Interesting

Published by Lori Pickert on January 18, 2011 at 06:45 PM

You are told that to make it in life, you must go to college. You work hard to get there. You or your parents drain savings or take out huge loans to pay for it all.

And you end up learning ... not much.

A study of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.

Not much is asked of students, either. Half did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.

...

“The great thing — if you can call it that — is that it’s going to spark a dialogue and focus on the actual learning issue,” said David Paris, president of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability, which is pressing the cause in higher education. “What kind of intellectual growth are we seeing in college?”

— Student Tracking Finds Limited Learning in College

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The report by The Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.

“Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP.

...

The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don't get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. Questions are often basic, such as: “If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?”

The military exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school.

Educators expressed dismay that so many high school graduates are unable to pass a test of basic skills.

“It’s surprising and shocking that we are still having students who are walking across the stage who really don't deserve to be and haven’t earned that right,” said Tim Callahan with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

Nearly 1 in 4 Fails Military Exam

 

23 comments

Comment by Heather on January 18, 2011 at 08:03 PM

Wow! Thank you for sharing these. It is startling to me.

Comment by maya on January 18, 2011 at 09:47 PM

well, this is interesting.

then there are those among us, like my husband, who went back to school to earn a master's degree and were disappointed in the quality of the program. did not learn what he went for. could not find a job in his chosen field. is right back where he started (actually, even further behind). except now $35k in the hole.

to my mind, schools are failing us all around & making promises they don't care to keep. but at least the football team is well funded.

Comment by David on January 18, 2011 at 10:52 PM

I agree to some point that 'schools are failing us' Maya but surely society, and often the people in positions of power are failing us to an even greater degree too...when emphasis is put on things such as standardisation, only one way of doing things, not valuing and viewing our kids as competent, creative, inquisitive etc. Just my first thoughts.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 18, 2011 at 11:23 PM

heather, mm, i'm not really startled .. i wish i were! i do think it's interesting to see these two articles recently; it seems like there's a bit more willingness to confront an old problem.

maya, your husband's experience seems to jibe with those students in the first article quoted .. i'm sure there are many who are surprised at the end with what they got vs. what they paid for.

i don't think it's just schools who are making those promises; it's politicians and our society at large as well, and to some extent the older generation(s). there's a strong idea that formal education is absolutely necessary for success.

ha, david, i wrote my response to maya before reading yours.

"only one way of doing things" .. yes, and this is what i was thinking when i wrote my response to maya .. i was thinking of this commonplace idea of "one path to success" and it goes through the halls of formal learning.

i think maya is right, though. schools, after all, boldly state that they are institutions of learning. if students graduate -- from high school and then from college -- without learning, what does it mean? at the very least, it means schools aren't delivering on what they promised. and they don't refund tuition when students end up uneducated and unemployed.

my general thoughts on reading these two articles were .. one .. i am always amused by people who seem to think it is overwhelming to take responsibility for your children's education and "aren't you afraid they won't be well educated at the end" .. that sort of thing. as though *all* education is equal, and the education my children would receive at public school (private school .. charter school ..) would definitely be excellent. how can i match that? i don't think it's difficult to match the level of schooling *most* children receive in public/private schools.

and two .. i wonder if it is even possible to educate someone without their consent and enthusiastic cooperation. we push kids through thirteen years of school and then attempt to send as many as possible to four or five years of university-level education. and they move through the system, and they emerge with a degree or degrees. but if they haven't *actively participated* in their own education, then what happens? probably what is described in these two articles. and so, another reason to champion self-directed learning. if children don't own the process, if they don't see education as being for them, to meet their own goals, to achieve their own ambitions, then they won't really learn. they'll be educated, for sure. but they won't learn.

Comment by David on January 18, 2011 at 11:41 PM

I like this quote from Sir Ken Robinson in an interview he did: "I can't think there's a kid who gets out of bed in the morning wondering what they can do to raise their province’s reading standards. You know, it's about them and energising them. I think the problem often is that politicians think it's like bailing out the auto industry. It's like refining a manufacturing process. And it's not; it's about cultivating individual passions and talents. And if we don't get that right, nothing else will ever work."

