we hear about it? For a couple of reasons

      • It's damn hard to measure an outcome. Sure, you can make sure that Johnny can add 2+2 using a standarized test. You might even be able to tell if he can do an algebra word problem. But can you tell if he'll still be able to do it in 10 years? Can he solve a real world problem on the construction site? Worse, can he construct a coherent argument about a local political issue and send it to a Congressman? (And can he do the algebra to figure out how much of a campaign contribution he needs to enclose?) Most things of any importance simply can't be measured on a standardized test.
      • Outcomes vary so much based on the learner. Some people can absorb lectures very well, others can't. Some can read a text effectively. Some need pictures to really have a concept sink in. (And before you disparage pictures, consider Fenyman diagrams. All they are are pictures. If you read his biographies that's how he thought.) One-size-fits-all teaching methods will always fail.
      • Outcomes vary so much based on the teacher. About the only constant is to demand high standards, but what after that? Two teachers I think of when I remember great ones of my youth were totally different- one was a happy-go-lucky clown type, the other a stern German disciplinarian. Their teaching styles and philosophies couldn't have been farther apart, but they were both great teachers.
      • Teaching critical thinking and the ability to synthesize and combine knowledge is the single hardest task imaginable. The vast majority of people today, yesterday and I dare say tomorrow will not master it, no matter what educational system you choose.

      It's really hard to get any coherant strategy. Therefore, politicians pass things like No Child Left Behind and pat themselves on the back for "fixing" our educational system. Thanks guys- that really helped.

  • My ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phoenix.bam! ( 642635 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:13PM (#13045475)
    Do away with grade levels. No more of this fifth vs sixth grader crap. Students should be placed into classes that challenge their abilities at all times. For what is now grades 1 through 8 I would love to see 8 levels of math, 8 levels of english and so forth. That way students can be failed or promoted based on actual ability. Also schools need to start just failing students in general. I hate it when i hear people say that failing a child is bad for his self esteem and he should always be promoted to the next grade. Passing a child who is not capable is bad for society. Also, there needs to be more focus on sports in school. Not on the winning or losing but on participating, even if it is only a fun extra curricular league that plays a game a week or something. Too many kids don't know how to exercise and gym just isn't cutting it
  • Tear em all down (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <`gro.uaeb' `ta' `sirromj'> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:14PM (#13045484)
    First you need to be open minded enough to stop excluding the best solution out of hand. If you have a sucking chest wound you don't say "What is the best thing I can do, except stop the bleeding?"

    Public schools don't work, can't work and aren't even compatible with a Republican form of Government.

    Step one: board up every public school and college of education.

    Seriously. The damage is beyond repairing, it is systemic and inherent in the concept of forced government education as we currently understand it. Therefore any attempts at 'reform' only prolong a real solution and are a bad idea.

    Private schools all the way. Even if someone wants to send their kids to an Islamic fundamentalist madrassas. The Right to be Wrong is the #1 basic right because the second thee or me presumes to sit in judgement of a parent's choice we presume to 1) be their master and 2) be wise enough to make their decisions for them. If parents are going to be empowered to truly make educational decisions for their children we must accept decisions we don't approve of.

    The only place for the State to intervene is in cases which could rightly be called abuse/neglect.

    Once that policy decision is made, everything else follows. The idea that a math major isn't qualified to teach mathamatics is one that only a union operation with a government mandated monopoly could think up so there go the 'colleges of education' to be replaced with majors in their subject matter perhaps supplementing with a couple of courses in pedagogy.

    Here is the secret. Teaching isn't particularly hard. All it requires is a knowledgable and reasonably patient master and an apprentice motivated to learn. Note the ancient usages there, that was intentional and intended to remind just how far back learning goes. They didn't need billions of words of academic text telling them how to do it, they just did it.
    • by argoff ( 142580 )

      First you need to be open minded enough to stop excluding the best solution out of hand. If you have a sucking chest wound you don't say "What is the best thing I can do, except stop the bleeding?"

      Public schools don't work, can't work and aren't even compatible with a Republican form of Government.

      Step one: board up every public school and college of education.

      Seriously. The damage is beyond repairing, it is systemic and inherent in the concept of forced government education as we currently

  • simple answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:16PM (#13045501) Homepage
    Parents become responsible.

    If parents take interest in their children's education then things change drastically.

    My daughter goes to many theatre plays, I expose her to other cultures regularly and encourage learning.

    Many parents expect that schools do everything and ignore thier kids.

    The fault with the crappy US education system starts and ends with the parents of those children.

    IF they do not get in the face of the school by being at PTA meetings, calling teachers on the carpet, or even going to Parent teacher conferences let alone educate their kids themselves outside normal school (learning does not have a schedule people!) then they are causing the dearth of education in their community.

