John Locke

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Education: Starting Early

As a student, I understand the inefficiencies of public school much better than possibly anyone else as I currently spend every day in these time-wasting buildings. Now, I am not a lazy student, nor am I afraid of hard work or learning. In fact, I enjoy a challenge, enjoy learning, and embrace hard work as a necessary step to success.

So why am I calling school a waste of time? Well, despite the millions of dollars that the government pumps into our education each year, the U.S. is still lagging in education internationally.

Why is this? Is it because of social media, a lack of interest, bad teachers, a bad curriculum, or some other crazy reason that has yet to be identified?

No! The answer, to me, is quite simple. During the time when children are in their peak age of learning, from age 3-10, they sit in front of a TV watching some silly show or they sit in a classroom coloring inside the lines because learning other things is "too difficult". We are WASTING away the small window of time when children's potential to learn is practically limitless! And we do it all under the pretense that they are not able to comprehend concepts like multiplication or physics.

But, this detrimental flaw in our logic is having catastrophic effects on the education of the country as a whole. Our country sees bad test results and instead of fixing the root of the problem, elementary schooling, they pour their money into upper levels of education. This makes no sense!

By increasing the demand and difficulty of the curriculum in elementary schooling when students are extremely open to new, difficult concepts, the level of education that can be achieved during high school will be much much greater than it currently is.

Why do we attempt to teach high schoolers a new language when they could learn it twice as fast in elementary school? Why don't we teach 1st greaders multiplication? We have a clear path towards educational improvement and yet we refuse to act!

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    Mar 12 2013: I definitely agree with John that we treat primary school kids like they are idiots. However, it's not so much about raising the standards, but about having a more flexible classroom environment.
    Having watched pretty much every TED talk on education as well as doing loads of other research, the most disturbing facts were probably highlighted by the Fordham Institute in their report from September 2011
    The key points would be:
    "Students below 70 percentile in grade 3 reading and math will rarely catch up" in Fact: "children who performed in the bottom 1/3 in reading or math in grade 3 had less than a 1% chance of being high achievers by grade 8"

    That's a scary thought.
    The education system in most countries is too stiff, following a single track with almost no way to catch up and thus ruining a child's life before they've had a chance to learn properly.
    I like some of the ideas Salman Khan and Sugata Mitra talk about on TED, essentially where the classroom becomes a more open, student driven environment with access to all the resources needed to learn and a teacher whose role is to guide, encourage and push rather than teach.
    Give primary school kids the resources and a little encouragement and yes, they will learn faster and more effectively at a much younger age than we give them credit for rather than wasting their time.

    So here I am, trying to learn everything I can about flexible education because I don't know how to implement these things easily into my classes. (especially in the rigid traditional education System here in China)
    I definitely see student driven classes as the way to go, but I suppose the biggest question I would ask is, how can we push some of these ideas into the mainstream education system?
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    Mar 15 2013: John, I think that most people understand the value of early learning. The issue at hand is how to implement it. I have presented the idea that we need a competent / non-competent system. A course map would be developed from K thru 12 and be broken down into modules that would stair step each subject. As each child learns at different speeds, this would allow kids to progress at their speed of learning while remaining with their peers for social development. The problem we have in America today is that the state and federal government has demanded a teacher stuff 25 pound of learning into a 5 pound bag and it will be presented lock step. Teachers must jump through hoops that are higher and smaller than ever before ... and none of it is by their choosing. Student are judged on high stakes testing (this results in the teacher teaching the test) ... IMO it should be based on application not regurgation or multiple guess.

    We must also see the benefit of the best teacher being at the lower level. K thru 8 is the basis of everything that follows. Without that foundation the high school teachers must "unteach" bad habits and mis-information prior to entering new areas.

    Todays third grade is my days 5th grade. Many kids take physics by their soph and sr years where I saw physics in college. Times change. Most parents cannot help their kids with homework. I question the value of homework. I think in most part it is a means of giving points to keep from failing a student who is doing poorly. Bad policy.