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 19, 2011 at 12:13 AM

bravo

Comment by amy on January 19, 2011 at 01:39 AM

Interesting excerpts, and interesting comments, too. I guess I'm not as easily shocked as Tim Callahan in Georgia there. It didn't surprise me at all. And while my kids are in school at the moment, I don't think that relieves me of my responsibility to make sure they are engaged, that they don't come home and just plop in front of a screen, that they're able to pursue their interests. I also don't feel terribly wrapped up in whether or not they go to college (or the *right* college, either, whatever that is). I want them to have the skills they need to do the job they want and live the life they desire, but that doesn't always mean college, and it doesn't always mean college right away, either.

As for the quality of education, I am overall happy with the education I received at my state college and university (I have a degree from both), although I think the college was probably better overall. And I can remember being utterly disappointed as a senior at the university, in a senior-level genetics class, when the professor went over the entire exam ahead of time. I was so disgusted when professors continually spoon-fed us answers (and equally disgusted, I have to admit, when students continued to do badly on exams after getting spoon-fed). I have much more respect for teachers and professors who expect and demand the best of their students.

Comment by maya on January 19, 2011 at 01:55 AM

"i wonder if it is even possible to educate someone without their consent and enthusiastic cooperation"

lori - my daughter is 5 and i she can't be bothered to learn anything she's not interested in. i can't imagine sending her to school. i believe she'd be labeled a troublemaker. she's been reading since she was 3 but all she cares to read about are cats. all i hear about are cats and dogs all day long. how would a public school (all we could afford) handle that? i call her ultra - she's more of everything. we're just beginning to get the 3rd degree from family who are concerned for her education. some are supportive and some can't believe that a person can be educated outside of a traditional school. my math and science skills are lacking, so i guess we'll just figure it out together. or i'll take her as far as i can and then help her find other ways to go as far as she wants to go.

david - for sure. lots of failure going on in business and education these days. it is disheartening when you're 42 and your boss is 28, yes?

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 19, 2011 at 03:06 PM

amy, mm, i have too many professor friends. it's pretty clear that a university education is an exchange of money for degree. there must be programs where students are actually held to doing appropriate level work to get passing grades (medical school? i pray?) but i hear too many stories about students doing poor work and even cheating and still getting passed along.

your prof spoon-feeding the exam story reminds me of a time when my professor walked around during our final exam pointing out which answers the students had wrong .. this was a large exam combining several different classes. he was afraid we were all going to fail because no one understood anything he had said all semester; he had a very thick accent. what a tragicomedy that was!

"And while my kids are in school at the moment, I don't think that relieves me of my responsibility to make sure they are engaged, that they don't come home and just plop in front of a screen, that they're able to pursue their interests." this is a whole other subject, but i think it's a tough job for parents to take their tired kids who've been holding it together in school all day and convince them to do something other than plop before they start in on their homework. a tough job for the kids, too!

"I also don't feel terribly wrapped up in whether or not they go to college (or the *right* college, either, whatever that is). I want them to have the skills they need to do the job they want and live the life they desire, but that doesn't always mean college, and it doesn't always mean college right away, either." agree, agree...

maya, yes. this has been my personal experience, both homeschooling and running a private school. the kids who are involved and making decisions and pursuing something that truly interests them are learning .. and the learning they do is staggering. kids who are being force-fed something that doesn't interest them *and in which they are given no opportunity to take any measure of control* seem to go into a self-induced state of half-attention. they do the bare minimum to get it over with. they don't engage; they don't care. they're not always mean about it; they simply want to get past it as quickly as possible. i don't see that material making much of a dent.