    If the parents do not ask for better education and WORK for it, it will never exist.
  • by RM6f9 ( 825298 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:18PM (#13045541) Homepage Journal
    How to solve the public education problems:

    1. Public warehousing of young human animals is fine, don't rock the boat.

    2. Pay teachers based on performance.

    3. Apply corporal puni^H^Hencouragement to under-performing students.

    4. In Soviet Russia, CowboyNeal's Korean grandma gets educated by YOU.

    5. Print lessons over graphics of large firm breasts.

    6. Scrap the entire system and start over from scratch.

    Keep a good a(TT)itude!
  • by Rimbo ( 139781 ) <[ten.labolgcbs] [ta] [ytisobmir]> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:20PM (#13045555) Homepage Journal
    According to Dr. Hans Mark, former NASA Interim Head and Aerospace Engineering professor at the University of Texas, the answer is: Roll back women's lib.

    Back in the days before women's lib, and there were few jobs available to intelligent, educated women, the best and brightest women became teachers. As a result, the United States had an astonishingly good public education system, because we had the best teachers anywhere.

    The idea of rolling back women's lib is obviously both abhorrent and unworkable, but there is a legitimate point: Good teachers leads to good education. If our best and brightest desire to become teachers, then our schools will become better whether we want them to or not.

    Another problem is that in certain American sub-cultures, education is not considered a viable means to open up opportunities. It is, but these sub-cultures don't consider it to be. Consider Charles Schulz, who succeeded despite terrible failures in school; one year, he failed everything. His parents, who had never had any education, had no idea how to guide him; in an interview, when asked how he reacted to Schulz failing an entire year, his father replied: "I thought he did pretty well."(*) If the parents don't value or understand education, the children won't be successful.

    And on that second topic, unfortunately the Religious Right's crowing about "Family Values" is right on target. (Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.) The only way to solve it is to find a way to reinforce the structural and legal support for the family unit. In the past, this existed in the form of legalized punishments for unwed mothers. Nowadays, we have legalized punishments for married people (such as the "marriage tax penalty"). What we need are structural incentives for people to get married, stay married, and take care of children. Now that sounds pathetic -- doing these things is what you're supposed to do, after all -- but the legal climate today is such that you are punished for doing these things and rewarded for irresponsibility. Until that changes, these sub-cultures that formed won't change.

    (*)Charles M. Schulz: Conversations [], edited by M Thomas Inge
  • Low Standards (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ratbert42 ( 452340 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:21PM (#13045578)
    Stop hiring Elementary Ed majors as teachers. Raise the standards for teachers and pay and you'll attract better teachers. I'd love to teach but there's no way I'll take a 60% pay cut to do it. I know a lot of bright people that are in the same situation. Well, that and they wouldn't put up with school administrators.
  • by malraid ( 592373 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:25PM (#13045628)
    As simple as that. Most people are made to remember in class, not to think. The best two teachers I had made do just that. One was extremelly brilliant, and he usually made a quiz BEFORE class. And all he said was "make your best effort." Too bad he was fired. I guess making people think was outside the rules. The other wasn't ignorant, but probably lacked the adecuate knowledge to give the class, so tried to learn TOGETHER with us. He got down to our and said: "Ok, let's try to understand this." Right now I'm in university, I can write a paper in 2 hours and get 8 out of 10. I can get into any exam and get about 8 of 10. Without any studing, just going to class and paying a bit of attention. No need to put any effort into it, no incentive to do it either. So I guess I have two points of view: 1- Force everyone to think, to at least try to solve really complex problems, that are outside of their current capabilities. 2- Keep a mediocre class, and an AP class, those who want to put in extra effort can do so and get a better education. The choice between those two depends on cultural situations. I live in a mediocre country (Costa Rica) but have also studied in the US. And in general terms is depressing. But then I guess I'm just babbling anyhow.
  • by hayh ( 706697 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:27PM (#13045671) Homepage
    I had my primary and secondary education outside of the US, so I can't speak for the "poster's country"... :) My own experience, however, is that much of basic education relies overly on rote learning.

    I cannot but echo Feynman's concerns (when he visited Brazil - IANAB, but many cultures have the same problem) that students are not encouraged to be curious, but rather to accept whatever the book or the teacher tells them as fact. At the schools I attended our textbooks were treated almost as gospels and scientific findings were considered immutable facts discovered by others far more brilliant than ourselves.
  • by Myrv ( 305480 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:28PM (#13045691)
    The best they the could do for education today is to fail the students that don't learn or can't do the material. Give them the chance to try again if they wish or give them an alternative path (different discipline, trades, whatever) but the basic truth is not everybody can do everything equally well. Allow students to figure out what they can do well and what they have trouble with. Then they can either choose to work harder on their problem subjects or focus on what they do well.

    Passing a poor student just to spare his feelings really just robs him of getting the education he deserves while reducing the quality of education for everyone else (keeping things simple so everyone can pass).
  • by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:29PM (#13045706)
    This will probably be anathema to most Slashdotters, but I'd suggest that we strongly limit the user of computers in primary education (K-6). Have a lab, sure, and let kids use it if they want. But computers should not be an integral part of early education, because they do not encourage the kind of thinking patterns that children should develop.