    As you can tell I love discussing this subject and appreciate your time in asking and evaluating the replies.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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    Mar 12 2013: Have you taken the time to read the replies, customize, and edit your idea to reflect what you have learned and what you have to share? Kids are adaptive and resourceful just like adults. In a forum, ideas may remain static and can be less engaging material for a returning "students".
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    Josh S

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    Mar 10 2013: I think you're thoughts on what happen in grade school are a little off. Napping is a preschool thing, not in grade school. Coloring pictures just to fill time ends in kindergarten, (aside from art class). I dont think its our schools that need to change, not really, its our view of school.

    I think it has to do with the culture that the country has. The top nations in education have cultural views that school is important, that it is important to do well in, and parents make their kids do well. In america its different, a lot of parents are happy when their kids bring home C's. For example, i moved from the East coast to the midwest. The difference in education is astounding, but in reality, the subjects and the lessons are the same. The seperating factor is that most parents on the east coast, at least where i lived, expected their kids to bring home a's and b's. Here, a C is considered a decent grade. Its not the funding or the schooling, its the culture.

    Sources: 3 siblings currently under 6th grade.
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      Mar 10 2013: A point worthy of thought, Josh. Kids will learn more and put in more serious effort when they hear education has value. In fact, recent research in Madagascar shows that there is no more efficient way of increasing effort in school than showing parents the importance an education can make.
  • Mar 10 2013: Fritzie or John: do you think if teachers were paid more that it would change our education system? In association with this, if standards were set higher for teachers, do you think that paying them more would help the education system and the educations of children? Unfortunately, money is associated with worth and importance. For example, doctors are paid more than social workers, yet both of these jobs have importance in society. Teachers and schools are where learning begins! A beginning average of $40,000 is enough to support someone, but isn't the value of a teacher much more than that?
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      Mar 12 2013: To me, there are only two reasons why someone would increase the payment of a type of job:
      1) to keep up with inflation
      2) to increase the supply and quality of the work force applying for that position/job

      In this case, I believe better quality, passionate teachers would certainly increase the results of education. The matter of importance then is will raising the salary of a teacher increase the number of qualified people that want to become teachers?

      To a certain extent, I believe that as salary increases, more demand for that job will be created. However, the type of people that are ideal for teaching will be truly passionate about teaching and the salary they receive will only influence that person so much. In this case, it may be the fact that teaching primary or secondary education isn't considered as respectable as other positions in society and thus these qualified individuals, passionate about teaching, and yearning for respect, may become teachers at over priced universities, authors, businessmen and businesswomen, or some other profession.

      So, to increase the quality of teachers, increasing the relative respect of teaching and increasing the wage of teaching would probably accomplish this task.
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    Mar 9 2013: Hi, John. There is widespread recognition of the importance of early learning. Many of the disparities in how children progress in school are related to the exposure they have had to concepts prior to entering school.

    Interestingly, the approach to challenge in grade school and beyond differs by country. In the developing word, teachers pitch the curriculum to the top of the class and lose the majority. In the United States learning is often (but very much not always) pitched at one place- either the middle or the bottom.

    Best practice in education is differentiated instruction, which challenges each child in what is called his "zone of proximal development"- stretching him just beyond his comfort zone.

    What is definitely accepted, now, in the United States and, I assume, elsewhere, is that standards of what children should understand and be able to do, can be much higher at every grade level. With every publication of standards in recent years, the bar is being raised higher.
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      Mar 9 2013: Well Fritzie, you nailed the hammer on the head of what I am talking about. But my question is, if we know that changing our current style of teaching and perhaps reorganizing schools into ability instead of grade will work better, or whatever is necessary to get each child into the "zone of proximal development" then why aren't more drastic steps being taken to implement this into our current schooling!?

      Yes, some schools may slowly be doing some of these changes but what is stopping us from embracing a change at once? Why are we sitting back and letting a slow rate of progress be made? The possibilities of our youth are boundless so why are public schools still assigning children a nap time, coloring assignments, and simplistic addition problems even though they are capable of much more?

