History of Education in the United States
Our education hasn’t gotten worse, we just haven’t kept up with improving and other countries passed us.
We still are a leader in higher education, innovation, and access.
We are middle of the road for achievement with the biggest problem, our underserved who pull our averages down.
Our median is also significantly below top performing countries.
Our top 1-2% is comparable to other countries but their average is higher.
Where are we failing our students?
What are the top performing countries? Based the international PISA scores, (highly relevant and statistically valid measure of student achievement based on a rigorously designed random sample of students) the countries with the highest achieving students (schools) Finland, Singapore, Shanghai, Japan, and Canada are the tops. The United States doesn’t look much like most of these countries. Why and does that matter?
Some might say that comparing countries isn’t fair. “We are different”. That “exceptionalism” view just doesn’t hold water. While there are cultural differences among the countries, two of the countries are much like the U.S. Or were before they made a conscious effort to improve their education systems; Finland and Canada. Neither country changed because they wanted to improve their world rankings. That is another U.S. “Exceptionalism”. We are more concerned about our world ranking and the competition than we are in improving education. Curious.
About 15 years ago, when Finland started to look at improving its educational systems, it was right in the middle of the international rankings, similar to where the U.S. is now. About 20 years ago, Canada was in the middle of the international pack, similar to where the U.S. is now. Neither country moved to change to improve its world rankings. Both countries chose to improve education because it was the right thing to do. There was no benchmarks against which to measure success. Instead, good was the goal, not competition with how others were doing. That is a noteworthy point. Improvement was the goal, not competition nor comparison.
The other noteworthy point was that education was seen as an investment in the future, not a cost of the present. Think about that. Let me say it in the reverse, “education is not a cost, it is an investment. When investing, the greater the input, the greater the return. However, it is not the money as much as how it is being spent. In the U.S. we spend more on education but get less in return. The investments must be targeted, strategic, and bold.
When looking at moving toward “world-class” we need to be aware that just doing the easiest things might not provide any return. “World-class” requires everything to truly transform education not just what is cheap and easy.
All students ready to learn.
Prenatal and early childhood
All mothers get high quality prenatal care so babies are born without cognitive impairments. Currently, birth outcomes are skewed along poverty lines with poorer outcomes for those less well off. This limits their future cognitive (educational) outcomes.
We know that the critical period for brain development is from birth to five. The neural connections in the brain are developed during this time. Early childhood learning is not about learning to read or getting an early start on school but on increasing neural connections.
Top education programs make early education and care a top priority for all children. The top performing countries have near universal early childhood participation. This should include home visiting, care boxes, parent leave, an expectation that children are valued.
Early childhood education is not early school. It is about stimulating the brain and senses to build the neural connections that will be used throughout life. A child’s brain in hard wired to learn but if not stimulated, loses that ability later. Early childhood education requires highly trained professionals who understand how the brains of children grow, develop, and learn. It is highly technical, biopsychology with an emphasis on practice.
We need to stop confusing childcare with early learning. They are not the same. We need to invest money to support parent learning how to stimulate their child’s learning and provide quality programs for all. We cannot continue to operate early childhood on minimum wage, low skill, workers who do not have the training and experience. Quality nutrition, quality adult interaction, quality parent programs, social interactions, and availability are all needed to ensure that children are getting all of the early starts needed to reach their potential later on. We can no longer allow the preparation gaps between children living in poverty and those born to affluence when they begin formal schooling. This is a society responsibility.
We cannot have great education if we don’t have great teachers! However, we won’t improve education by eliminating lower performing teachers if we don’t have a plan to replace them.
Top performing countries have raised the status of teaching. All of these must be done. Doing only a few because they are cheaper or easier won’t achieve substantial results and may have unintended consequences.
Teachers need to be prepared to teach and I would recommend a more medical model. Teaching is a highly skilled profession, like medicine, and should be paid professional wages. This would involve a substantial investment in higher salaries. It might begin with a minimum starting salary of about $50,000 to $60,000 with a highly selective entry process. There should be no alternative licensure programs. Content knowledge is requisite but not sufficient. Similarly, pedagogy is requisite but not sufficient. We would never tolerate an alternative license of a butcher to be a surgeon just because he is really good with a knife nor would we feel that the bedside manner of a beloved grandmother as being sufficient for alternative licensure of a physician. Regardless of prior background, we require all doctors to go through rigorous medical school training and we should require all teachers to go through rigorous education training programs. A community in need of a doctor cannot give an alternative license to practice medicine and a community should not allow an alternative license to teach our most precious resource, our children.
