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#3442 - 06/16/00 12:23 PM Declining standards in US education
AnnaStrophic Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 6511
Loc: lower upstate New York
I thought I'd revive this forum by starting a new thread, though I'm a little off-topic here. It's all Jackie's fault, and I quote her from another board:

>>I teach my kids the difference between well-written books and poorly-written ones. In my opinion, there is a widening gap between the intellectual people and the rest of the country. Somebody, please post that I am wrong!<<

You're not wrong.
Two friends, from totally different parts of my life, have sent me a test for eighth-graders from 100 years ago. Many US college students today would be unable to pass that test. I'll see if I can find a URL for it (unless tsuwm beats me to it! )

"Home-schooling" is a growing phenomenon here in the US; granted, part of the cause is a sort of racist reactionary backlash to the growing number of minorities and immigrants in public schools, but I believe most of it has arisen out of a genuine concern for the decaying standards in said schools. I come from a long line of teachers: my grandmother was a Latin teacher; my mother, a retired English teacher; my sister, a kindergarten teacher. She has a master's degree in education and earns the same salary as a hamburger-flipper. She does it for love.
Interesting: one of the most popular accredited home-school programs originates in Australia. I'd welcome comments on that from our free-spirited, independent friends down under.

Public education is a real sore spot for me. I'd love to hear what y'all have to say on this issue. Thanks, Jackie, for bringing this up!

#3443 - 06/17/00 02:36 PM Re: Declining standards in US education
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Well, I suppose you're welcome, but this is one of those cases where the truth hurts. God bless your sister, et. al.
I was fortunate enough to find out by the end of my freshman year that there is no way I'd want to be a teacher.
But oh, they are SO important in kids' lives! For a great number of children, their teachers may be the only examples of civilized behavior that they ever see.
In my opinion, the U. S. has a small percentage of people who care enough to get involved and make efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone. I just read about a prime example: Shirley R. Watkins, undersecretary of our
Dep't. of Agriculture. While visiting an Indian reservation (speaking of gaps in society--shudder), she
noticed an inordinate number of homes with ramps instead of steps. She learned that many Indians were amputees, due to
complications from diabetes, which was exacerbated by the
federal government shipping unhealthful food. She saw to it
that all reservations got a good supply of fruits and vegetables after that.
There is a huge percantage of people in what I will term the
middle class, though I mean in more than the economic sense:
people who are the "average Joes", just doing the best they
can with what they have.
Then the scary part: an as-yet-fairly-small, but I'm afraid growing, percentage who have been so deprived all their lives of any kind of guidance or sustenance (mental and emotional, as well as physical) that they are essentially anarchists. These include all kinds of addicts, many of whom were born to addicted mothers, and who
truly do not have the capability in their brain for such things as self-control or respect for others.

Teachers in public schools have to try and deal with these
kids, who are well-nigh uncontrollable. So much classroom time has to be spent on discipline, I'm surprised as much learning occurs as there is. And heaven help the kids who
are just a little slow or learning-disabled: the teacher
sure won't have time to.
I certainly do not have a workable solution. I don't believe that throwing money at the problem will solve it. We need a national resurgence of higher standards and
expectations all around, as in when the vast majority of society noticeably frowns on and does something about
out-of-line behavior. Even something as simple as most
patrons in a restaurant glowering at the one unruly table
would help.
I have not been to every school in our county, but I've
talked with enough staff at many to have formed the opinion
that teachers themselves now expect very little of their
students, compared to even one generation ago. I think this
attitude is handed down to them from administrators, which is truly sad.

#3444 - 06/25/00 03:58 AM Re: Declining standards in US education
lusy Offline

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 140
Loc: Melbourne, Australia
A post in another thread, referring in passing to L.M. Montgomery, reminded me of something my wife asked me recently while she was reading (for possibly the 101st time) that wonderful book "Anne of Green Gables". The question related to the word "ebullience" ... was this a commonly used word? I assured her that it was one of several variations in the noun form (W.S. Gilbert uses "ebullition" in The Gondoliers) and asked her why the question. It appears that the novel has this word featuring in a primary school (possibly Grade 7 or 8, I'm not sure) spelling bee.
Good grief! How many Grade 7 or 8 students of today would be able to cope with this? It's a bit of a worry, eh?

Incidentally, it's not just North America, Anna. I can assure you it is perhaps even worse down under. We had a kind of "backlash" regarding education quite a few years ago, and many people had this great urge to "let the kids express themselves the way they want to", never mind those old stick-in-the-mud rules about English expression and so on.

We are still suffering the effects of this absurdity here, and University entrance standards continue, necessarily, to decline. So where do we go now?

Rgds, lusy

#3445 - 06/27/00 07:21 AM Re: Declining standards in US education
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
Oh! Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books!!
I have the whole series, and still read them occasionally
myself. Glad to know I'm not the only adult who still likes
to read books for youngsters. This one has so many human
truths in it--this is what makes it so enjoyble.