      Seeing that many people's potential, as well as my own, will never be fulfilled because of a weak primary schooling is a bit aggravating as well. Especially when one considers the fact that so much time is wasted during these precious years of sponging up knowledge.
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        Mar 9 2013: One point is that there really isn't a "current style of teaching," though I notice people assume great homogeneity in this. For that matter in my years of secondary teaching in a normal city school district, every course but one that I taught was multi-grade.

        I have not been a grade school teacher, but none of my three kids had naps in grade school. I think naps are in preschool.

        In terms of why instruction isn't differentiated to address the right level for each student, some of that is related to teaching children in groups- sometimes large groups. Some is related to discomfort in some places that letting children move forward at a different pace from each other makes for quite variable outcomes for different kids.

        Some schools do separate kids by ability as they measure it and have done so ever since I was a little girl a very long time ago. But many people hate the idea of such "labeling," in part because they believe children who don't learn as fast as their peers might then accept such labels rather than working to a potential that was not evident to those who did the separation.
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          Mar 9 2013: Well I do know for a fact that a number of schools have a naptime in Kindergarten. And as for multigrade schooling, I can say with absolute certainty that most schools in the U.S. are based off of a grade system by age, not by ability. It is possible to move up grades but in most cases, it is discouraged and not beneficial for that student, at least from my experience with fellow students.

          The No Child Left Behind Act has also been a major contributor of why some classrooms move slowly and although this program had good intentions, many people are beginning to question its benefits.

          I am not saying that we have to separate kids by ability, although that is an idea, I am simply saying that we need to add more difficult concepts to the curriculum when children can learn so much easier than later. We currently spend so much resources on high school education but the real opportunity for learning is much earlier.

          For instance, why did we only begin to learn multiplication in third grade? Why did we learn division in fourth grade? Why is it that we (at least my school) have 3 years of pre algebra and then finally, in freshmen year of high school, students take algebra? We could be teaching algebra to students at a much earlier age and I am confident that their comprehension would be strong.
      • Mar 9 2013: I also agree that education should start early... and seriously. I am a current freshman at a large university and in discussing education with my classmates, we have agreed that a lot of our learning habits were established in elementary school. Some believe that university education is the way to go and that it should be available to everyone, but I don't believe this is right. By the time people reach college age, habits are in place. Students are only good students by this time if they've been motivated in their EARLY years! That's why I agree that good education should start early.
        I recently watched a video on Finland, the country with the highest test scores and best early education. Something interesting about their culture is that they value education. Sure, we do that here in America, but the teaching profession is one with as much honor as a physician. Their teachers are in the top 10% of colleges where as in America, teachers are in the bottom 20%.
        It seems as if there are two problems with the education system. 1) is that the younger grades should be taken more seriously and 2) that teachers should be the top of the top in terms of their OWN education. Do you think that this is true?
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          Mar 10 2013: I definitely think it helps, particularly at the secondary level, for teachers to be highly proficient in the content they teach and also have what is called "pedagogical content knowledge," which is an understanding of how children learn the subject and the sorts of strategies, explanations, and so forth that can reach kids of the age they are teaching in that subject. I don't think this is controversial at all.

          I think it is unusual for those in the top 10% of their classes in the US to want to go into teaching, particularly elementary teaching, for a variety of reasons. I don't know the details, but I don't think the proportion of bright young people who go to Teach for America (which does draw top students) and then stick with teaching is high. I believe they have misconceptions about what it is like to teach day in and day out, and decide that teaching is not what they want to do in public school conditions if they have other options. I don't have the data on Teach for america, but that is my impression.

          That early education needs to be taken seriously is not controversial either.

          I agree with your friends, though, that a college education should be available to those who want to pursue it, provided they prepare for that undertaking. I work with a lot of adults who fell through the cracks for some reason or other in their k12 education, and now want to prepare to go to college. community colleges are an ideal entry point.

