The Education Thread

Discussion in 'Politics & Current Events' started by saosebastiao, Jan 4, 2008.

  1. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    I know education has been a tangential topic in a lot of our threads, but I would like to have a dedicated topic about education.

    I'd like to start off with this piece by John Stossel about the current state of our education system. It is mostly anecdotal, but it does include some broad based studies and some persuasion toward choice based education. Its quite long, but watch the whole thing anyway:D
    [youtube]Bx4pN-aiofw[/youtube]

    I agree with a lot that he has to say, and I can understand the viewpoints very well, as I was subjected to a crappy government school. Obviously, a lot of people here think I am an extremist, but they never really can clarify how exactly my viewpoint is extreme. I would be open to ANY broad based education reform that includes choice at this point...regardless of the fact that I would view it as a compromise. There are multiple countries that have choice-based education, and they all seem to get a lot from it. Boca_Fan related his experience with moving to America and moving up two grades because our system was so retarded (dictionary definitions make for great insults). From what I understand, the Argentine school system is also choice based...is this correct?

    Anyway...I would like to see some opposing viewpoints on this issue.


  2. JBigjake

    JBigjake Member+

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    Supporting both Benfica & Boavista?
  3. soccernutter

    soccernutter Moderator Staff Member

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    Then you don't understand some of the arguments. I believe demos, the resident expert on current education, has explained why you are extreme.

    I have not had a chance to watch the Stossel piece, but I'm assuming that it is a broad based on an "average" student. This presents a problem because there is no solid definition of the "average" student. Additionally, what is the definition of an "excelling" student? How about an "under performing" student? I put those words in quotes as their definitions vary from state to state. As an example: a coworker of my mom, who works along the Space Coast in Florida (and thus the area has a sizable population of well educated people), moved from Pennsylvania about two years ago. Coworker's daughter was a soph. in HS in Penn. According to my mom, she was a good student, but not great (I interpret that as an A/B student). Upon moving to Florida, she became bored in school because it was too easy. She was moved to excelling classes and was finally challenged. She was getting all A's in Florida.

    Yes, anecdotal evidence. But I use it as an example of how different the schools are in various states, and sometime, even within a state. When I get a chance to watch that Stossel piece (which likely won't be for a few days as I'm moving on Sunday and don't get internet until Monday before I leave for work) I won't comment on it. But, I do like his stuff, and have used a couple of his things in class.

    There are two huge problems I have with education: 1) Lack of funding; 2) lack of parental involvement. The first prevents some excellent teachers from entering the profession, or causes them to leave early (among a variety of things). The second prevents students from learning at home and away from the classroom (along with the idea to Teacher/Parent "team" teaching).

    Now, it is not fair to compare the US education system with any in the world. We have a fundamental difference in philosophy in that every student should be able to get a college education (it is a right to have, not a privilege). In countries with lower levels of income (a smaller middle-class), it is more difficult for a poorer student to get a better education (re: university education). Even in Chile, which is the most well off on average of all South American countries, it is very difficult to get into university. So I don't think any comparison to Argentina's school system is fair. I would like to know more, though, to see if there are any valuable ideas/policies that can be used.
  4. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    Great grandfather played for Boavista. Benfica is my favorite team. I am a Benfica fan, but sympathize with Boavista.


  5. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    Good post and good points...it is hard to define average, especially when performance and curriculum as well as methodology can vary so much from state to state. But I do think it is fair to make comparisons with other countries...unless we want to continue living in a vacuum. I do hope you watch the piece...especially with regards to the student performance in Belgium v New Jersey (on the high end of the performance scale between states).

    As far as the two problems you state, I agree with one. Parental involvement needs to improve...how, I don't know. But the studies are pretty conclusive that success in school is highly dependent on parental involvement. Funding however, I completely disagree. Stossel covers this pretty well in his piece. We have increased funding dramatically, and seen no performance increase...in fact we have seen it decrease. Schools in CA receive 10k per pupil...yet only a small fraction of that (anywhere from 30-45%) is spent in the classroom, including the teachers. We don't need more funding...if anything we need less. We need better funding, smarter funding. We need better competition between textbook publishers by getting rid of exclusive contracts. We need better teacher training. We need better curriculum. We need better progress assessment systems in place. We don't need a superintendent of wellbeing and spiritual care. We don't need 7 vice principles for discipline. We don't need administrative positions for tenured teachers that are not wanted.

    And of course, we need choice.