#3446 - 06/28/00 06:49 PM Re: Declining standards in US education
jmh Offline

Registered: 03/22/00
Posts: 1981
I know very little about education in the USA but that doesn’t usually stop anyone expressing an opinion about education, so here’s a few thoughts from across the pond from someone who is really trying not to join in …

I was involved in a discussion the other day about "Dumbing Down". One of the conclusions was that there is always a view that once, long ago, things were better; everyone could spell impossibly long words and multiply huge numbers without using fingers and toes. Everyone can point to something that is missing; they just fail to point out what has been added. It is the cry of those who are part of the establishment, waving goodbye to the days when their point of view prevailed.

Science teaching has moved on leaps and bounds in a generation. Non-specialist teachers often had rather vague ideas about science subjects and were allowed to teach however they felt best. Provision was patchy and learning resources outside the most respected schools were often scarce. For all those people who can talk about their inspiring teachers of Latin or history there were also many that can’t. Mathematics was geared to the brightest in the class and left many by the wayside. Children were not taught about computers at school because they were not part of daily life. The teaching of the canon of classics has had to take less time in the curriculum to make room for new areas of study. Teaching methods now focus on process at the expense of content, spending time acting out a play, rather than sitting in rows reading a paragraph at a time. I was always bored and (quietly) intolerant, hoping the slowest reader would get a move on.

One scientific paper I read raised the idea that it is only this generation that has relied so heavily upon literacy. It was possible to live a happy and productive life without reading until very recently, natural selection hasn’t had very long to place literacy above strength or fighting skills in the gene pool.

Of course, I was saddened by the newspaper article spotted by wseiber in his posting in "Words from newspapers of the world". It told about a school in the North East of England with very high levels of deprivation. It is, indeed, always possible to find such sad stories. It seems that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The idea of "trickle down" where as one part of society get richer it has an effect on the whole of society doesn’t seem to work. I suspect that what really happens is that those who have not are made painfully aware of what how much they are missing. Lavish entertaining and foreign travel might not matter too much but a child needs not to be hungry and to have parents who care that their needs are at least partly met. Those who's lives are blighted by the curse of drug addiction aren't always the best at prioritising the use of their resources, where they exist. It is sad and we must keep trying to improve things.

So as part of the “have’s” rather than the “have nots” I feel that the state-provided education my children are getting in their leafy suburb isn’t at all bad. They are encouraged to debate ideas rather than sit back and resign themselves to the rule that their teacher knows best. Some old fashioned teaching methods have been reclaimed. They are expected to learn spellings by applying rules, rather than simply rote-learning or, even worse, not learning spelling at all. They have had to learn multiplication tables and are expected to do a “mental maths” test every morning (aged 9 & 11), they say it’s quite fun. I asked the head-teacher why they read so few classics. Her reply was that there is so much strong children’s writing around these days that they would be considered to be classics of the future (the jury is still out on that one). I don’t think the teaching of grammar is all that strong but I don’t think I was taught grammar at all well. I learnt more about the structure of English by studying other languages than by studying my own language in any detail. Their project work has been quite fascinating and they have done much more than skim the surface of the subjects they have tackled using the power of the library (mainly out of date books telling them that the economy of Australia relies on sheep farming) and the Internet (CIA world fact-book – 1999 figures with full economic analysis and population statistics).

Here are a couple of points from people I know who have exchanged cultures:
I have some relatives who “swapped” with some English lecturers from California about five years ago. They said they were glad to come back (except for the swimming pool and the sunshine). They thought that students had too strong a say in the USA. Here the teacher gives a mark and that is (largely) that. In the USA the students would complain if the grade was too low and the lecturer would be told to adjust it, rather than the departmental head have to face the student. Their impression was that below grad school, the standards were quite low. At grad school and beyond the standards were very high. They feel now that we are heading the same way – they have been told here to give more high grades. A few years ago a First Class Degree was rare, a 2:1 quite rare and a 2:2 considered to be the norm. Now there are very more First Class and Upper Seconds distributed. A friend who moved her children between Canada and Germany felt that the German teachers had a lot more power over the pupils and were a lot more sparing with their marks. They felt that their children were expected to work a lot harder in Germany but their Canadian education allowed for more creativity and the children were less stressed. A teacher from Chicago recently worked at my children’s school. I asked how the childrens’ work compared at the same age – she said that they were about the same. I suppose that we are all different and all keen to generalise from our own experience without always being aware of the bigger picture.

So I’m not joining in. I suspect there is good and bad teaching. There are certainly parents who contribute to their childrens’ learning and others who don’t. There are useful and useless theories put forward by educationalists. There are governments (and parents) willing to fund education to a reasonable level and there are those who fail to provide sufficient resources for whatever reason. All we can ask it that every child gets an opportunity to get an education that enables them to reach their potential, no matter how high.

#3447 - 06/29/00 06:33 AM Re: Declining standards in US education
Bridget Offline

Registered: 06/27/00
Posts: 444
Loc: Sydney Australia
I went to an independent and very academically focused school in the UK. It had an entrance exam and 85% plus of attendees went on to university, including me. Just about everyone had well-off parents - well, there were school fees.

When I graduated I went to teach English in rural Japan for two years. I taught at the only junior high in the town and the kids came from all kinds of backgrounds.