"we're just beginning to get the 3rd degree from family who are concerned for her education. some are supportive and some can't believe that a person can be educated outside of a traditional school." mm, maybe you can send them the two links above. ;)

"my math and science skills are lacking, so i guess we'll just figure it out together." a lot of people take the "how can you teach her X if you aren't a professional teacher of X" approach to grilling hs'ers .. this is comical to me, based on my public school experience. you don't have to know material ahead of time to help a child learn it, or teachers would have to know *everything*. as far as math and science (or any area in which you don't specialize), there are so many options -- tutors, classes, programs, camps, et cetera. people forget that hs'ing doesn't = mom teaching kids everything.

and, of course, the approach we follow with our kids is based on them teaching themselves. so the onus is not on us. we work with our kids as a team to help them learn what they want/need to learn, and that includes helping them learn how to seek out teachers, mentors, and etc., when they need them.

finally, i have to go back to this statement -- "my daughter is 5 and i she can't be bothered to learn anything she's not interested in." many, MANY people will tell you that is why she should be in school -- because kids won't learn what they aren't interested in; they must be *forced* to learn those things. but that reveals something interesting .. those people think that you must be forced to learn things that you don't actually need. because any child (or person) who *needs* to learn something will learn it on their own, along the way to chasing their own goals. if they don't actually *need* some knowledge, why should they be forced to acquire it?

and as far as trigonometry (which my older son is working on in the other room) and other things that doubters believe children won't tackle if they don't fill an immediate need... children who have learned from a young age that there are skills needed to do necessary, desired work understand -- really understand -- why they might want to tackle learning other skills, even if the payoff isn't as immediate. my son is learning trig not because it will help him with his current projects, but because he has slowly acquired the viewpoint that doing anything interesting requires a foundation of knowledge and skills .. and he wants to have his options open. i don't have to shove trig down his throat; he wants to be educated, so he tackles it willingly. this is the holy grail of self-directed learning -- the child who is fully invested in his own education and no longer follows only his *specific* interests but his *general* interest in being knowledgable and skillful and able to do anything he wants to do in life.

Comment by Heather on January 19, 2011 at 04:30 PM

Perhaps startling was the wrong word. What startles me is the amount of money continually poured into this system. Every year I hear of how our schools are failing because of lack of funds. Recently my state passed a tax increase for the schools. If you did not support it, you were forsaking the children. How can this be? Billions of dollars are spent and the results are abysmal. Is more money truly the answer? I think not.

I choose to homeschool my children because I know how amazing they are. I know they will delve heart and soul into a subject that interests them. I know they will learn what they need to know to be successful by following their interests, seeking out mentors and finding the resources they need to succeed. I wish more people could see the potential of children and not feel the need to push it into a one size fits all box.

Comment by Deirdre on January 19, 2011 at 04:44 PM

Yes, interesting.
Actually, that last comment about trig is my favorite:) Gives me such hope! My oldest races right now, based on his current passion and interests, and I look forward to his looking around when he's older for what he might have missed and wants to know.
What is really surprising to me is that anyone still questions homeschooling.
When I was teaching high school in Oregon (where a teacher was fired for giving students answers/editing their state writing assessment---and you know how difficult it is to fire a teacher), there was a big push to encourage students to look at other paths besides college. A lot of articles were passed around about people who had great careers and never got their degree. Of course there are lots of paths to one's own definition of success, but I could never join that chorus. I loved college so much.

I went to Loyola in Chicago, and had great small classes with actual professors (not TAs) who challenged me. There was no football team, like high school; I loved being surrounded by people pursuing their own projects, whose enthusiasm for ideas and exploration were contagious. And the learning that took place outside of the classroom, living away from my family but in the safety net of a college campus, was even more important for me.

My husband went to the same school and had a completely different experience. But he was a business major, and didn't really engage with his own learning until he decided to study forestry in grad school.

My grad school experience was at a big research/grant obsessed university, but I believe you get out of things what you put into them. That is what I want my kids to learn ultimately. Why in the world should we expect less of grad students in directing their own learning than we do of children in project-based programs or at home?

