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One relatively simple and cheap change can be made to schooling to reduce opt out and drop out rates.

the majority of school systems use a model for reporting on achievement that is of the form A, B, C, D, E or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 which denotes the performance in that year of learning. Where A (or 1) is high performing and E (or 7) is low performing. This system has the effect of telling students that they are passing (good) or failing (bad). Students who are slower learners or who start school with any form of deficit are more likely to categorise themselves as failures fom an early age. When this happens too often, they opt out or disengage, then eventually drop out. A better system is to describe achievment in terms of a fixed continuum that is continuous through the grades, at least for the early stages of schooling. What this means is that we describe signposts of learning at different stages that students 'move' through as they demonstrate success. This sends a different message to all students. It says 'here is where you are in your learning and now i can help you move to the next stage'. Instead of a message of pass fail good bad, of personal quality and position in school, the message is neutral and merely descriptive. The message implies that learning is a journey to be travelled in different ways and different speeds by individuals. Each report on a student would simply be that they were say 5.5 in Science, which means they are working at level 5 and have a 50% probability of working at level 6 in the next learning stage. It helps to personalise learning because teachers know were each student is in each field of learning and can create individual learning paths from that knowledge. It helps to retain students interest in continuing their schooling and so increase their chance of future successes. It helps minimise self attribution of negatives such as 'I can't do school'; 'I suck at science'; etc. This system has been used in Australia and seen to have the social benefits descibed. It is doable and meets all demands of the system.


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  • Nov 1 2013: We need more and better teachers that take a personal interest in their students. We need students to grow together and learn to collaborate. We need to make schools a safe place for our children to grow up in. Solutions should address the quality of education and worry less about soothing the effects of failure. It seems to many people that performance must constantly be evaluated and I disagree. Performance is personal for all people. A good teacher gains the respect of their community by the smile on their children's faces but 40 students to one person is a bit of a stretch if he/she is doing the job properly.
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      Nov 1 2013: Not only do we need better teachers, also better parents. It is a fact that the more parents are engaged into their kids academics the better the kid will do in the long run. An example will be how different races react to certain parts of the childs education. You might want to look into Laurence Steinberg talk in BIGTHINK about why some races outperform others. The difference in the reaction between a black or hispanic parent to an Asian or Jewish parent are polar opposites. It does not mean that one race is better than the other, it just means the expectations are different. There are a few exceptions to this Idea, but in general this in the norm.
      • Nov 2 2013: Could not agree more. Take a look at those individuals who succeed that are black or hispanic. You will find usually that the parent's have set high expectations. Ben Carson and Vivien Thomas are 2 examples.
    • Nov 2 2013: This is a response to all 3 comments.
      In my 30 years of teaching and 20 years of being a head of svience in public high schools in Australia, I haven't seen many teachers who didn't want the best for their students. Teachers are positioned to do whatever they do by the system they work under.
      As far as getting better parents is concerned, this is irrelevant. The parents are the parents and it is no point blaming the children for the parents. Race us likewise irrelevant. An unskilled parent is unskilled in any colour or race. What we need is a system where the weaknesses of the parents are minimised by the system. At the moment the system exacerbates any weaknesses. NOTE that I do not advocate equal outcomes for all. This will never happen. What I am advocating is a system that gives all kids equal access to at least 15 years of quality education regardless of their background by not positioning them too early to think of themselves as failures at school.

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