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Institutions of higher learning say that American high school graduates are not college-ready. How do we close the gap?

American high schools are producing graduates that are not able to complete globally. Where is the root of the problem?
Teachers who are not prepared to deliver 21st century learning;
Students who are not accepting the personal responsibility of school work;
Parents who are not pushing their children to succeed;
Curriculum that is outdated or ineffective;
Legislature that does not prioritize public education;
Universities and tech schools with unreachable and unmoving standards.
What's the solution to your perception of the shortcoming?
I'm a public school teacher and I'm most curious to see what individuals outside the profession of education believe.

  • Sep 25 2011: All of your points are contributing factors. Prior generations have had fear of failure, desire for success and basic survival as motivators for motivating students. I think it is the work ethic that is diminishing. Kids that grow up in the United States do not have the same fear of failure that was engrained in prior generations. Fear is a powerful motivator. There is also a nagging suspicion that even if the time is invested in a college education, there is no guarantee it will lead to a better career, only a probability. There is direct observation of a preceding generation that seems to worship ‘making money work for them’, taking huge investment risks, looking for early retirement, and getting people to work for them rather than doing the work themselves. The personal pride and satisfaction of a job well done is diminishing. These are poor lessons.
    It also seems like there is much more to do inside the house. Cable TV, Internet, incredible video games, and a comfortable place to live are the default condition. The path of least resistance “do nothing” leads you to stay at home and enjoy indoor activities. This leads to many issues, perhaps the educational problem. The “fear factor” parents use to wield relentlessly has now been deemed “poor parenting”. The path of least resistance for parents is to do nothing as well. Perhaps we are seeing some of the results.
    There is a political side to this issue as well. It seems that funding follows success, and success is determined by test results. Therefore, the focus has switched from true overall education tailored to the student and now focuses on those things needed to improve test results, individually and as a group. Kids are being taught by parents to find excuses for poor performance and assign blame, rather than accept responsibility and re-double work efforts to try harder and not give up.

    Still, I am optimistic. We just need to lead by example and mentor. Celebrate and recognize the work!
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    Sep 25 2011: Tertiary education is in the same boat as the rest of the sector, if not worse off.

    Reading and writing have outstayed their welcome. We have a TV generation (visually literate) that is now 3 deep and yet we still insist on teaching kids the slowest version of recorded communication.

    A good start will be to clearly define the differences between learning, education and training. None of these things are the same and yet are frequently confused with each other.
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      Sep 25 2011: @Scott Reading and writing outstaying their welcome? I shudder to think of a society where people cannot read and write effectively, and are limited to visual media in gathering new information for themselves.
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        Sep 26 2011: Why shudder?

        Is there a reason for being concerned about writing losing ground to visual communication?

        I doubt it will be lost as an art-form, but that's not what I was talking about. I mean literacy delivery in schools.

        Should we deny those students who experience writing difficulties the opportunity to express themselves out of tradition or vague fear of change..?
        • Sep 26 2011: I teach English, and in spite of the stereotype that English majors are in love with literature, I agree with you, Scott. There are a good deal of skills that are difficult to learn because that pesky thing called language gets in the way. I still use literature to teach students, but I find ways around language. Having an ESL class was eye opening in that I discovered I could teach English without English. Teachers need to accept that reading is one of the least efficient ways of absorbing information.
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          Sep 26 2011: @Scott > Why shudder?

          For one reason, the bulk of human knowledge is found in printed form. Not being able to read original works of history, mathematics, science, etc. closes a very important door to learning. It would be naive to think people are going to take the time to translate all written works into video form for the benefit of those future generations who cannot read. Even if that were to happen, what you'd get would be more of a translation than a literal rendering.

          Furthermore, there are innumerable examples in modern life where the ability to read effectively is vital to making informed decisions. From legal contracts to financial statements to street signs, the person who cannot read is a person who is profoundly handicapped in an information-based society.

          Even the contention that text is inefficient is debatable: it is much more efficient, for example, to skim a document than it is to try to skim a video by fast-forwarding it. Text is brutally more efficient than video from the perspective of digital computer storage space and bandwidth. Ultra-long-term archival of data (think thousands of years) with video is virtually impossible, yet practical with symbols imprinted on solid surfaces. Video is completely dependent on relatively fragile technology compared to print, making it more susceptible to shortages and catastrophe.

          To insist that students learn to read and write is in no way a denial of their self-expression. Learning to read and write does not hinder a person's visual communication, given that the latter is so natural and comparatively easy to master. It's not like Johnny can't understand a video because he spent all that time reading! Each mode is simply another tool people can use to communicate. Why deny students highly practical and useful tools unless you are substituting with superior tools?
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          Sep 26 2011: @Rachel Could you give me a few examples of conceptual learning hindered by language? I can easily see how learning might be hindered by a person's lack of literacy, but I'm having trouble imagining a concept that's tough to learn *because* of language itself, and especially how this might argue against textual literacy.
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        Sep 26 2011: Hi Tony,

        I know what you are saying and to some degree, I'm playing devil's advocate.

        If history does anything, it keeps us firmly in the same old ruts. "Being doomed to repeat..." and all that guff is just a natural element of the fact that each generation learns by experience not from advice or versions of past events.

        Street signs tend to be visual in nature (except road names) but NavMans already provide a way around that.

        Legal documents are designed so that even a college english professor would be hard put to decipher a legal document without experience in the legal profession - that's exactly how lawyers keep it locked down and themselves in a job.

        I disagree in that for some students, the frustration and negative self percerption ("I'm stupid") that comes from having little facility with written language does lead them to feeling ostracised.