    Example: at the school where my mother works (as the school librarian) they routinely teach second graders to create PowerPoint presentations. This is completely ridiculous. PowerPoint, by its very nature, encourages summary rather than analysis. It forces you to reduce your topic to three or four bullet points per slide, which makes it all too easy to summarize a few high points while remaining completely unfamiliar with the bulk of the topic at hand.

    Similarly, PowerPoint (and word processors, and basically every document-oriented program) makes it easy to worry almost exclusively about formatting instead of content. A report that takes 12 hours to prepare can easily wind up including four hours of research and eight hours of tweaking the layout and putting together fancy graphics.

    Lastly, computers are purely visual and auditory experiences that make hard stuff easy. Kids need to have lots of experiences that engage ALL of their sense. That includes touch, taste, and smell as well, folks. I'm thinking of things like math manipulatives, finger paints, food projects (home made root beer, maybe). In the process, they need to learn to do stuff the hard way so that they're not completely dependant on the machine. It's easy to use computers as a substitute for learning basic math skills, for example. And hey, who needs to know how to spell when you've got a word processor that puts a squiggly red line under the incorrect words, and will even fix it for you if you just click a button or two?

    For these reasons, I believe we should remove computers from elementary school curricula. They're doing more harm than good at that point. Computers will play an important role in later education -- say, starting in seventh grade -- but for the very early years, they're neither necessary nor helpful.
  • by TheFlyingGoat ( 161967 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:34PM (#13045779) Homepage Journal
    • Raise requirements for extracurricular involvement.
      My school required a 2.5 GPA for anyone wanting to participate in sports, clubs, etc. Raise this to 3.0, actually enforce it, and you'll see grades increase. Obviously grades aren't necessarily reflective of what the student is learning, but it's a good start.

    • Reward attendance and good behavior
      An alternative school in Milwaukee started paying students to attend class. Their attendance went up significantly. Many people will oppose this, saying you're bribing kids, but at least kids will be in class. I'd rather have my tax dollars go toward this type of program than raising teacher salaries (which doesn't lead to better students).

    • Stop silly "alternative" teaching methods
      This includes creative spelling, among other things. Phonics is a proven method... stick with it. If kids can read and spell, they'll have a much better chance of being able to learn on their own outside of school. They'll also be more likely to take up positive hobbies like creative writing.

    Also, stop trying to get rid of sports and music programs. I was in many sports in high school, and it was definitely something that helped my studies and social skills.

    Finally, grow a pair and take on the teacher unions. I have seriously considered switching to teaching as a profession and still think the teacher unions are complete BS. They always talk about taking care of the kids when state budgets are being planned, but they have yet to say "Ok... we'll pay $20/month toward our insurance like most people do... use the money that's saved toward actually EDUCATING the kids." The teacher union is a greedy organization that really needs a big dose of reality.
  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:35PM (#13045797) Homepage Journal
    Whatever it is that makes for a better education, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the time you spend in school. My wife is from Uzbekistan (former Soviet republic) and the quality of her education seems much higher than the one I received. Yet, she only went to school from 8am to noon 5 days a week from the age of 7 til age 17. That's quite a difference from the typical age 5 to 18, 7:30am to 3pm we go through in the U.S.

    And yes (to those who were going to ask), the length of the school year is about the same.
  • by Puls4r ( 724907 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:44PM (#13045951)
    I've got a real issue with people who make statements like this.

    My public education was great. I worked hard, learned everything I wanted to, went into college placement classes, finished a year early and then finished college in the major I wanted on scholarships and got the job I wanted.

    If our system "sucks" so much, why are there SO many successful people who went through the system?

    There's a simple answer. The system is only as good as the people using it. If parents want to throw their kids in daycare, both work full time, and don't take an interest in a childs education, it WILL suck.

    Education in the US doesn't suck. Our culture sucks. Geeks and intelligent kids get mocked. Kids who skip grades and push ahead are ostracized not just by their peers but by their peers parents as well.

    Parents at home don't push their kids to do their share of work. Parents don't take an active role in their kids education! Why aren't you trying to learn a langauge at home, for fun, with your children? Why aren't you meeting the teachers and getting their year long lesson plan? Why aren't you teaching them on the side?

    Why can Indian, Mexican, Chinese, and other cultures come to our country and go through OUR schools, and come out on top?

    It isn't the government's job to educate your children. It's yours. I'd wager you've checked your 401k on a more regular basis than you sit down and help your kid with their homework, or even thought about the pace of their learning.

    I won't even go into divorce and dual custody, daycare, and parents both working after a kid turns 3 months old. Likewise I won't talk about IQ and breastfeeding, or any of the other issues that plague this country.

    Stop being a victim and realize YOU are to blame. Not your kids, or your government.
    • If our system "sucks" so much, why are there SO many successful people who went through the system?

      Sometimes people come are successful in spite of things, or because it was so bad that it motivated them to educate themselves.

      Also, it very much depends on your definition of successful. Sometimes, people can makes lots of money and be "successful" yet be illiterate.
    • I also had a great public school education. My teachers taught me the basics and then taught me to think for myself. I can't believe that the only good public schools in the country are in my hometown, which leads me to believe that the problem isn't necessarily the schools themselves (except in the case of extremely poor areas that have trouble attracting qualified teachers).