          Obviously it is easier to prepare from ones early youth, but it is never too late for someone who wants to do it.
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          Mar 10 2013: Hi, Anna. I think many school districts, and particularly suburban ones, offer accelerated math opportunities and algebra certainly by 8th grade. In my experience it begins to be introduced much, much earlier.
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        Mar 10 2013: Maybe some schools have naptime in kindergarten (5 year olds). But I think quiet time while the teacher reads aloud is likely a more common sort of break.

        I am very surprised that schools in New York are holding off on teaching algebra to any of their students until kids are in 9th grade. At this point I think the math standards of most states probably start introducing algebraic concepts in grade school, though math in grade school doesn't have a title like that.

        I will now check the math standards for New York.

        The required math standards for New York say that children should be able to solve problems like:
        8 + x=11 in First Grade.

        Here is the standards document, if you want to follow the algebra strand, or any other strand, through from 1-12.
        • Mar 10 2013: FYI: I took algebra I in 7th grade, geometry in 8th, algebra II in 9th, trig/precalculus and AP stat in 10th, calculus in 11th, and AP Calc BC in 12th. I'm from a Philadelphia suburb. I am so lucky to have gone to the school that I went to. I was on the advanced track, but almost everyone took algebra I before 9th grade.
          The concept of not having it seems so foreign! Is it true?
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          Mar 10 2013: Anna, I too am taking the advanced track in which I am two grades ahead in math. I am fortunate that my school offers the ability to advance however, the majority of students in my school which is in Indiana, are in Algebra I or Geometry. Most people are just now taking Algebra and they find it very difficult.

          But how much easier do you think they would find it if they had been introduced to some of these more difficult concepts earlier in life? Maybe they wouldn't be "scared" when they see quadratic equations or maybe they will find that solving linear equations is easier if these concepts were loosely introduced before hand.

          Now, most schools do offer some sort of advanced class of math, but the number of people taking these classes is so small compared to the general mass of students, at least in my school which happens to also be one of the best public schools in my state.

          My point is, because many people take the minimum requirements of schooling, they do not ever reach any advanced mathematics. In fact, a large portion of students will just pass with a C or B in math, doing the lowest class possible, and finally breath a sigh of relief when they finish pre calc in senior year...
        • Mar 10 2013: John- I don't think that everyone is meant to be good at math or English or art for that matter. But like you said, if children are exposed to it at a younger age they wouldn't be so scared of it and may even be better at it. It's unfortunate that we're placed into certain tracks at a young age. Although many kids are retested for placement, some previous standards can be damaging to young students in the sense that they may have been capable of more but by not being challenged enough, they fall behind.
          This brings up another good question... should we be good at everything? Of course everyone should have basic knowledge of certain subjects but not everyone's meant to take Honors Chemistry, Calculus or AP Literature. I think that students should have these levels of general understanding but go above and beyond in subjects their good at. What do you think? Should we be smart and good at everything or is it okay to only take algebra I and excel in English, for example?
    • Mar 9 2013: Fritzie- in Finland, there are multiple teachers in each classroom to help those that are doing fine and for those that are struggling. Do you think that this concept should be adopted into our American culture? I know that there are aides in classrooms for those with learning disabilities, but it seems as if these 2nd and 3rd teachers provide new learning experiences and hands of help for those in need, instead of just watching the students like they do in the US.
      I think besides setting the bar higher in classrooms, teachers need to instill the feeling in their students that education is important. I believe that children can understand and appreciate the importance of education starting from a young age whether this is accomplished through passionate teachers, rewards, or responsibilities and projects for the students. Students who enjoy learning are more likely to want to learn and will learn things on their own. They will go to college because they want to further their education, and they can only do this once the understand that education is something pleasurable! Although standards of education get higher each year, does this change the graduation rate and college education rate for the children in the future?
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        Mar 9 2013: I am not familiar with cases in which extra teachers just watch students.

