Thursday, December 12, 2013

US education: another turn of the wheel

To get the full feel of US culture, it helps to know a few things. One is Churchill’s correct observation that, “Americans do the right thing, once they have tried everything else.” Another is the cultural preference to make everything a matter of black and white, “If you’re not a winner, you’re a loser.”

This refusal to acknowledge shades of grey means an awful lot of cognitive dissonance, and bending of the rules. It also means massive and regular policy shifts. Progress is more a matter of stumbling onto new ideas in a Drunkard’s Walk than a gradual set of small improvements.
Nowhere are these false dichotomies more obvious than in Education. For example, when studies indicated that there might be too much rote learning in the standard curriculum, it was replaced by “discovery” or “inquiry-based learning”, with absolutely no memorization at all. For another, the famous No Child Left Behind initiative of President G.W.Bush requires by law that every single student in the country perform above benchmarks by 2014. Not surprisingly, this has led to massive cheating, and very low benchmarks.

On the surface, the US education system looks free and democratically-driven. Each state has its own Board of Education, which sets the statewide standards and basic curriculum, from which each school district generates its own requirements. That is, unless you live in Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, or several other states, where the process has been hijacked by a vocal religious minority, who wish to ignore centuries of scientific advancement.
When new studies showed that not enough students were “ready for higher education”, a group of states signed on to the Common Core, an agreed-upon set of material that every high school graduate should know. With Teutonic efficiency, school administrators have leapt upon the idea that this minimum should be the maximum. Not only that, but the results of the students’ tests will be used to measure teachers, and “eliminate the failing ones.” This appeals to US conservatives, who rail against public education, and to corporations such as Pearson publishing, now poised to make billions. One of their income streams is to provide scripts to teachers, from which they are not permitted to deviate. Another is to generate the aforementioned assessments.

 As I get ready for retirement. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
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A K Haart said...

"One of their income streams is to provide scripts to teachers, from which they are not permitted to deviate."

I wonder if this is the foot in the door for much more computer-based education and far fewer teachers?

Paddington said...

That is one of the ideas. The fly in the ointment is that computer-based education appears to work even worse.