      What makes the schools I went to successful? It's not the amount of money spent per student (on the high end of average, and propert
    • I can't be certain about yourself, but personally, I succeed in school despite their best efforts, not because of them. I was constantly bored, I learned the contents of the lesson in a matter of minutes instead of a matter of days, and so on. I was often caught unawares when it was my turn to read from the text or story because I was usually several pages ahead. In high school I finished the book (To Kill a Mockingbird, not a hard read) when everyone else was on chapter two. In grade four, I was lending no
  • by autophile ( 640621 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:46PM (#13045993)
    Here's an idea. Instead of asking a bunch of unqualified geeks, let's look to the world for best practices.

    I can anticipate an argument here. "But different countries have different cultures and emphasize different things!" Answer: public education's purpose, at least partially, is to brainwash children to follow a culture. So it doesn't matter what US culture is. Insourcing (ba-ding! +1 buzzword) the best practices will just result in our children getting the best education along with the culture that supports the best education.

    At least, that's my nonprofessional opinion.


  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:51PM (#13046084) Homepage
    Here are my magic solutions. I think if we implemented every one of these, our society would improve quite a bit.
    • Grade on a curve - This prevents grade inflation, which is insane these days (as others have pointed out). What does it say when 80% of a class is straight A students? That an A is too easy to get.
    • TOUGH tests - I don't care if little Johnny can pass his 6th grade proficency test at a 95%. That test should cover all the 6th grade stuff and then more (up to 8th, at least). That way we can see how far/behind Johnny is and he can be placed accordingly.
    • Hold 'em back - Too many kids get passed on with failing grades for "social reasons" (and, often, political (read: loud parents)). This needs to be stopped NOW. Can't pass the test? Can't pass the grade. You get a chance to make it up during the summer, or too bad.
    • Teach 'em to think - This one amazes me. I have a 13 year old sister, and in many ways her friends and peers can't think. If the answer isn't immediatly obvious or given to them they just shut down. If you haven't given them the formula for how to think out this kind of logic problem they are dumbfounded. I believe this comes from teaching-to-the-test. Speaking of which...
    • No more teaching to the test! BAN IT. Don't tell the teachers what is on the test or when it is. The test will be given at random points testing what the students should know up to that point (and then some as described above). That way you can avoid that who "For the next two months we will be focusing on the basic things you'll have to know how to do for the CAT tests so we can get more funding." nonsense.
    • Pay teachers based on their students progress. Measure the students and how they are doing, how they are progressing, where they are relative to where they should be, etc. Pay the teachers based on that. If you are an ineffectual teacher, you won't get paid as much. This should be done by a board consisting of teachers, parents, and officials to prevent problems (teachers giving eachother saleries that are too high, parents forcing a teacher they don't like to lose pay, the administration taking things out on a teacher they don't like, etc).
    • MANDITORY CIVIL SERVICE - Immediatly after highschool and before college, EVERYONE goes into civil service. You can choose the military, reserves, fire department, police, border patroll, forrest service, help the IRS, help the homeless, help at hospitals, etc. (the full list can be decided later). Term is 2 years. There would obviously be exceptions for some (like those with schitzophrenia and other serious problems). The number of self centered brats comming out of highschools in the US frighents me (note: I'm 21, I have seen this first hand and continue to). Don't get me wrong, there are many good kids. But there are many who act like they are still 12.
    • Fewer objective assignments. This goes along with other points above. If all you are ever testing kids on is what year the declaration of independance was written and how many ounces are in a cup (both fine fact, to be sure :), then how will they learn to evaluate things if they only see one assigment asking them to do more than recall a fact per year.
    • Kids teaching kids - Kids look up to older kids. It's just a fact. Get the older kids to help teach the younger kids once in a while. It will help the older kids (you know you understand something through-and-through if you can teach it, teaches paitence and helping, etc) and the younger kids (more likely to listen during an occasioal one-on-one with an older kid that old Mrs. Pratley lecturing at the board for the 4th hour in a row).
    • MUSIC. Teach them music. Manditory violin/guitar/piano/chello/tuba/whatever (no, tabourines don't count). Study after study shows that learning music (especially early) helps students, and it can give them a creative outlet.
    • Art - This is like music. You need to have creative outlets for the kids. They are not just dictionaries and encyclop
    • You have some interesting ideas, although others are a bit misled.

      Grade on a curve
      To decide this, you have to decide on the purpose of your education. Is the purpose to rank students, or is it to learn? If the purpose is to learn (as I believe it is), then what is more important is that students reach the learning objectives. If all the students meet all the learning objectives and get great marks, then that should be considered the best case.

