The Three Elephants – or why US public school education will never improve
In the last three months, in airports and hotel rooms I have been trying to catch up with current popular writing in my field. I would like to summarise some of the key findings for you in this and subsequent blogs but I will start with my priority list of book titles and my personal recommendations as to which I got the most out of:
|Absolutely essential for anyone in education||Creating Cultures of Thinking – Ron RitchhartThe Smartest Kids in the World – Amanda Ripley
The Understanding By Design Guide – Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
Creative Schools – Ken Robinson
How Children Succeed – Paul Tough
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon – Yong Zhao
Out of Our Minds – Ken Robinson
Essential Questions – Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
A More Beautiful Question – Warren Berger
Future Wise – David Perkins
Curriculum 21 – edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs
Blended – Michael B Horn and Heather Staker
|Very worthwhile to read|
|OK to read|
|I got nothing out of these two|
Many of these books are talking specifically about US public education and its present state of woe. You can’t ignore the stats – in PISA 2012 US education ranked 15th in reading, 24th in Science and 32nd in Maths out of 60 OECD countries.
At the top are …
The strategies for improvement covered by these books include developing greater understanding through using thinking routines, more focus on creativity in every subject, teaching design thinking, inquiry learning, better questioning of and by students, increasing students responsibility for their own learning, designing better lessons incorporating more play, curiosity, exploration and discovery, using more internet resources.
All great ideas, and all will improve learning for students given the right pre-conditions. But it is these pre-conditions that all of these authors ignore and in doing so I think, they all MISS THE POINT! None of these authors address in anything but a superficial way the three elephants in the room. And if these three things don’t change then in my opinion, US public education will never improve to anything like a high world ranking.
Before I explain what I mean I need to tell those of you who aren’t familiar with me that I am not an expert on US public education. Although I have worked in over 200 schools in 22 countries in the last 20 years I have never worked in the US so my opinion is that of a complete outsider. But I am very familiar with different structures of public education and from my point of view the basic problems in the US are structural and completely obvious. I will explain what I mean, but please, I am very interested in feedback, so do let me know if I have got this wrong.
The first, most obvious issue is funding.
I live in New Zealand and in my country funding for public schools all comes from one government based education ministry and is based on a decile system. This system ranks the socio-economic status of the community immediately surrounding any school and allocates funding accordingly. Schools are classified as being from decile 1- 10 with 1 being the lowest socio-economic districts and 10 being the highest. Funding is then given out proportionately with the highest funding going to the decile one schools and the next highest to decile two etc. down to decile 10 schools, in the richest districts which receive the least funding. The logic being that people in the poorest districts need the greatest help from government with their education to enable them to have the greatest chance of climbing out of poverty and more money means more resources. The schools in the poorest districts then receive enough funding from government to have the highest number of teachers per student and the greatest level of remedial and special education services available for students.
This type of education funding system is common internationally, in every developed country except four – Slovenia, Turkey, Israel and the USA. In those four countries funding for public schools is allocated in the opposite way – schools in the richest districts get the most money and schools in the poorest districts get the least.
Poverty – Wagner
Is this rocket science? If schools have more money they can afford lower student teacher ratios, better trained, more experienced and higher qualified teaching staff and more remedial and support programmes. Students will do better. Simple, surely?
I know there are many, many other pools of contestable funding that schools can apply for in the US which can help schools in the poorest districts to be able to receive funding for special programmes but that is not the point. The point is that if poverty is a contributing factor to underachievement in schools and if underachievement in education is what the government is interested in improving then more money would seem to be a good idea.
And the other weird thing is the US spends more money per student than almost any other country in the world.
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