Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Three to Read--Lower Education Edition

Well, yesterday I did the Higher Education Edition of what I am trying to make a daily feature here.  Today, I thought lower, i.e. K-12, education would be a good topic.

It's Those Darn Kids....
The engagement level of students drops precipitously as Daniel Pink notes in what is called the School Cliff, according to Gallup:

“[Our] research strongly suggests that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become.” Primary school kids begin their educations deeply engaged — but by the time they get to high school, more than half are checked out. And the problem is even worse for our most entrepreneurial students.

Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education, points to several factors for the decline. An “overzealous focus on standardized testing.” Not enough project-based or experiential learning. Too few pathways for students who won’t, or don’t want to, attend college.

Teenagers who aren't engaged?  I am shocked, shocked I tell you!!!  Seriously, it is hard to stay motivated as a teenager to begin with, but with "modern" education, it is well nigh on impossible.  Teenagers have a pretty sharp B.S. detector and well, as a group they detect a lot of B.S. in schools.

What to Do, What to Do?  How about More Than One Option?
Back when  I was a middle schooler--oh so many years ago, i.e. more than 25 years--most students went through a school year long cycle of four vocational/trade classes, including shop class, home economics, automotive and I can't remember the other (it has been a long time since middle school).  In those classes students learned practicalities of running a household (cooking, budgeting, etc), basics of fixing a car (changing a flat, the oil, basic maintenance) and simple repairs on the house.  These were not only valuable personal skills but exposed students to other options other than college.  My high schools (I moved after my sophomore year) had year long vocational programs where students who liked to work with their hands had a chance to learn not only valuable skills, but MARKETABLE skills that would lead to an often lucrative career or at least a solidly middle class one.

You mean pathways, like vocational or trade education?  Remember yesterday's Three to Read, which noted that 92% of high school students say they are going to college but only 68% actually enroll?  What to do with those other 32%?  Well, as this story from Wisconsin notes, there are not a lot of options because of politics.

Some observers say the nation and schools have overemphasized college as a postsecondary option. 
“There are no young people going into the trades,” Hall said. “The push for college prep is so prevalent in the high schools that the talented young people who are good working with their hands are being told, ‘You have to go to college to get good jobs,’ and that’s just not the case anymore.” 
The shortage of technically prepared employees “goes back to (President Ronald) Reagan,” said Richard Meeusen, chairman, president and CEO of Racine Federated’s parent company, Badger Meter. “We have presidents and leaders who say every child should have the opportunity to go to college.
“Unfortunately, it sends the message to parents that if they don’t send their kids to college, they’re failing.” 
“Now we’re saying, ‘Where are our electricians, auto mechanics, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) workers and CNC (computer numeric control) operators?’” Meeusen said. 
He added, “We’ve ripped out all the shop classes and replace them with calculus.”

So you say it is a budgetary thing, well try a little creative thinking, like this person:

State Rep. Thomas Weatherston, R-Caledonia, said he’s working with other legislators to address the shortages in technical careers.
“Our high schools, they don’t have good technical education programs mainly because of the price,” said Weatherston, an adjunct professor in motorcycle safety at Gateway Technical College. “But technical colleges do have that equipment. 
“So I would like to see us find a path that would allow high school students to spend part of the day at a technical school, so they can learn a skill while still in high school.”

Such arrangments are not new.  As a youth (again many years ago) my school district had a dual enrollment program where some seniors would take some courses at the high school and some at the local community college where they would earn college credit.  Usually these were the top kids in the class academically.  But, given that community colleges excell at providing technical and vocational training, there is no reason why such a program can't also be used for those students looking to learn a trade.  

And the Others?
One of my biggest complaints about the local school that my daughters attend ( and most public schools for that matter) is that because of legal mandates, the schools do a good job with the kids on the lower level of the academic achievement and intelligence spectrum and a decent job for those kids in the middle.  But any kid on the upper end of the curve in any subject, most elementary and middle schools do not offer anything to enrich their education at all.  For example, my oldest daughter (the Peanut) excels in history and loves history, but the school does almost nothing to help foster that interest or provide her with a means of exploring more on her own.  While we can supplement at home, she probably needs more than we can provide.

The consequence of this feeling that public education is "notoriously inadequate" has lots of people and not just "scary religious people" considering homeschooling.  Glenn Reynolds in USA Today writes:

New York's public school system is indeed notoriously inadequate. And, like most public school systems (or public systems of any kind), it's run more for the convenience of the staff and bureaucrats than for the benefit of parents or kids. Some kids do fine anyway, of course, and some parents aren't in a position to pursue alternatives. But for many parents, traditional schooling is no longer the automatic default choice. 
That makes sense. Traditional public schools haven't changed much for decades (and to the extent they have, they've mostly gotten worse). But the rest of the world has changed a lot. The public who eagerly purchased Henry Ford's Model T (available in any color you want, so long as it's black!) now lives in a world where almost everything is infinitely customized and customizable. That makes one-size-fits-all education, run on a Fordist model itself, look like a bad deal.
Reynolds argues that with so many choices in so many other areas of life, there is no reason why parents can't customize the education of their children.  And when needs are being met, parents with choices vote with their feet.  Reynolds then describes the death spiral that is likely to follow:
As kids (often the best students) leave because schools are "notoriously inadequate," the schools become even more notoriously inadequate, and funding -- which is computed on a per-pupil basis -- dries up. This, of course, encourages more parents to move their kids elsewhere, in a vicious cycle.
Does this mean the end of public education? No. But it does mean that the old model -- which dates to the 19th Century, when schools were explicitly compared to factories -- is at risk. Smarter educators will start thinking about how to update a 19th Century product to suit 21st Century realities. Less-smart educators will hunker down and fight change tooth and nail. 
Who will win out in the end? Well, how many 19th Century business models do you see flourishing, here in the 21st?

Yep, change is coming and like most changes, the old guard never likes it and at least as far as education is concerned, it is truly the kids that suffer when adult beneficiaries of an inefficient and ineffective system hold on to that antiquated system.

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