      It may currently be the case that students who do not mee

    • This sounds exactly like the stuff that comes out of Utah (I live in Utah so I hear it day after day)

      All that stuff is great, and I am sure it would have helped YOU. Tough tests would have prevented me from passing any classes. I do not do well on tests even if I know the material inside out. As an example, in a math class I took in Jr. High I walked away with 110% in the class due to large ammounts of bonus points I recieved for "wow"ing the teacher. Problem is that I got nothing but 60% or less on the t
  • School Vouchers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mclove ( 266201 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:54PM (#13046141)
    I spent a lot of time this past school year tutoring 11th-grade New York City public school students on the SAT. These were bright kids who were genuinely interested in learning and very much wanted to attend college, and they attend the school system with the highest per-student expense in the entire USA, but their vocabulary was terrible, their writing was at about the level I'd expect to find from a middle-schooler, and they didn't even know how to use fractions. You can try to attribute this to low teacher salaries, bungled administration, or lack of funding, but when a smart kid can take a decade's worth of math classes and still not know how to work with fractions, I think the problem goes well beyond any of that.

    The fundamental problem as I see it is free riders. Compulsory public education means that a sizable percentage of students in any public school will be uninterested in learning, with parents who are equally uninterested in their children's educations. These kids will contribute to a culture of disinterest and a lack of respect for education which can pervade the entire school. I'm sure a lot of Slashdotters can remember sitting through math classes where most of the time was wasted trying to get a few disagreeable kids to sit down, shut up and try to learn something.

    Private schools work better because they cater to a self-selecting group: most of the parents who send their children to private schools are at least a little bit interested in making sure that their children get a good education and go to college, and will provide the reinforcement at home to make sure that they actually do study hard. Well-funded suburban private schools work similarly, because families move to areas with higher property taxes in large part because of their superior schools, and because (unfortunate but true) people with the money to live in those rich suburbs tend to have college degrees themselves and are more likely to appreciate the importance of getting their children well educated.

    So in spite of being a Democrat, I think school vouchers are a good idea, not because private schools are intrinsically "better" (they're not) but because the extra effort and expense of sending children to a (voucher-subsidized) private school will weed out a lot of the less-devoted students and parents, while keeping private education within the means of moderate-income families. And even for bright but lower-income students, vouchers can help bridge the gap between merit scholarships and tuition fees.

    At the same time, by shunting off a lot of the college-bound students to private schools, vouchers allow public schools to focus more on the needs of the remaining students. It may seem a bit radical in the face of American schools' constant focus on college prep, but there are some strong arguments to be made for adding more of a trade-school focus to public high schools; there are certain professions, nursing for example, that are badly in need of workers, and providing some of the training for those jobs in high school can fill the gaps and provide a much better career alternative than Wal-Mart.

    This isn't about "giving up" on public education, it's about appreciating the reality that not everybody is going to college, and doing the best we can for them based on that.
  • by falcon5768 ( 629591 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:57PM (#13046210) Journal
    1) Parents MUST be held to their childrens actions. I am so sick of teachers spending over half the day taking care of kids and not teaching because parents suck! Its as simple as that, parents these days dont know a thing about parenting and its in direct relation to THEIR parents sucking as parents. Kids have no problems cursing out their teachers and disrespecting older people... there is a reason why and its in the home.

    2) Make it easier to be a teach, but weed out the bad teachers. We have a overwelming lack of good teachers and a overwelming number of bad ones, why? Cause right now it takes more work to become a teacher than to make good money in a related field of work, so that only the diehards who REALLY want to teach (who are few and far between), or the people who have nothing else to fall back on do it. Pay better money, make it easier but at the same time make sure you get rid of the bad ones before they get tenure.

    3) End standardized testing. Its a joke, shows absolutely nothing but the person is a good test taker, and truthful give a false readout of if the students are doing well or not. I know great testakers who are total morons, and I know people who did horrable on the SATs yet could mentaly do the calculations for perfect satalite trajectories.

    4) Stop comparing the US to other countries. Im sorry the fact that other contries are smarter or not is bullshit and anyone who actually reads the numbers will see that unlike other contries, the US is the only large country that requires attendance to high school. Most countries dont even send their children TO high school, they take tests and then are forcfully placed into what their job will be based on those tests.

    5) Stop treating college as the end of school. High school should be where most of your life skills are learned, NOT college. Right now High schools teach as if kids are going to college, and not as if these students will be entering the workforce. In this buisnesses who refuse to higher qualified high school grads over a unqualified college grad based soley on a peice of paper are directly responsible and should be made to blame. College is ment to further your enducation, not complete it.

    Kick out the bad seeds. Make them do labor and send them to special schools. 90% of most school problems can be directly atributed to less than 5% of the schools population. In the future if people start listening to suggestion one and actually parent their kids, this might be able to be removed. But at the moment there is just to many wasted humans who need to sadly be forced to stop being asshats thanks to their parents that schools just cant cope unless you have a special program for it.

    START FUNDING EDUCATION! You want people to be smart start actually put money into the schools instead of saying it and then screwing the books so that schools actually get .5% of what you promised. No Child Left Behind was great at this as they promised money to support the program and have yet in 5 years to hand a cent out to anyone but the government buddys.

    • Absolute rubbish. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by the_raptor ( 652941 )

      Stop comparing the US to other countries. Im sorry the fact that other contries are smarter or not is bullshit and anyone who actually reads the numbers will see that unlike other contries, the US is the only large country that requires attendance to high school. Most countries dont even send their children TO high school, they take tests and then are forcfully placed into what their job will be based on those tests.