        I'm certainly not advocating that we stop teaching it to all students just because a few struggle, I'm saying that 'traditional' literacy needs to scooch over and stop hogging the entire couch. Much of the mechanics of reading and writing can be learned from (gasp) TV!
  • Sep 24 2011: I think that it has to come from the home. If you look at the students who are most often successful in school are those who come from homes that stress the importance of education. Also our inability to find sufficient teachers with the skills necessary to teach. In order to find more of these teachers we need to drastically increase the reward for those who teach well. (Teaching well and teaching to the test are not necessarily the same thing and would have to be defined) While firing those who are unable to do so. Another idea is to take the ability to gain tenure from all teachers below the college level, unless there is an odd case of a high school teacher who is actually publishing and doing research, which is the point of tenure.
  • Sep 27 2011: Tony brought up a good question. How do we teach language when language itself is the obstacle?
    If a student has trouble reading something and then writing about it, where does the problem exist? Is it in reading itself? Is the comprehension? Is the problem processing the questions? Is it written expression that poses the problem? There are too many possibilities, which is why I use alternative methods of assessment.
    One way I "bypass" language is with comparison of different media. When I teach "Romeo and Juliet," students reenact the death scene. We then watch two different movie versions of the death scene only. Students then create a Venn diagram to represent the different endings and collaborate to discuss how each ending influenced the dominant theme in each version.
    Another example is teaching "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth" by comparing it to the pop song "I'm Comin Home" and asking students to identify a theme each has in common. Students also drew pictures predicting what the earth would look like if the environment were neglected as it was in Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and discussed their predictions. The discussions and collaborative learning allow me to check for understanding without the student writing. That way, when students do respond in writing, if there is a weakness, I know it is in writing and not in understanding.
    Tony, I do agree with you that not teaching our students to read and write would be devastating. But there are additional ways to create an educated citizen.
    I'd be interested to hear from others about reading and writing in the classroom.
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    Sep 26 2011: its simple buddy first your govt as far as i know just stop nosing in family let parents raise their children rather than bothering about kids being kicked by their parents. Parents won't kill their own children pls make ur govt understand that and this will solve most of the problems.. Americans are good learners but bad students but Asians or in particular Indians are the other way around :) its hard to make a good learner but to make a good student just a generation's flick for u guys..
  • Sep 26 2011: Are you sincere in your belief that videogames will save the world? If so, have you read "Reality is Broken"?
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    Sep 26 2011: School is boring, period. Make all education into a series of gradient level computer games. Game your way to a PhD.
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    Sep 25 2011: The education system has to begin, from top to bottom, to educate and not just teach basic memorization skills. Today, more than ever, our students have to be critical consumers of information. Critical thinking skills are a must - and the education system remains set up to reward the memorization of mass amounts of information instead of application and critical thinking skills. Our students are not prepared to participate in a world with readily available- large amounts- of information. We must begin to re-think how we teach and the goal of education- or our children will not be prepared fto participate in the widely connected, highly informed world community.
  • Sep 25 2011: All of your points are contributing factors. Prior generations have had fear of failure, desire for success and basic survival as motivators for motivating students. I think it is the work ethic that is diminishing. Kids that grow up in the United States do not have the same fear of failure that was en-grained in prior generations. Fear is a powerful motivator. There is also a nagging suspicion that even if the time is invested in a college education, there is no guarantee it will lead to a better career, only a probability. There is direct observation of a preceding generation that seems to worship ‘making money work for them’, taking huge investment risks, looking for early retirement, and getting people to work for them rather than doing the work themselves. The personal pride and satisfaction of a job well done is diminishing. These are poor lessons.
    It also seems like there is much more to do inside the house. Cable TV, Internet, incredible video games, and a comfortable place to live are the default condition. The path of least resistance “do nothing” leads you to stay at home and enjoy indoor activities. This leads to many issues, perhaps the educational problem. The “fear factor” parents use to wield relentlessly has now been deemed “poor parenting”. The path of least resistance for parents is to do nothing as well. Perhaps we are seeing some of the results.
    There is a political side to this issue as well. It seems that funding follows success, and success is determined by test results. Therefore, the focus has switched from true overall education tailored to the student and now focuses on those things needed to improve test results, individually and as a group. Kids are being taught by parents to find excuses for poor performance and assign blame, rather than accept responsibility and re-double work efforts to try harder and not give up.

    I am still optimistic. We just need to lead by example and celebrate good performance.
  • Sep 25 2011: I agree with the fact that teachers need to be prepared to deliver 21st century learning to all students. Teaching students spelling and vocabulary on a weekly basis does improve their vocabulary level. However, having students memorize these words will do nothing in their future. Once we go to college we use computers to type all of our papers. All computers have spell check in which we don't have to memorize the spelling of all words perfectly.
    • Sep 26 2011: What do you think is most effective way to retrain a generation of teachers that have been "doing it their way" for ten, twenty, even thirty years? Professional development is great if it is applied, but useless without teacher buy-in. How do you convince a teacher five years from retirement that what she's been doing for her entire career is "wrong"?
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    Sep 24 2011: Do you think pushing kids is one of the important ways to make them learn?
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      Sep 25 2011: Not if pushing means nothing more than competitive memorization of large quanitities of information. Todays world demands that we teach students how to find information, how to evaluate the information that they receive and how to apply that information to real world experiences. Pushing them to memorize more will do them no good.
    • Sep 27 2011: Support, motivation, and yes, pushing are critical factors in parental contributions. Competition is not a necessary part of pushing. Teaching kids to schedule work time, develop a work ethic, and think through problems rather than balking at them are healthy ways of teaching your child the value of education.