        I think most people would agree that extra teachers can help, both in the classroom in some cases and as pull-outs in some cases. Volunteers can help with this also.

        There is research evidence of the tremendous benefit of such volunteers in India for the low-performing, less prepared student.

        There is enough research support for extra teachers that the use of volunteer tutors is also widespread in the US. The inner city middle school where I used to teach, which has about 1000 kids had, as of last week, sixty such volunteers.
        • Mar 10 2013: I guess I have just been in situations where aides monitor and observe instead of being directly hands-on. Sometimes they ask questions and give answers, but they are not nearly as involved as the teacher
          I am glad to hear that volunteers are so integral to those schools. What kind of support did these volunteers offer? Have you been involved in any afterschool related activities?
          In conjunction with what I mentioned earlier, students must be motivated. Education doesn't end beyond the doors of the school and children need good role models at home: people who are concerned with assignments and how well the children do on those assignments. I believe that beyond these classroom aides, parents have to be involved on some level. Do you think that this is too much of a cultural change in some areas, considering you've had experience with inner city schools? Is this a wrong assumption to make?
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        Mar 10 2013: Volunteers in schools do all sorts of things. Some tutor one-on-one. Some are more like mentors who check in with kids on organizing their work. Some assist in the classroom, circulating as students work in groups. In a grade school, some may do pullout stuff with advanced kids or kids who need extra help.

        Since you ask, I have had the chance to be involved in math education in almost every way, including regular classroom, after school, summer enrichment, online mentoring, pullouts, curriculum design, reviewing math materials, coaching math teachers, coaching mathletes...

        I think it is really helpful for parents and guardians to be involved in some way in supporting their kids' learning and important for schools to offer parents resources that help them help their children. The parent does not need to tutor his child, but there are many ways of helping. Parents want their kids to succeed in school, regardless of the culture from which they come.
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          Mar 12 2013: Spot on about parents involvement. I've always thought that the best students are those whose parents are supportive and involved(not in an aggressive way) when it comes to their child's education
          Further to this, I have read one report that the connecting factor in terms of the best students across every kind of school (this was in Australia) was the involvement of the parents. No matter the school was the best in the country or the worst, the better students in every school were ones with supportive parents. I'd love to know whether there are any other studies like this around the world.
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        Mar 10 2013: By the way, I can tell you are getting a good education, as you ask questions rather than assuming you know everything already. Being part of constructive change in any area depends on getting your hands dirty and really knowing what is going on "on the ground." Too many people assume they know everything already, particularly in a field like education:)
        • Mar 10 2013: Haha, thank you so much... you can thank Penn State Schreyer Honors College for that. It's funny because I'm actually commenting for an English assignment about online deliberation... so thank you for engaging in conversation! In class, we learned that before we deliberate, we all have values and certain ideas about issues but after deliberation, most people are more confused about issues than they were before they started. I don't know everything and I never will! I may consider my ideas to be "right", but that's only because of what I know. I can always learn more which means I'm always changing!
          Asking questions helps me learn about what others believe which is sometimes more important to growing as a person. This is a pleasurable experience; learning something new through others' beliefs is gratifying to me!
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        Mar 10 2013: That's interesting. "Most people are more confused about issues than they were before they started." This really depends on the person, I think. Some people are so invested in a particular worldview that they don't even listen to those who might challenge that world view. They are only interested in gathering evidence that affirms what they already believe.

        Others are open to experience and embrace complexity. These are the real learners from interaction.
        • Mar 10 2013: You're right, I guess I wasn't as articulate as I could have been. We learn that deliberation is ideal conversation- basically about sharing ideas but trying to find the pros, cons, gain information, etc. For those that soak in all the information without much bias towards their already-established ideas, they shouldn't so much be "confused" but maybe unsure of their previous certainty! It's about the possibility of redefining your beliefs through gaining new knowledge and perspectives.
          And then there are those people who only listen to what they want to hear...