      What absolute rubbish. The US system is pretty much the same as the system in nearly eve

  • No Child Left Behind (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rpillala ( 583965 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @03:59PM (#13046230)

    I had a theory that NCLB is really designed to take money out of the public school system. I'm just a teacher though and have little knowledge/decision making authority about education policy so I didn't put much weight in my theory. Last summer, though, I took a class in research methods and was surprised to hear the professor (a man of 40 years' standing in many levels of public education) advance the same theory as though it was pretty much common knowledge.

    Do you know, for example, that students with severe special needs take the same tests as everyone else? How many specialists does that take, and how does that affect teacher-student ratios in the rest of the building? Staffing funds are not unlimited. Do you understand how much emphasis is placed on testing and Adequate Yearly Progress on high stakes tests? I've been reading some of the other posts about how to improve education and they all seem to rely on abandoning high stakes tests. There are many ways to evaluate progress and tell if someone should pass or fail a class, and if they fail I'm all for them having to repeat. It can be done without reliance on tests that determine (sometimes all by themselves) whether you pass or fail, and were created by people who haven't taught in years.

    Many of the changes proposed are more like what happens in private schools which have less detailed oversight than public schools. Increase the federal and state government's role in schools to the point where education is impossible (we're not there yet) and people will get fed up and look to private schools (hello vouchers) as the answer. Maybe rightly so kids don't get 2 tries at their formative years.

  • by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @04:04PM (#13046320) Homepage
    Why is it that at a university, where you're supposedly learning things significantly more advanced and in-depth than in K-12, it's perfectly reasonable to spend less than four hours on campus a day as a "full time" student? For 30 weeks of the year?

    This "maximize time in the classroom" mantra that's going around is sickening. I remember darn well what I was doing 80% of the time in K-12. Reading a book. Playing with my calculator. Daydreaming. Doodling. With a 3.9 GPA.

    If the school day were to end at noon, it would not only keep the kids sane, but also provide time for them to pursue more meaningful activities. Music. Art. Athletics. Science clubs. Playing tag. Interacting with other people in a non-structured environment (such scandalous madness!).

    As an added bonus, they would be significantly less brain-fried due to less hours sitting still, and therefore more attentive. They might also be more active with this reduced mental exhaustion and increased time, helping to stem the "obesity epidemic."

    My mom is from Argentina, where school was just like that. 8 to noon, five days a week, with electives available in the afternoon. When she moved here, speaking very little English, she was bumped up a grade. It can work.
  • by BackInIraq ( 862952 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @04:06PM (#13046364)
    -Get rid of grade inflation: Bring back the bell curve. I've seen people get A's in high-school level American History who can't tell you who can't name 5 presidents...including recent ones. How can you tell if kids are learning if ALL of them get A's? This is worse than social least if you pass the kid with a D he knows he's not performing...if you pass him through with a B he thinks he's "above average" (according to most schools' grade scales).

    -Scale back athletics and (somewhat) the arts. Sports are great, but gyms are for athletics, schools are for learning. When every teacher is a coach, that's just that much less time being spent making sure kids are learning. Personally, I'd like to see organized sports out of public schools entirely, but I realize that's probably extreme to most people...and that it would never, ever, happen. As for theatre and band, they aren't nearly as bad as athletics, because they have some educational quality...but they still take away a little too much focus from academics, which is bad for the kids who aren't going to go into acting or music.

    -Teach the darn teachers: First off, my wife is a teacher, and I respect almost anybody who chooses to go into the profession. That said, the teaching program at her university (and I've heard this is not the exception, but rather the rule) is a -joke-. I've seen the classes she had to take for a primary education degree, and seen some of her fellow students. It frightens me. How can you teach what you don't know? Now I realize why I sometimes felt smarter than my teachers (especially in late elementary/junior high)...I think in some cases I WAS. And high-school teachers should be required to have a major in their field of focus, and a minor in education, not the other way around.

    -Tracking: I'm a believer in it...simply having AP classes and normal classes isn't good enough. I went to two high schools, one that did it and one that didn't. Face it, some kids are smarter than others, and when the whole class has to go at the pace of the slowest student, everybody loses. The only requirement, in my mind, is that parents should be able to move their kids to a higher track on request, but perhaps have to sign a waiver saying the school is not responsible if their child fails...since nowadays failing a student can actually bring legal action, or so I hear.

    The school I attended that used tracking had 3 different groups for each core class. One for honors, one for general college prep, and one regular (though really it was usually remedial) class. The idea being that not everybody is college material...and this district had a pretty decent vo-tech program to go with it. So you had 3 different American History classes, 3 different algebra classes, etc. Granted, this is only feasible in larger schools.