    As far as your comments about the University system in Chile...from what I understand, every latin American country has a public university system. They all underperform ours (well...all university systems underperform ours), but they are free and available to all that are accepted. Obviously not all systems are as liberal in who they accept, but they all have them at the very least and they are free. In fact, some of the brightest college kids I met in Honduras were poor kids. I don't think economic status has any effect down there beyond the fact that some poorer families don't emphasize education and therefore they don't receive it. But cost is rarely the issue. I think comparison between other nations is completely applicable, and if anything, we should be held to a higher standard that other countries that don't push college education as much.
  6. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator Staff Member

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    I've watched part of this special before. The part I remember was the frustration of the mother of the illiterate high-school boy. Stossel showed a meeting between the mother and her son, and various teachers and members of the faculty. It was frustrating to see how the meeting 'progressed' and the various school officials seemed to feel that progress was being made simply because the process was moving along, forms were being filled out, appointments were being met, etc.--yet the kid wasn't learning to read. So I get the frustration.

    But, I also found myself wondering--"Is it really the job of a HIGH SCHOOL to teach basic literacy?" Seriously? How can a high school focus its resources on preparing young adults for the real world, for various vocations, for college, etc. if it also has to funnel resources into teaching a young man how to freaking READ? Why didn't Stossel turn to the mother and say "How the hell did you let your son get this far and still be illiterate?" How many books does that woman have in her house? How often did she read to him when he was young? How often does she read herself?

    Schools can do a lot, but they need 'raw material.' A high school needs students with some basic skills and knowledge before they can even begin to produce high-performing future scientists and mathematicians.

    That said--I'm not a huge fan of the current school setup, either. I'm not so sure that one-size-fits-all age-grouping and institutional learning is the way to go. But I don't know what the answer is, and my wife and I have realized that we don't have a better alternative right now--we both work, we don't like any of the private schools in the area, and our son's public elementary school is at least better than most. And he's had a couple of good homeroom teachers. He's also had a couple of mediocre ones, and I have a pretty low opinion of his principal and assistant principal. But we work with the system, because we're obviously not providing a workable alternative.

    Oh, and full disclosure--my Dad was a public educator his whole life--several years as a high school math teacher and then three decades as an elementary principal*. My Mom taught grade-school music for over a decade before turning to a career in social work instead.

    * My Dad met my son's principal once; he wasn't impressed with her, either.
  7. The Jitty Slitter

    The Jitty Slitter Moderator Staff Member

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    My mother teaches literacy and it is in fact an enormous problem.

    The issue is simply resource.

    Wealthier parents who care fix this issue privately.

    For those in state schools - it is unrealistic that a teacher with 30 odd pupils can deal with students with learning difficulties. And to that the fact that overcoming these issues requires specialist intervention - which most schools don't offer.

    I can recall from my own childhood, when we made a spelling mistake, we had to write out the word 10 times. For 80% of kids that works. One poor kid ended up with over 1000 words to write out - as if he just tried harder - he would be able to spell. Archaic methodology.

    But many times this is not something where a caring parent could simply overcome this issue by focusing on it. It requires specialist teaching.
  8. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

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    BRF is right. You can't look at high schools' failure to teach basic literacy and call that a fault of our school system. The real failure occurred when the child made it all the way to high school without learning to read or write. I honestly believe that 99% of what ails public schools (or what the public perceives to be the problem) would be alleviated if the appropriate corrections were made at the early elementary level.

    Still, I would like to point out that our public schools, on the whole, are NOT failing. Most parents, especially those who live in the suburbs, are happy with the performance of the public schools their children attend. I attended public (high) school and so did most of the people I know. It does a dissersive to the aim of improving education to overstate the problem(s) is the system(s).
  9. The Jitty Slitter

    The Jitty Slitter Moderator Staff Member

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    Correct - although maybe not the 99% bit.

    A minority of children suffer from issues which require intervention. Well known examples might be sight issues and dyslexia - but that is tip of the iceberg.
  10. soccernutter

    soccernutter Moderator Staff Member

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    I do plan to watch it...

    And, of course, there is the parent taking responsability for being involved. This, of course, assumes there are parents around to be able to help out a student...

    Agreed, we need better funding. But increasing teacher pay is a way to get better teachers into the classroom.

    Not necessarily free. My fiance, a Fulbrighter here in the US from Chile, has student loans in Chile. But the key is being accepted. Of course, this is moving away from a non-university conversation, so I'll slow up on this.

    If you want to nationalize ecucation, the lets make a comparision. But there are other areas that are also socially/societally (a word?) different.

    Had I been in the meeting, I would have ask that question of the mother herself (or at least tried to, if possible).

    Hell yeah.

    That said--I'm not a huge fan of the current school setup, either. I'm not so sure that one-size-fits-all age-grouping and institutional learning is the way to go. But I don't know what the answer is, [/QUOTE]
    Done right, smaller classes are better. But there are students who would rather be in a bigger class, and they will succeed. But how do we figure out which student is which.

    Let me add English Language Learners to that as well.