Increasing the number of highly trained teachers cannot be accomplished without attracting the best and brightest into the profession. In the highest performing countries it is harder to get into education than to medical school. The highest achieving students aspire to be teachers with elementary being in highest demand. Only the best are allowed to be teachers and they are paid for that expertise and regarded highly by society. To ensure that we don’t start slipping in the ability to attract the best, we should tie salaries to those of other professions. Maybe 75% of the average physician’s salary. Maybe benchmark to the average salary of engineers. When the average salary of engineers increase, education salaries increase. You say it cannot be done? Other countries have done it.
This is a long term strategy. It will take a decade to roll a whole new cadre of teachers through. We need to continue to work with current teachers and pay them well. As the new group moves in, we can encourage more of the less effective teachers to retire or move to other professions. We should not fill openings with underprepared alternative licenses. It undermines the professionalism, perpetuates mediocrity, and covers up the crisis of a lack of highly qualified teachers.
The United States is enamored with testing and accountability. “Measure up or move out.” “If students aren’t performing to world class levels, it’s someones fault and we need to evaluate teachers to find out who.” “Inspect what you expect.” “If you don’t test it, it doesn’t get taught.” “Teach to the test.” We are so blinded by the testing (and the companies who are making huge profits from it. But that is a different problem.) that we have made what we measure to be important. The top performing countries don’t do that. In fact, they focus on good learning, problem solving, and thinking instead of testing. Most of the assessments are only used to assist the teacher in understanding where the student is. They are not used to rank and rate students nor to rank and rate teachers. They don’t need to. Teachers are not in competition with each other and are not fearful for their job. Students, in many of the top performing countries, only take achievement tests for access to the next level. The tests are not used as “hammers” to penalize students who have not performed well and are not allowed to get a diploma. This changes the goals from passing the test to learning the material.
Teachers are not evaluated based on the performance of their students in a “cut-throat” business model. Instead, they are encouraged to work together to improve everyone’s teaching skills. Teachers work collaboratively and have a major say in who gets hired. With the exception of gross incompetence, something that is unlikely in a rigorous training program, teachers do not fear for their jobs and are able to focus on student learning. Any assessments are used to drive instruction but not evaluation. This is very different from the failed U.S. model where students take the standardized tests at the end of the year and the scores come back after the students have left. How can the results possibly be used to assist those students or to help the teacher in helping the students.
If we want to improve education, we should copy what other high performing countries do. We should greatly reduce the formal, standardized testing and increase the time spent learning. Teachers know, through informal assessments, what students can and cannot do. The reliance on standardized testing diminishes learning of thinking, problem-solving, and analysis that is difficult to measure on a standardized tools.
Structure of the day, year, and school
- Less hours in class
- More breaks (recess)
- Less homework
- Fewer courses with more interaction within course (interconnection)
- Societal changes: attitudes, funding, support
- Where do we begin?
Teachers are professionals who work collaboratively to improve learning. They are not labor to be managed by administration.
Toward World Class Education
Breaks in school are to recover, not because you are done for the year. Education is never over and is a continuous process.
The shorter breaks also allow a chance to remediate students who have fallen behind without them getting so far behind that you cannot catch them up.
We need a logical sequencing of learning that builds on concepts. The learning needs to be differentiated for each student and paced for learning not for completion of a school year.
I am not against the Common Core and having rigorous standards and expectations for all students. However, what has happened is it has become the curriculum and the texts have been revised to teach Common Core. We allow the texts to drive the curriculum and then feel the need to test the learning of the curriculum with tests that are “Common Core” aligned. Common Core should be guidelines only and evolving.
- Students should have the same teacher for at least 3 years.
- Lessons should be integrated and not taught as separate subjects.
- Only standardized assessments at transitions and to guide instruction for the next level. No “gotchas” or to assess teachers. On SAT or ACT for admission to higher education.