    Bring back the basics: Okay, I love multicultural education. I love finger painting. But the first several years our kids spend in school have one (academic) purpose...teach them to read and do basic math. There's a reason it used to be called grammar school. Most of the problem isn't at the high-school can't build on a crappy foundation. Kids are getting there without basic reading and math skills, partly due to social promotion and partly because they aren't a focus anymore. How can you read your history textbook if you can hardly read? So now you're failing English AND history. Great. By 8th/9th grade it's far too late...might as well just let them drop out.

    Focus on Vo-Tech: Not everybody is college material. Especially university material. As soon as we realize this, and as soon as universities stop accepting damn near everybody (ever look at the freshman dropout rate for state universities?), we will be better off. We can start focusing on giving those that aren't going to get a bachelor's some usable job skills, or prepare them for some form of trade school. There is nothing wrong with being a mechanic...we need them, and
  • by hb253 ( 764272 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @04:33PM (#13046758)

    The level of generalization I'm reading here about US schools being awful is a tad extreme. The whole question of education is complex and contrary to what many may believe, there is no ONE way that would satisfy and work for everyone.

    I attended public school in NYC until 7th grade. I then moved to New Jersey and attended public school until graduating from high school. I can honestly say I think I received an excellent education. I went on to college and got a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

    I think several people have already mentioned the following:

    • Education starts at home. Parents must set a good example (behavior, intellectual pursuits, arts, etc) and also demand excellence from their children. It's true that there's a pervasive anti-intellectualism in this country - I don't know why. With high parental expectations and support, a student can get a decent education in even the poorest of schools.
    • Teachers need to demand excellence. They need parental support as well as support from their administrators.
    • Not everyone is destined or able to be a genius. There is nothing wrong with pushing kids towards vocational education.
    • Deemphasize sports. Gym class is fine. For some reason, it's OK to excel in sports, but not academics.
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @04:37PM (#13046814)
    I've moved more than once a year in the first 20 years of my life and visited 5 different school systems alltogether. I've seen many education systems as a first hand experience. Top-Level ultra expensive private schools, reformistic primary school, integrated high school (with school uniform, corporal punishment and the whole sheebang), etc.
    The last school I attended was a waldorf school [] (wikipedia info not very detailed but feasable). I was there for the last few years of my school time.
    In my first hand experience the anthroposophical waldorf education system beats any other hands down. It had concepts one hundred years ago that are considered "brand new stuff" (such as early second language education) by others today.
    The Epochal system makes learning fun and the results just stick. I rember our classes with tremendous detail. And, rumors to the contrary, their scientific education is top notch, often due to the pratical and experimental orientation of classes. Art is a core component (not just a nice extra) training social skills from the first day. Teachers usually are hard working idealists doing their best to aknowledge each individual pupil and supporting their talents. I mentioned their math classes in another comment the other day [], which gives a clear picture of the general compentence of the waldorf system.
    My daugther attends waldorf school and the extra money it costs is more than worth it. And I live in germany where the education system is ... errrm ... was considered one of the better ones.

    The truth is:
    Every improvement regular western school education has gone through within the last century allways was a step towards the waldorf way of doing things.
    It is my first hand experience that they are the bar for everything else.
  • by gesualdo ( 149094 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @04:53PM (#13047036)
    Until June 11th, I was a high school math teacher at a public charter school in North Carolina. When I decided to not renew by contact for next year, it had nothing to do with money. It had everything to do with culture.

    As a whole, our culture (or at least North Cakalaki's) does not value education. I don't need books, I don't need computers, I don't even need chairs. Give me some kids who come from families that value learning and education, and I'll help build an educated student. Give me a kid who won't even put in the effort to cheat on a a test or homework assignment, and there's jack shit I can do.

    While culture may not be easy to change, it is the root of all our school's problems. Our schools are stupid enough, however, that, generally speaking, they don't attempt to either fix nor solve the problem. An essential clue that our systems are lacking is the shortage of math and science teachers. These people are, ideally, logical and rational people. Personally, the irrationality and lack of logic at the NC Department of Public Instruction was more than enough to cause me to leave the system. My only other alternative, would have been to sacrifice my standards and the quality of education.
  • by Kismet ( 13199 ) <pmccombs&acm,org> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:25PM (#13047427) Homepage
    I'm told that, hundreds of years ago, people were highly literate. Even kids could read Shakespeare, apparently; at least Sam Johnson seemed fine with it at the age of 9. I understand that twelve-year-old Abraham Cowley was reading Spenser. And I've been told repeatedly that colonial American farmers were able to digest the Federalist Papers without much trouble at all. How is it that America's founders were able to defy the world's foremost superpower, and fashion a remarkable democracy that lasted almost until mid-twentieth century? Those were young men then. Have you seen todays' college rabble? Those people ought to be out doing great things, not spending drunk time in some dormitory. What happened?

    I have a novel idea: Why don't we do what they did in colonial times? You know, schools of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Liberal education. The Classics. Mentors. How about that? Teach people how to think as soveriegn individuals. Let's shut down the state factory schools, with the state curricula and the private interests that shape them. Why not consider the things that Brownson once said: "[A]ccording to our theory the people are wiser than the government. Here the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give law to the government [...] to entrust government with the power of determining education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power of the master."