There was a general acceptance that girls did not need to go to university, but only to 'short university' - two year courses, often secretarial. Also some parents wanted first-born sons to do well but not outstandingly - if they did too well they would move away to the big city and no-one would be left to look after the farm.

The expectations were phenomenally different - far more different than the children, even though my school in the UK had 'weeded out'. And the expectations were set in both cases by much more than the school. I have huge sympathy for anyone in any education system - I think there is a tendency to blame the educators for things that have causes in wider society.

Are private (fee-paying) schools better educators, or do they just select better raw material by exams and/or by taking students who come from an environment that values education anyway? Let's face it, the parents are either paying money or making a conscious choice to opt out of mainstream, so putting some effort in.

I also agree with jmh that you have to think about what has been gained and what has been lost to get an overall view. Most of you are probably aware that Japanese students tend to score well in international comparisons on science and maths. These are 'right/wrong' subjects, which match the 'right/wrong' teaching and examination style in Japanese schools. Those same Japanese students have trouble stringing a sentence together in English or any other foreign language. Making a sentence is not a 'right/wrong' task, so they find it difficult. For comparison, I was stunned to find that 13 year olds in Japan could write a total of only 5-6 essays per term. I'm not talking about English essays here, I mean all essays, in all subjects, including creative writing, social sciences, writing up science experiments, anything. I wrote that many in a week! Once I discovered how rarely they wrote anything, I could understand why the Japanese students couldn't put a sentence together in English, let alone a paragraph. And I spent the rest of my time there awarding marks and praise to anything that had understandable meaning - communication - however bad the grammar was. After all, what's the point of perfect language if you can't communicate?

That said, better grammar, spelling, use of words and punctuation all help communication. It's a balancing act.

There is one thing I had that I would like for the education of any children I ever have. That's the overall approach. If I spelt a word wrongly or used poor grammar in writing up a science experiment, it affected my mark. The rationale behind this is that there's no point in having the knowledge if you can't communicate it properly - and in today's world I think that is truer than ever!

...unfortunately (in this context, not overall!!!) I am now in Australia and as someone else said in an earlier post, a whole generation went through school here without any formal training in grammar or clear expression. Many of these people are now teachers. It's hard for them to teach what they were never taught themselves. So I'll just have to make sure my kids get that in their society outside school.

By the way, in relation to changing curricula / needs, I have a 4 1/2 year old stepson who can type his name but can't write it. I am not sure whether to be alarmed by this or just consider it progress. Related to the comment I heard once about children who could no longer tell time by an analogue clock. Does this matter? How many of us can read Roman numerals? Let alone add them?

#3448 - 06/30/00 09:52 AM language and communication
emanuela Offline

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 315
Loc: Italy - Perugia is a town with...
It seems to me that a good knowledge of the language is just a useful tool to communicate, but it is not enough.
For example, if you ask someone for knowing the way to somewhere... it is usually difficult to have good instructions - how many people are confused between left and right? - but obviously they KNOW how to reach that place - for example by walking. So, why are they not able to explain it to someone else?

#3449 - 06/30/00 01:43 PM Re: language and communication
Jackie Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 11613
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
<<a good knowledge of the language is just a useful tool to communicate, but it is not enough.<<

Good point, E! I think about this every time I observe a
spelling bee. The rules are so strict that it is as much a
test of whether the child can say the letters correctly, as
it is a test of whether he/she knows how to spell the word.

#3450 - 07/13/00 05:39 PM Re: Declining standards in US education
Jazzoctopus Offline
old hand

Registered: 07/03/00
Posts: 1094
Loc: Cincinnati & Loveland, Ohio, U...
I must sadly agree with the notion that standards are drastically declining. I'm still in high school myself (I'll be a senior this fall) and I've seen first hand how people who really aren't that bright are getting straight A's. My local newspaper just listed the students who were on the honor roll and high honor roll for the final quarter and I felt embarrassed. I was on the list (of course :), but 140 of my colleagues were as well. My class is of 260 students, and when well over half of the class receives honors, there's something wrong. It seems to me that teachers have become afraid of disappointing students or making it look like they're not teaching very well, so they've made tests easier and inflated the grades.

I also feel a little disturbed when I see classmates who are taking honors classes receive a lower class rank than someone who is taking the weakest possible combination of classes.

#3451 - 08/07/00 01:27 PM Re: Declining standards in US education
Brandon Offline

Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 218
Loc: Mountain West, USA

In my high school days, I took honors classes weighted by a full point: an honors-class B equalled a non-honors-A. The increased difficulty in the classes justified the weight. However, with transcripts not directly reflecting the "weight," those Bs and one C haunted me long after I graduated from high school.

Another note of interest: students who took just one honors course throughout high school were "honors students" on equal footing with those who took full schedules of honors courses. I know the Bell Curve is out of style, but the merits of equal distribution still weigh heavily on my attitude of scholatics.

Not everyone can be an A-B student. And when they are, the top 10% are definitely not being challenged like they should. Make school 20% more difficult, let everyone's grades shift down 10%, and work from there.

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