Everyone is commenting on the provocative "Chinese Mothers are Superior" WSJ article in my little community, and much of the excerpt looks like a stunt to sell a lot of books. But it does have people paying attention, which always makes me happy. In my son's third grade classroom, 70% of the children have NEVER turned in any homework. No one at home is asking them what they're interested in, what they're learning at school, if they have homework, etc.

I don't mean to take away from any of Lori's points. Sorry if I'm treating this as an open-thread with this long message. The public schools are a mess, yes. And extremes of controlling, over-involved parenting, as described in the WSJ article, isn't the answer either. But what I'm witnessing as the bigger problem, the biggest problem in our classrooms and our communities, is that most kids don't have anyone sending them the message: Your learning matters; YOU matter.

I'm starting to think it doesn't matter what parenting style/teaching style you choose, so long as a kid can get that message.

Comment by amy on January 19, 2011 at 05:22 PM

Lori, I agree it's difficult to squeeze anything in around a school day. That's not what I meant--what I mainly meant is that just because my children are in school, that doesn't mean I've outsourced their education and I'm not paying attention. I think it's pretty easy to say, well, the kids are in school, so their education is the teacher's job, right? I recently saw someone describe themselves as Waldorf-inspired unschoolers who happen to send their kids to public school as a "supplement," and my first thought was that modeling lifelong learning and encouraging interests and so on doesn't make you an unschooler who happens to send your kids to school, it makes you a parent. In my framework, for me personally, that's part of the job.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 19, 2011 at 08:47 PM

heather, mm, yes. we watched "mr. deeds goes to town" last night (the original version with gary cooper) and there is a humorous part where he meets with the opera and asks why they're losing $180,000 a year and says he isn't willing to pay it; they need to change something. and they say you can't treat opera like a grocery store.

we pour an enormous amount of money into education; shouldn't we expect to get real value for our money? i think so.

deirdre, hey, feel free to treat every comment section like open thread. :)

someone forwarded me the "chinese mother" link and i said i'd give my response on the last open thread; i made notes but haven't responded yet. i'll get that done. and i agree -- getting people talking and thinking about the issues is a great thing!

"...I believe you get out of things what you put into them. That is what I want my kids to learn ultimately. Why in the world should we expect less of grad students in directing their own learning than we do of children in project-based programs or at home?" this is what i was trying to say .. with six-year-olds and 20-year-olds, can we educate people against their will? i don't think so. it requires participation; they have to bring something to the table. it has to be a joint effort between educator and student.

"In my son's third grade classroom, 70% of the children have NEVER turned in any homework. No one at home is asking them what they're interested in, what they're learning at school, if they have homework, etc." i have another article around here somewhere in which teachers are bemoaning that students aren't doing their homework assignments; then they say that the problem is, parents aren't making them. but .. why aren't the teachers making them? there's no consequence for *not* doing your homework (these were high school students), so they don't do it. teachers don't "make" them, because parents will have a fit if kids don't pass. and why would kids do work that they're not required to do and that they see no point in?

"[W]hat I'm witnessing as the bigger problem, the biggest problem in our classrooms and our communities, is that most kids don't have anyone sending them the message: Your learning matters; YOU matter." well, this is the drum i beat continuously when i was running my private school .. that we constantly told the kids, through word *and action*, and through the entire culture of the school, this is for *you*, so *you* can do what you want to do. but .. this is a hard sell to parents, who as a group feel strongly about grades and how kids measure up against one another. and homework .. no matter how many parents say they hate homework, i guarantee there are many more who demand it because they think it equals a better education.

