Do we have a problem with public education in the United States? I’m quite sure we do. Is it as bad as some would lead us to believe? I am quite sure that it is not.
Here is what I believe.
I believe that America still turns out some of the best and brightest students, year in and year out, found anywhere in the world. I would stack our best and brightest up against those of anyplace else. If our schools had really slipped as some would have you believe, then we would not be producing top notch students. Why, then, does America rank further down the list in standardized test results than we would like to see when compared with other developed nations?
One reason is that, in the U.S., we test almost 100% of our students. For the most part, we have one educational track in this country. We expect every student, regardless of their abilities, interest levels, motivation, or myriad socio-economic situations to jump through the same hoop…the dreaded hoop that hangs like the Sword of Damalcles over Standardized Testing Land. In many nations that we are compared against, students are tracked into different areas of education, not necessarily the college prep track that all American students are squeezed into. Do you suppose that might skew the statistics and muddy the comparative perceptions? I do.
What is the answer? How do we fix this?
One option would be to diversify the educational paths available to our children from an early age. Beginning in the middle grades, perhaps 7th, 8th, or 9th grade students who haven’t the desire, motivation, or particular skill set for the college track (and yes, there is a particular skill set required for success in college beyond just academic aptitude) could greatly benefit from some other choices. Many of these students have great skills that they aren’t able to fully utilize in the traditional college prep educational models of Standardized Testing Land. Students could begin specialized training for computer code writing, music or other arts, mechanical engineering, etc., much earlier in their educational paths and avoid the dead-end path to Standardized Testing Land. Imagine how much those students could blossom in the element that motivates them. Imagine how much the test scores would suddenly skyrocket back in Standardized Testing Land without adding in the scores of those students who would then be off learning and doing their specialized things and, perhaps, flourishing for the first time in their educational experience!
Alas, that is probably a pipe dream. So what can we do, knowing that we are going to be forced to shoe-horn so many students into that hoop that hangs high above Standardized Testing Land? If I were Education Czar, I would attack the problem almost from infancy. I would attack it through literacy programs and I mean aggressive ones. Kids who grow up loving to read will be so much better prepared for that traditional college bound track we squeeze all of our kids into. I would get books, lots of them, into the hands of inner city parents. I would get books, lots of them, into the hands of poor rural parents. I would get books, lots of them, into the hands of every perspective parent. I would make literacy as important to parents as putting food on the table or keeping immunization records up to date. I would have boots on the ground in neighborhoods, taking the literary pulse of the nation on a regular basis. I would create monetary incentives for parents who had their children take part in reading programs throughout the year, including summers. I would create an Army of Librarians…and nosy ones at that.
If we could create one generation of voracious readers, I firmly believe that it would beget others and our test scores, even with our single, college bound track system testing 100% of our students, would skyrocket.
If your kids don’t like to read, that should be a red flag.
I am blessed with a daughter who loves to read. If you want to see her light up like it’s Christmas morning, mention going to Barnes and Noble, Half Price Books, or a mom and pop independent bookseller! She grew up in a house where books were plentiful, she saw her parents reading, and she was read to often. Tragically, a lot of children don’t have that experience at home.
I have a slogan in my classroom. Every time you read, you make yourself better. I have a hard time getting some of my students to read. We have 25 minutes a day where they read for pleasure. Some of them would sit and stare into space for the entire time rather than read if they were allowed to do so. I preach to them weekly about how I want them to find that special book that will spark their interest in reading…all book lovers have one (mine was To Kill a Mockingbird). I want them all to learn to like to read for pleasure. I want that badly for them. I also have some students who look forward to that 25 minutes of free reading time as a highlight of their day. They go through books like candy.
Guess which of those groups of students score higher on standardized tests…