Monday, September 30, 2013

Expecting the Most From Students

There's some fear out there that the Common Core standards, which may be better than what some states had, are certainly lower standards than what California had (especially in math).  Some schools are, under the guise of Common Core, implementing "no homework" policies.  This is exactly the wrong thing to do, as these anecdotes testify:
“While U.S. schools struggled to reach even an average score on a key international exam for 15-year-olds in 2012, BASIS Tucson North, an economically modest, ethnically diverse charter school in Arizona, outperformed every country in the world, and left even Shanghai, China’s academic gem in the dust,” writes June Kronholz on Education Next.
How do they do it?
“We do an incredible amount of work,” said Alia Gilbert...
The Arizona schools operate on about two-thirds of the funding for a child in a traditional public school, writes Kronholz. Classes are large. Technology is minimal. With highly motivated and capable students, it doesn’t matter.  link
If the kids want to do the work and can handle the work, give them the work.  If you or your kid is more interested in your kid's club volleyball team, cello lessons, martial arts classes, and football/basketball/baseball than in academics, don't try to have the school cut back on academics--have your kid cut back.  Don't expect your kid to earn straight A's while taking 4 AP classes with all those extracurricular activities.  Your kid will probably do just fine even if he/she does not go to Stanford.

If you truly value academics, parents, then show you value them.  Make academics a priority in your household--and by that I don't mean just preach "we don't accept C's in this house."  There's plenty of time for schoolwork when you aren't taking a "full load" of extracurriculars as listed above.  Granted, the story below isn't from our culture, but it's worth noting for its potential:
High school is serious business overseas, say U.S. students who’ve studied in Korea, Finland and Poland. PBS NewsHour interviews the three students featured in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way...

Finnish teachers rely mainly on lectures, said Kim. “There weren’t a lot of assignments during the semester until the end when you did exams in the form of essays.”  link
So much for all the so-called discovery learning and group work, Common Core advocates.

Our last story, from the Wall Street Journal, is about an orchestra teacher:
We're in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K's methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It's time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works...
After a list of "what works" comes the conclusion:
My tough old teacher Mr. K could have written the book on any one of these principles. Admittedly, individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students' ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.
I care about my students.  I'm confident enough in my teaching ability to believe that if they pay attention and work at what tasks I give them, they'll understand the material and do well in the course.  I have faith in their abilities, but for most those abilities demonstrate themselves only after students put forth effort.

I am, and always have been, what's now regarded as "old school".  I don't have much use for group work or discovery learning; they're both too inefficient.  I have no interest in being a "guide on the side"; since I know more math than anyone else in the classroom I am the "sage on the stage", and part of that sage-iness is knowing great ways to teach topics so that my students have the opportunity to excel.  If you are of the group work mentality and think that works for you and your students, well, I think you're crazy but I'm not going to try to compel you to do things my way.  I would appreciate reciprocal consideration.


Auntie Ann said...

At our kid's back to school night, her Algebra I teacher talked about not having a textbook for the class. He said he couldn't find one that was rigorous enough, had enough problems for kids to work, was challenging enough to keep the students interested (!), and would prepare them adequately for upper level math.

I usually hate teachers who avoid textbooks, but this guy was doing it for the right reasons.

Anonymous said...

National mathematics standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia that supporters say are designed to make high school graduates “college- and career-ready” and improve the critical science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pipeline do not prepare students to study STEM or even be admitted to a selective four-year college, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

PeggyU said...

It's not much fun being the "guide on the side" when you have to retrieve the kid who gets himself lost in the woods and give him the compass he should have been provided with in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Some things to keep in mind: BASIS schools do not have special education students. The north campus pulls from a less economically diverse group than you might expect. It is a direct competitor to the affluent north-side schools. They need a campus composed solely of south-side kids who have not had the benefit of middle-class parents. I think BASIS could be successful in the long term but it would be a much more challenging endeavour.