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American Education: What is Wrong?

Focus diluted by football, poor teacher training and skills development and national culture for starters. Why else would Empire American high school seniors ranked 13th out of 15 developed nations in 2010 using a common measuring stick of performance on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) that later govern success and earning power in the modern world. To be sure, America has some exceptional schools that are competitive but they are few and far between. ”No Child Left Behind” was a dismal failure and “Race to the Top” may fare no better if it does not address the root issues, and soon.

Amanda Ripley in the Oct 2013 issue of the Atlantic agrees that participation in sports is a healthy thing. But then she states “Only 40% of American high school students participate. What About the other 60%?“ The football budget alone is a heavy burden on high-school budgets. And football budgets applied to teacher training could change American competitiveness in a world where technology and dollars reign supreme. For the full story behind this statement, see "The Smartest Kids In The World" by Amanda Ripley, Simon and Schuster.

Ripley doesn't deny the values of sports, only that they are emphasized too much too soon and at the expense of the primary purpose of K12 education. Insurance and transportation alone are big-budget items in high-school competition, such as football. On top of this, brain damage is an ongoing event for contact sports, especially, football, hockey, Lacrosse and basketball.

Ripley has some advice for parents who can pick the school their children attend. We paraphrase:

  • DO:
    • Watch students in class to get a line on the effectiveness of teaching.
      • Are they paying attention, interested and working hard?
      • Rigorous learning looks rigorous. Is that what you see?
      • Is there a sense of urgency?
      • Do the students notice your presence? Busy ones don’t.
    • Interview the principal:
      • How does s/he recruit and evaluate teachers? Is it rigorous?
      • How does s/he define a strong teacher.
      • How much time does s/he spend in coaching teachers?
      • How does s/he lead? Does s/he command or include?
      • What is his/her mission for the school? What techniques does s/he use to get there? Where does s/he think sports belong in a K-12 school? What are his/her personal priorities?
      • How does s/he define his/her personal success and that of the school?
      • How does s/he set or raise the bar for both students and teachers.
    • Talk to students:
      • Ask what they are doing right now? Why? Their answer to the second question is telling.
      • Ask if they learn a lot every day? Are they busy in class? Is their class well-behaved.
      • Ask what they do when they have a problem they cannot answer?
    • Listen to parents:
      • Ask what the school’s strengths and weaknesses are.
      • Ask if they think the school is rigorous, if they are involved, and if so how?
  • DON'T
    • Look for trophies or fanciness beyond the purview of education. Educational substance matters more than trophies or accoutrements.

    Finally, we quote Ripley on a vital point:
    “…world-class educators exist, but they are fighting against the grain of culture and institutions. That fight drains them of energy and time. If they ever win, it will be because parents and students rose up around them, convinced that our children cannot only handle a rigorous education but that they crave it as never before.”


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