- K, 1, 2 teachers should be the highest paid of all teachers because they are the most important. We should pay for their knowledge and skills working with the most important. Currently, early childhood and early grades are lowest paid.
- Not everyone can or should be a teacher. Being a kinder teacher should be the highest paid because it is the most important. How do we change that? Top teachers at the earlier grades make the jobs later easier.
- Increase all pay to levels of the highest paid degrees. In NM that would be about $50,000 for BA and $70,000 for an MA.
Make admission tough academically, emotionally, and with high level of dedication. Must be challenging, rigorous, and cultural. Build trust and respect for the profession.
- In New Mexico we should require foreign language.
- Cover tuition for those who qualify, like medical school.
- Courses should focus on pedagogy, psychology, sociology, social work, statistics, research, and language.
- Should have several lengthy internships under master teachers.
Where do we begin?
Everywhere! This is not an ordered list.
- Eliminate high stakes testing on students and teachers and redirect money to salaries.
- Stop fighting with unions and instead use their knowledge, training, and expertise to help with solutions.
- Substantially increase all teacher pay to professional levels, particularly at K-2 level. Use money redirected from testing, technology, taxes, and increased class sizes.
- Increase class size while reducing teacher workloads. More EA’s and Interns working under professional teachers.
- Eliminate teacher factory schools and upgrade research universities to prepare teachers. No more alternative licensure.
- Set up career ladder within teaching that leads to higher pay without leaving teaching for administration.
- Restructure the day.
- Elementary schools should have more recess breaks.
- Middle School and secondary students should have activity every day.
- Later start time.
- Less homework
- Larger classes for lecture info
- More time to collaborate with other students on authentic assignments
- More vocational style learning and problem solving with guidance.
- More EAs, interns, and beginning teachers working under master teachers.
- At least 25% of the day for planning and collaborating.
Clerical assistance for copying, phone calls, grading, etc.)
- Doctor Model
- More athletics outside of the school day not within.
- Restructuring the Year
- Year Round schools with many (4-6) 1-2 week breaks used for enrichment, trips, and remediation.
- Block students and teachers for 3-4 years in groups.
Eliminate School Choice
All schools should be good and school choice does not improve schools by competition and increases segregation. No public funding for private schools, equitable funding for all schools. Extra funds for high needs schools.
Early Childhood Education
Massive increase in fully-funded early childhood education – pre-natal, parent leave, home visits, funded high-quality daycare/early childhood learning, parent education
- Eliminate huge testing/text budgets (show historic and modern algebra texts)
- Increase revenue through taxes on wealthy, eliminating credits, exemptions, and loop-holes, reduce reliance on technology
- Use Permanent Fund to fund early childhood investment.
- Staff with more clerical, EA’s, and interns.
Shift evaluation, training, mentoring to master teachers who continue to teach. Also utilize the expertise of unions. They are full of master teachers. Increase professional model and decrease labor model.
- Increase vocational, certificates, college credit, citizenship, and practical courses. Don’t force STEM.
- Require statistics of all, not Trig and Calculus. Statistics is used every day. Trig and Calculus are only for some majors and careers.
- Increase admission requirements for education. (can only be done with substantial increase in all teacher salaries to attract top talent.) Admission should include academic, character, heart, and sensitivity.
- Increase the academic rigor to stay in teacher preparation programs. Require psychology, sociology, statistics, research, languages, pedagogy, and content. Eliminate underperformers. Again, this must be accompanied by substantial increases in pay and the elimination of alternative certification. More of a Medical School model.
- Increase practicum and internship time to be half of the curriculum. Medical School Model.
- Increase the number of ancillary services in schools. More social workers, clerical, nurses, etc. It is crazy to pay professional teachers to wait in line for the copy machine, write letters home to parents, enter data into the gradebook, etc. They need to be teaching and planning.
We cannot wait to move toward “world class” education. We cannot wait until the economy improves. We cannot wait for a change in political climate. We can’t wait for the current teachers to retire. We must start now because every delay puts our children behind. Every delay makes it still harder to change. Every delay hinders our future. We can do this now. It takes political will. It takes society demanding action. It takes money.