    Why don't we do this? Because it would spell the end of our managed utopias, with their closely regulated, mass-production economies. Henry Ford, for one, needed people who were satisfied with stuff that came off of an assembly line; stuff that looked strikingly similar to what everyone else had. He needed people who would be satisfied with simple, repetitive jobs. It's more efficient to build things by robot than to rely on a specialist. We don't need more smart people, we have plenty already. We need robots, that's what Utopia is all about. And that's what public schools are good at. They are just fine for what they do; they don't need to be fixed. Kids go to school so that they can "get a good job" (even if it's a sinecure), not to enrich their mind or soul.

    I tried actually learning at school a few times. I soon realized that, in school, learning has a deadline. It's managed by bells and by psychology. It only really matters that you learn to answer the right way on the final exam - then you are educated. Then you will be successful. Private and state quotas are met whether we learn to read or not.

    If we want better students than anyone else in the global competition, all we have to do is tweak the machine a bit. Fiddle with it. But if our goal is truly educated people, then we need to scrap the current system and start over. My guess is that it won't happen.
  • by Scott Byer ( 830577 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @07:15PM (#13048566)
    Merit pay for teachers:

    - 50% based on classroom performance improvement over the year. The second test of the kids should take place months before summer break, to prevent the pure teach-the-test problem.

    - 30% based on school performance improvement over the year (to encourage sharing of lesson plans and cooperation). May be further subdivided into improvement relative to other schools in district, state, or nationwide. Lack of cooperation is one of the whining complaints always given as a reason for not having merit pay, and this is an easy solution.

    - 20% based on parent and student feedback. This needs to be on a curve, probably within the district, since there will always be that percentage of crazy parents that dislike any teacher their kids have or who are upset when their kids don't always get the undeserved A.

    For administrators:

    - Replace the portion based classroom improvement with relative ratio of money under their control to money that makes it to the classroom, relative to other schools in the district/state/nation. Until you start measuring and negatively impacting administrator pay for a lack of efficiency, the current bloated eduocracy will continue to burn money inefficiently.

    Other things:

    - Stop this crazy extra long summer break thing. Yes, kids need a break to be kids. No, it doesn't have to be three months long, with the resultant loss of retention.

    - Keep teachers with the same class longer (i.e., follow a class through grades 1, 2, and 3). Increases the accuracy of any measurement of improvement.

    - Admit that some students learn differently than others, and put the students in classes/tracks based on that. Get those that learn visually together, etc.

    - School vouchers. It's one sure-fire way of getting parents more involved, and one great measurement of parental feedback. If all the kids move to another school, you can bet you kinda suck. I have not heard one cogent argument against this (the typical one is that it takes money away from the schools, which is bull, because no voucher program ever had the voucher value anywhere near what the schools got per student - only if the administrative overhead is so ridiculously high that it's greater than the difference between per-student funding and voucher value is there any damage, and the solution then isn't to not use vouchers, but to fix the overhead!).

    - Long or no tenure period. It's ridiculous that after just 3 years in some places, poor teachers can have a lock on their job. If you don't have the ability to get rid of the bottom 5% of performers, guess what you end up with?

    As an "educational libertarian" (I believe that we should fund education through college - but only when a system is in place that creates efficient spending) I'm disgusted at the morons who think that we can solve the problem by throwing money at it. Guess what? Per-student funding in the U.S. is quite high. Efficiency of that money is extraordinarily low. And the "teachers" unions (esp. the CTA) is made up of mostly administrators! Their grab for additional funding is all about self-preserving their bloated bureaucracy (as an aggregate behavior in the face of no measurement of efficiency).

    Until we start measuring what we want to see - improvement, efficiency - we will never see those things and we will continue to throw good money after bad.

  • by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Wednesday July 13, 2005 @11:33AM (#13053864) Homepage

    There are several problems with the educational system in the US. To many for me to try to address all of them here. They range from incompetent parents, to unreasonable expectations, to the perpetuation of every kind of "ism" known to the human species. But, there is one key problem that can be addressed.

    The simple fact is that our k-12 educators are by and large incompetent. As an early poster pointed out, the bell curve has a left end. If you look at SAT and ACT scores you find that the majority of education majors have the lowest scores of any group that manages to graduate from college. Of course, they all graduate with very high GPAs due to grade inflation. (The university I went to, the University of Utah, changed the way they grant honors. It is not based on raw GPA, but on on the difference between your grade in a class and the average grade in the class. The did this because of the rampant grade inflation in the college of education. )

    There is a simple way to solve this problem. Double the salaries of everyone working in education. That's correct. Double the salaries of the incompetents. Why? If you double their salaries then the best (or at least not the worst) students will go into education. Over 5 to 10 years the good will push out the bad and our education system will have a chance to begin to work properly.

    Oh yeah, one other thing that could help right now, don't let the coaches of the schools competitive sports teams teach real students. The real students don't deserve to be abused that way. It is bad enough to have to take classes from incompetents. It is cruel to subject students to people who are not only incompetent, but stupid, arrogant, and really don't care at all about anything but their teams.

The best defense against logic is ignorance.