    What is the philosophy here? Do we look to get all the kids to be the best possible, or do we get them to try and not fail? Or how do we do both?
  11. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    I agree to an extent. My problem is that our school system is probably the most well funded in the world, and if not the most well funded, than at least top 15. We have the resources, but we don't use them wisely. If you watched the video, there was a part where a mother was trying to get her high school son to learn how to read. Basically nothing was done on the public school level, so they sent him to a private learning institute and they could help him within a matter of hours.

    So tell me...what was it about the private system that was different than the public system? I bet you anything the private system receives less total funds than $10k for this job. But with some simple resources and a different methodology they did wonders for the child. Why is that impossible from the public school?

    I realize that high schools are not the problem in his case...the problem is systemwide from the beginning grades on up. But a little bit of specially directed funds could do a lot more to help this kid than a committee of administrators filing paperwork and making sure he makes his appointments.
    My little brother is an exceptional case of how school choice can benefit those who have special needs. My brother has some severe learning disabilities and has been held back a grade twice. When our school approved a few charter schools, he was recommended for one of them. The school is pretty poorly funded and the facilities are poor, but just a simple change in methodology meant the difference between failing and straight As and Bs. He is also ranked in the 90th percentile on standardized tests. Now he doesn't even take medication, because my parents found a school that could work with his needs instead of focusing on the rest of the class.
  12. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

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    I watched the 20/20 piece. A lot of it is very misleading, and of course most of it is anecdotal. It overstates the problems in American schools, and fails to support its gloomy outlook with real statistics and information.

    Stossel is absolutely correct in pointing out that more spending is not the answer. I daresay that increases in school funding are actually part of the problem.

    On the other hand, he makes a poor case for "choice" as the answer. Belgium is a lovely example, but how can we look at Belium's system without acknowledging the economic, cultural and demographic differences between the US and Belgium? Or more accurately, we should look at the differences between Belgium and any given state which is considering a similar system. Stossel's piece didn't answer some questions I have about poverty rates in Belgium, or the existense of private schools, or the laws which govern the education of children with disabilities, or students' rights, etc.

    Stossel would have his audience believe that the states exercise monopolies over education, but that is entirely false. There are fine private schools in every state, and parents have complete freedom of choice in deciding whether to send their children to public or to private school. They also can choose where to live, which many families do. Furthermore, under NCLB, parents can transfer their children to another public school if their current school is underperforming. So it's ridiculous to say that parents have no choices or that they are "forced" to send their children to any particular school.
  13. Cascarino's Pizzeria

    Cascarino's Pizzeria Member+

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    You already have school choice. My grandparents who lived in NYC scrimped & saved to send their kids to Catholic school because that was their choice. They could have sent them to the local P.S. That was another choice. Today you even have home schooling - that's a 3rd choice. Lots of choices out there, this is a non-controversy.
  14. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    I can understand what you mean... but let me give you an analogy to let you know how I feel.

    Windows, as an operating system, regardless of version, is built upon an old architecture that you probably remember...called MSDOS. It has been around for a long time, but has some problems that for most people are not a big deal. Its main benefits are that it is popular and has a lot of programs that are highly available.

    But what if the few problems that it has start to affect you? I'll give an example that is my own. I run a computer for myself but also use it as a server. It needs to be "up" all the time. If I run an update or install a program for the personal side...the only way I can get it to work is to reboot (because the DOS architecture forces me to), which will take the server down. That is unacceptable.

    Luckily, I have a choice. (See where I'm going with this yet?). I run Ubuntu Linux on my computer...it is completely free, as well as all of the programs on it are free. It is stable. And its architecture allows me to run updates and install or remove programs without ever taking it offline.

    I agree that public schools as a whole may be working well for the vast majority of students. But they are failing the poor and the special needs students on a large scale. Right now the only solution is to try to patch the problem...even if the problem is rooted into the architecture of the system. In other words...trying to educate someone with different needs by using the same system. Even in places where choice is an almost-option, you have to go through a bureaucratic process that may take years (in my brothers case, it took three before his solution became a reality).
  15. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

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    A matter of 72 hours.

    If the child were provided with 2 hours of 1-on-1 instruction in literacy per day, then it would take the school 36 days to achieve the same results. That would be at least 7 weeks, assuming no vacations or days off. That also assumes that there is a qualified teacher available to work only with this one student, for two hours every single day.

    In reality, there is probably no teacher available for that amount of time. The kid probably gets 45 minutes to an hour of intervention per day, thus stretching 7 weeks to 14. Taking into consideration vacation days, teacher and student absences, and the teacher being pulled away for other duties (which happens regularly), that 14 weeks stretches to at least 16 or 18 weeks. We're talking about 4 or 5 months to accomplish 72 hours of instruction.

    It's not that Sylvan learning center cares more, or that their teachers are more qualified or better motivated, or that their techniques are any different. The difference is that Sylvan works with the student one-on-one without interruption.