"... Your learning matters; YOU matter. I'm starting to think it doesn't matter what parenting style/teaching style you choose, so long as a kid can get that message." i would only expand on that and say it's essential for children to not only understand that their education is for them but that they are an absolutely necessary part of that education .. that their input is 100% necessary. this is what we've been talking about -- that without them, there *is* no education.

thank you, deirdre!

amy, amen amen re: "modeling lifelong learning and encouraging interests and so on doesn't make you an unschooler who happens to send your kids to school, it makes you a parent"!

we should talk about that problem of how to squeeze things in around a school day (and a work day), though, because it is important. i have had so many people say essentially to me "well, we'll just have to do all the extra stuff [pursuing interests, project-type things, etc.] at home" and while i think that's an awesome goal, there are only so many hours in the day and so much energy in even the most passionate learner. it's a whole other thing...

Comment by David on January 19, 2011 at 10:14 PM

RE: "this is for *you*, so *you* can do what you want to do. but .. this is a hard sell to parents, who as a group feel strongly about grades and how kids measure up against one another"...as a teacher this is a thing I battle with a lot...how to tackle this... and it comes back to my earlier post about what society and our politicians expect from "education"...a 'one size fits all' mentality rather than real learning that comes from participation, engagement and an individual's desires to know more. Why is our society utterly obsessed with results that can be measured, tested and (I shudder when I write this) allow for comparisons with others? These are the messages that are out there and unfortunately they are what so many parents hear, respond to and equate to good education!! SIGH!

Comment by Kelly on January 19, 2011 at 11:18 PM

I took a year out between finishing school and going to University.

I got a job from a friend, working in training company, and every one I worked with was a graduate. I remember going to visit a well known communications company (all by myself at the tender age of 18) to talk about putting together a training plan for the 700 staff. The person I met was a middle aged man, and the first thing he asked me was how old I was, and I remember looking him straight in the eye and asking him the same question...we ended up becoming friends despite a rocky start!

Six months in, doing a job that I loved, I wondered whether there was any thing to gain by going to Uni to come back to the same job again in a few years time.

So I didn't go.

Sometimes I wonder if I turned my back on an amazing experience, but career wise I did just fine.

Now I am home educating my own children, which is probably the best (and most challenging!) job I've ever had! They are too young to think about further education in any real sense - my six year old wants to be an astronaut dinosaur hunter at the moment. Last week he wanted to own a tea shop.

Either way I will support them, but I will try to make them aware that there are alternative paths to living your dream, and that job satisfaction doesn't always begin with a degree.

Thanks for such a thought provoking post.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 20, 2011 at 12:45 AM

david, ah, been there, done that. :^)

as a teacher, you're deep in the educational jungle, fighting your way through every day, and you imagine that you are backed up by the parents and the administration .. that they also want what's best for kids .. then you realize there's nothing behind you but air.

(to be fair, not always true, i'm sure. but .. often true.)

that "but .. er .. lovely that my child is doing X and Y, but .. er .. how does s/he *fit into the group*? how does s/he .. *measure up against the others*?" .. for one thing, your child's immediate class is really not representative of the world. for another, this requires a switch to something measurable, a switch away from something individual.

there has got to be something in our DNA, something at a cellular level and impels us to want our children to *compete* and win. because even when given ample proof that they are doing well in the sense of state learning standards, parents want to know .. er .. but how are they doing *compared to the other children in their class*? interesting.

kelly, love hearing your story. would you say that you have felt any remorse about not having a formal degree? do you feel like your education is any less "worthy" because it's been self-done?

i was asked over and over again when i was doing educational consulting why i wasn't pursuing a master's degree in education. i explained (over and over again) that i'd already done the equivalent of more than one degree's worth of study and i was very satisfied with where i was in my learning .. satisfied with what i'd done and satisfied with where i was going/what i was still doing. but there was a dogged focus on that piece of paper .. a piece of paper that to me just represented a big expense that was totally unnecessary. (this is an especially difficult argument with people whose academic area is education, by the way! ;)

i don't think a college education is good or bad .. i think that students need to be better educated about the entire process, from learning to financial considerations, so they can make informed decisions.

thank you for sharing!

Comment by David on January 20, 2011 at 01:01 AM

"as a teacher, you're deep in the educational jungle, fighting your way through every day, and you imagine that you are backed up by the parents and the administration .. that they also want what's best for kids .. then you realize there's nothing behind you but air."

