How do we fix it?
In the last blog post, I talked about a variety of things that were wrong in today’s educational system. Specifically, we keep repeating our mistakes with the math curriculum and we don’t have consistency between schools in their interpretation of our new common core standards illustrating that if we can’t even get two schools in the same county to interpret the standards the same, how are multiple states and counties going to actually have consistency among the common core standards. I also mentioned the inconsistency of grading among schools leading to grading standards that have no meaning. Finally, I talked about both the inappropriate expectations of students and how these and other factors can lead students to have poor educational selfesteem.
So, the question becomes, how do we fix it? Right now, educators seem to believe that fixing the U.S. education system lies in the curriculum. They believe that if a bunch of smart Ph.D.’s gather together as a group and write a set of standards and provide those standards to the state, this will fix our educational problems. Or at least, I am guessing this it as this has been the only solution we have ever employed to fix our educational system. It hasn’t worked before and it won’t work this time either and I will tell you why. Even if the curriculum is broken, which I believe it is, writing new curriculum and handing a concept that is developed by people who understand teaching / education at a higher level does not translate to implementation in the classroom. The curriculum has to be implemented by teachers and the teachers are not properly educated and motivated to implement these new ideas. We keep handing off these high level concepts to be taught by teachers who only know how to teach the way they have been already teaching. We do not invest money in reeducating our teachers how to use this curriculum. Our teachers weren’t taught this way and therefore are not going to just be able to shift gears and suddenly know how to teach conceptually when all they are given is a set of written standards. In fact, many elementary math teachers (as well as some middle school and high school math teachers) lack the mathematical knowledge of these concepts to begin with. They have procedural knowledge but lack true conceptual knowledge. My dissertation for my Ph.D. looked at elementary school teacher’s conceptual understanding of statistical concepts that they were teaching and found a significant number of misconceptions and lack of understanding in their knowledge.
Our teacher education programs are very weak. We do not spend enough time within our methods classes properly educating teachers and sometimes methods classes are taught by college professors who lack the ability to teach preservice teachers how to teach anything but the traditional approach. In reference to the new common core objectives, I was told that preservice teachers were told to make two lesson plans – one that used the “old” curriculum approach and a second lesson plan that employed the goals and objectives of common core mathematics. The professor found no significant difference in the students’ lessons plans. If this is happening while teachers are in a methods class that is supposed to be teaching them about how to implement the new common core standards, imagine how difficult it is for current teachers who only know how to teach the way their currently teach.
We all know that putting financial resources towards education is not a priority in our country. However, if you look at where we spend money and don’t spend money, there are some major changes that could be made. First, I know our state spends a significant amount of money on different assessments, software programs, and thinks that adding more school days (which costs money) will make our kids smarter. If instead of spending money on these things, they focused money on and time on requiring more teacher inservice education on a regular basis from top educators who really understand how to implement this new common core curriculum, they would be much more successful in improving educational achievement. It isn’t the students who need more time in school, it is the teachers. These teachers need inservice training workshops on a regular basis, not just teacher workday – planning time.
In some countries, the teachers are held accountable for student learning. We don’t do enough of that in our country. So many teachers are complacent. I hear about teachers giving tests where the average score on the test is in the 60’s. If a test has an average score that low, then the teacher did something wrong. Teachers don’t want to hold themselves accountable. It is our job to make sure the students learn the material. Granted, everyone can’t get A’s and B’s and I am not a believer in grade inflation but I am a believer in making sure that I provided the material in a way that all students who put forth effort could understand it and that my assessment was reasonable for the students. If the test average is really low, then *I* didn’t do a good enough job with either teaching or making my assessment and *I* need to make changes. *I* need to figure out if material needs to be retaught or if my test was inappropriate and I need to give a new test. Additionally, *I* need to learn from this mistake so that this doesn’t happen repeatedly so that *I* become better at making sure my students are learning. The responsibility is not all on the students, too many teachers forget that.
If we find some students who are consistently failing all their subjects despite being in good classes, our education system needs to jump in and do something for these students. Our local high schools do nothing, these students just get passed along – either the teachers decide to give them a D at the end or they retake the classes they failed and their report cards look like a train wreck. When we see this happening to a student in their freshman year, why are we noticing this but not stepping in and figuring out how we can help this student? What is the job of our school counselors? Should they be required to monitor the academic progress of students and provide needed intervention for those students who need it?
The big picture is this: in order to fix our educational system, we need to:

Provide more methods courses with better content to preservice teachers

Provide and commit funding to regular inservice training so they can implement the common core standards the way they were intended

Instead of adding more days for students in school, add more days for teachers for inservice training that focuses on implementing curriculum

Make teachers accountable for their students’ learning to some extent

Educate teachers how to create better tests for students

Provide equality among schools in terms of content and grading practices

Don’t just hand teachers a new curriculum and expect they can implement it

Have teachers and counselors intervene with students who are not passing their classes early on in the semester / early school years (freshman year high school)
Support for my argument can be found at this link: http://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/whycommoncorestandardswillfailjaymathewsandchesterfinn/
Coming Soon – Looking into Common Core Math for Elementary School