    If the mother wanted her child to read so badly, she should scrape up enough cash to pay for the Sylvan tutoring herself.
  16. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

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    A couple of questions: A) did Johnny really want to larn readin'? B) how come kids caint spel?

    The issue of many incorrect spelling words is an invitation to investigate where the problem is. But that means making an investment in one student ( or literally dozens of students ) that is typically dealt with by assigning drills, which hasn't been proved to be effective for those students whose spelling problems are part of a learning disablity.

    Since we cannot subject parents to waterboarding for failure to prepare their children for the school component of learning to read, we have to develop strategies that will work early.

    One laptop per kid, as dumb as that may sound, would put into the hands of a kid the opportunity to learn to read using interactive tools. But it would also give kids the opportunity to spend all their time playing computer games that wouldn't teach them anything more valuable than shooting down Iranian Dessault Mirage F-1 and Mikoyan MiG-29 jet fighters.
  17. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    Which is a tragedy, but unfortunately it is a reality that doesn't seem to go away. I don't know what the solution is...because we can go the route of trying to accept it and work around it...or try to combat the problem at its core.

    I agree. Better pay for teachers will not only mean better teachers, but better availability. But I think it could go a lot deeper than that as well. We need to make it easier to fire under performing or negligent teachers. If you saw some of the teachers I had in my high school, you would understand how much teachers abuse the tenure system.
  18. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

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    If there is a problem with underperforming teachers, then the solution is not necessarily to fire them. It's to not hire them in the first place.

    If teaching paid a competitive wage, and the working conditions were more tolerable, schools could be more selective in their hiring. They also would have a better chance of retaining qualified, competent teachers. Then they wouldn't have to worry about firing the "bad" teachers.
  19. Barbara

    Barbara Hail Grimes!

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    As did my parents raising five kids in New Orleans where you simply didn't send your kid to public school unless you had no alternative. I went to school with lots of non-Catholic kids.




    But dannytoone, John Stossel? Seriously?
  20. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    Yes...you have a choice. You can send your child to a private school if you scrimp and save...but in order to scrimp and save enough to send your child to a private school, you have to pay for a public school to not educate your child. Thats not exactly a good definition of choice IMO.
  21. Barbara

    Barbara Hail Grimes!

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    Now you're starting to sound like Matt.
  22. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    Read my previous post. Yes, parents have a choice, but it is not complete freedom like you state. In fact, it makes sure that only the elite can pay for private schools...because the middle class needs to pay taxes and have enough left over for private education. The elite seem to be the only ones who can afford private schools on top of their tax burden. Furthermore, the amount of time that it takes to achieve a solution through the processes we have now can very well mean the difference between a high schooler who cant read and a high schooler that can.

    I agree that Stossel doesn't cover all the bases...but it would have been stupid to spend more time answering the questions of an education expert if the piece was intended for the general population. I wouldn't say it is deliberate misinformation.

    As far as school funding, I agree. I kind of see it like snowboarding, or any equipment based sport in general. A $2000 snowboard setup will not make you a better snowboarder any more than a $500 snowboard setup. But if you have a $40 snowboard setup, you are likely to be affected. Money is an enabler, not a problem or a solution.
  23. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

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    Your argument falls flat. Most Americans understand that they have to pay taxes to keep their city/state/nation running. People with no children don't mind paying taxes that fund public schools. People who send their children to private schools shouldn't mind either (and most don't). We don't pay taxes only for services that directly benefit ourselves. That would be plain silly. In the end, we all benefit, directly or indirectly, from the availability of free education in the United States. So we all pay part of the price for it, whether we use the service or not.

    Personally, I'm not going to discuss "choice" in education any further, because it has already been discussed and I've made my opinions and reasoning clear. However, if people want to discuss other topics related to improving public education, I'd love to participate. I spend about 9 hours a day thinking about these things, so I do have a lot to say about it.
  24. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

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    Matt and I occasionally agree on things... after all, a broken clock is right twice a day.

    Seriously, though. I was exaggerating. I would be very surprised if that boy's mother had never, not once in 12 years of her son's schooling, been called by a teacher who was concerned about his progress in reading. All the gains she wants the school to produce, she could have accomplished herself. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to teach reading.
  25. saosebastiao

    saosebastiao New Member

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    Stossel could be a little more clear on what he meant by 72 hours. I understood it as a declaration that within 72 hours he was reading better. Maybe I'll try to find it again to see if he specifies 72 hours of instruction or not.
    Which is an option. We have school guidance counselors, right? I'm pretty sure they focus their attention on individuals and not groups. Why not have specialized tutors that can help with specific problems. They can even spread their time out among all the schools in the district to be more efficient. I went through remedial speech therapy in second grade...why can't we have remedial literacy experts? Experts that use similar methodologies as Sylvan?
    Could she? Is that a true option? How can we know if we don't know her. She sounded pretty convinced to get her child to read...I have no reason to believe she would have done so if she could.

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