As always Lori you know how to express things with such great metaphors! All I can say is YES - SO TRUE!! WIll I go back into the jungle each day and keep doing what I do?...just try and stop me!!

I'm really enjoying the discussion...thanks :)

Comment by Dawn Suzette on January 20, 2011 at 01:35 AM

Great dialogue here.
I have nothing to add that has not already been said in the comments.
Good brain food Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 20, 2011 at 02:43 PM

d, thank you.

i was an administrator, so i know this isn't always true. but it does seem that many idealistic teachers end up finding that they are working at cross purposes with the rest of the team .. parents and administrators. and ithe same is true for idealistic parents .. and idealistic administrators. you find out that not everyone has the same beliefs and goals that you have .. which you find incredible.

keep fighting the good fight!

dawn, thank you!

Comment by Kate on January 21, 2011 at 07:05 AM

What a thought provoking thread.

This is the very thing which has led me to leave teaching after 10 years. Here in Australia, (and I've taught in public, private and catholic schools) there is very little flexibility. Everyone says we are catering to the students' needs and interests but if you asked a teacher to be really honest - and I am - we are not. How can we possibly? We have so much crammed into the curriculum that there is just no room for individual pursuits. The topics, assessment and marking standards are already predetermined so how can we possibly say we are catering to individual interest?

It doesn't matter how much you jazz it up, if the student isn't interested then they won't pursue it with true passion. Sure they'll go through the motions, they'll take notes, they'll memorise facts but they aren't truly learning. They aren't internalising and they definitely aren't learning new skills which they can transfer to different areas of interest.

I have seen it again and again, year after year. The students come into high school all excited and by the end of their first year (sometimes even their first semester!) they have lost their spirits and lost their passion.

We tell them what to learn and when to learn it. We expect them to learn about a whole civilisation's culture in 6 weeks! Then we test them at the end to prove they have learnt something. But ask them to tell you even a tiny something about that topic a month later and most times the students can give you nothing.

It was extremely saddening and frustrating. I, along with so many other teachers, have tried so many things, so many *new* teaching strategies, pedagogies, approaches, whatever but as long as we have an education system which is insisting on an assessment-driven curriculum, the system will continue to be fundamentally flawed and our children will continue to fail.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't know how we educate masses of children to a standard which allows them to be successful and fulfilled adults. I know that each child needs to feel inspired and given the freedom to explore their own interests; to develop a true love for life and all things in it. I know that this doesn't happen at schools and until it does I will be educating my own children at home.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 21, 2011 at 03:18 PM

beautifully said; i can add nothing -- you express it all so well. thank you for sharing your story.

Comment by Stephanie Caldwell on January 22, 2011 at 07:24 PM

i am eating this all up.
as a parent who just recently decided to homeschool my three year old. (i cannot believe that some parents i know are already sending their 3 year olds to all day preschool! ALL DAY.) for goodness sake.
I'm not looking forward to 'the questions' that will soon be coming about why we aren't sending her to 'real school'. But I've been reading your blog, and other places you've linked to, all week now. I'm really learning so much.
Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 22, 2011 at 09:13 PM

hi stephanie :)

congratulations on your decision to homeschool!

(an aside: i have to put in a word for all-day preschools .. they aren't all equal. i owned and was director of a private school, and we had all-day preschool students whose parents worked full-time. their day included tons of free play both inside and outdoors, an open art studio, a dream classroom with dress-up and music and library, a reggio-inspired and project-based curricula, complete free choice of activities, wonderful teachers, and on and on .. not a bad way to spend a day. :)

as far as 'the questions' -- and oh, they're coming! ;) -- i hope you can find something here to help you answer them. you've probably already read this link --

http://www.whiteoakschool.com/camp-creek-blog/2008/11/26/should-i-homeschool.html

-- but it's one of my favorites. i'm glad you're finding something useful here. good luck on your adventure! :)

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