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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Unintended Consequences?

The launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a major reform in US mathematics and science education. Motivated by that fear, and aided by massive immigration of well-educated people from Britain and elsewhere, we led the world in science and technology until the mid-1970's.

There has been a gradual and unremitting decline ever since. Many fixes have been proposed, and each has worked, in its own way.

Administrators and pundits said that the answer was more parental involvement. We had band and athletic boosters, the PTA, bake sales and the like. Middle-class parents did the homework for their children. In return for this work, they expected rewards, which fueled grade inflation.

Sociologists told us that teachers needed to be less authoritarian, and more nurturing. Students are now friendly with them, so much so that several hundred have been arrested in the past few years for sleeping and partying with them.

Psychologists assured us that the answer was to enhance self-esteem. In a recent study of mathematics achievement, the top 10% of Americans ranked at the 50% mark for South Koreans. However, the Americans rated their own performance as A/B, while the South Koreans rated themselves as C.

Teachers told us that increased pay was the answer. In many local districts, the pay and benefits for teachers exceeds that of college professors.

Education professors told us that the answer was to change teaching methods and curricula. Future teachers now take far more education credits than in the subjects that they will teach, and the teaching has changed so much and so often that we can't even compare student performance with a few years ago.

Politicians tell us that the answer is to reward 'good' teachers, and punish 'bad' ones. This had led to even more grade inflation, and encourages many to either cheat, or leave the profession entirely.


Anonymous said...

"Middle-class parents did the homework for their children." Whenever I have the least excuse I opine loudly that parents should never help children with their homework, never mind do it for them. If the child can't do the homework, diagnose the problem - is the problem with the child, the teacher, the school, or is it just an occassional "blip"? But don't interfere. It does more harm than good. I have absolutely no evidence for this argument, but an irrationally strong instinct that I am right. Perhaps I am. At least as a decent approximation.

Odin's Raven said...

Americans often seem to find modesty and objectivity difficult. For instance, the recently repeated tv shows of Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares USA revealed that many of the cooks and owners were very brash about their supposed abilities, and even more seriously self deluded than those who appeared in the British series.

Wolfie said...

Didn't you leave out the most important? Nobody can discipline the unruly children, neither in the class or even the home.

Paddington said...

I will be clear that I control my children, which a psychologist friend hinted was 'bad'. He believes that being friends with your children gets better results than authoritarianism.

Worse for me. At least my kids jump when I shout, and the feedback from outside indicates that their teachers appreciate our efforts.

Paddington said...

Odin - I came here 31 years ago. My observation is that Americans find objectivity impossible. It's why the schools are set to impossibly high standards, and then the results must be fudged. When I state that, after some thought, I can't do something, they try and coach me, or accuse me of being too negative.