3 Reasons Education is Mediocre – Moving toward the Middle

By | 2016-10-29T11:37:21+00:00 February 3rd, 2011|

In a recent article from the Sunshine State News, it appears that Florida’s troubled educational system is coming under fire yet again.  This time, it’s another call for teacher’s unions to be abolished and for the tenure system to be wiped clean.  It also calls FEA’s policies a race to mediocrity.  This is where I have a little trouble.

It’s not that I don’t believe that educational unions can be corrupt and have issues; nor that the tenure system needs to be totally revamped.  Both of those are facts in my opinion.  Where I have issue with are the claims that these are the reason for mediocrity.  They aren’t.

The mediocrity in education is our whole federal government policy of sticking their noses in where they don’t belong.

1. They insist on accountability (which is good), and to do so they

2. put meaningless tests in place (bad).  So now we have standardized testing which doesn’t test real knowledge – just recall. Thereby,

3. in order to meet the accountability requirements, teachers are teaching to the test.  And so, we have mediocrity.

What is even scarier than this, though, is the move to the middle.  As I watch various test scores from schools in Maryland, I’m seeing this disturbing trend.  More and more schools are using the “drill and kill” methods of math facts and sight words rather than innovative and engaging teaching practices because they want to get those test scores up.  And when the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun publish those scores every year, you see many schools steadily rising.

But what you DON’T see is the trend data that is going on.  That overall snapshot doesn’t tell you how many students are at the basic, proficient and advanced levels and how that compares to the previous year.  When you start looking at that data, what you’ll find in many cases are students that move up from basic to proficient and then down from advanced to proficient – moving toward the middle.  So test scores go up overall, but 2/3 of students are either not moving at all or moving backwards.  This is the real mediocrity of education.

Instead of placing billions of dollars each year into standardized testing that doesn’t measure true learning, why not invest in technology, innovative teaching strategies like arts integration and project-based learning, and professional development for teaching?  I can tell you that the best data I’ve seen from our arts integration program is that our students have kicked the bell curve to the curb.  Our basic students are moving up to proficient and our proficient students are moving to advanced.  I believe this is because we engage them, create connections within their learning and provide them with the tools to problem solve.Invest in researching how other countries using mentoring and teacher prep programs to see gains in student achievement.  Invest in quality administrative programs to train our future leaders in how to assess teachers and help them grow.

And then, get out of the way and let us do it.

About the Author:

Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.Email Susan
  • Geena

    I’m not sure where you see so called “drill and kill” in MD. Certainly not at my child’s school in Montgomery County where multiplication is taught for maybe three days and then they go straight into division. The teachers tell parents to teach your kids math facts over here. The kids’ with educated and/or responsible parents make sure their kids learn their math facts. The rest of the kids (probably the majority) start to do poorly in math because they spend much of their homework/testing time counting on their fingers. Is there really only two options in the world with regards to math instruction – 100% drill and kill or 100% new math? I don’t disagree about the narrowing of the curriculum or the movement to mediocrity, but blaming it on attempts to get kids to memorize math facts is rediculous.

    By the way, thanks to Montgomery County’s anti “drill and kill” I’ve gotten new students for my math tutoring business each fall for many years. You may not know that said county is changing their math curriculum; they are adding in “drill and kill” because they’ve finally come to the realization that their new-math approach is failing miserably. This could be bad for my business, but that’s fine with me – I want all kids to learn math, not just the ones with attentive parents.

    • admin

      Thanks for writing in, Geena. I’m glad to hear your perspective from Montgomery County schools, though it’s frustrating to see them going to the “drill and kill” method out of desperation. I’m certainly not advocating for the issues you’re seeing from “new math” or any other method that requires students to cram knowledge into their brains without any kind of opportunity to process it and create something new with their information. I’m seeing a lot of schools here taking the approach of doing math facts and more rote teaching, which is what I’m referring to as “drill and kill” because the students are just memorizing, rather than learning. My whole point here was that we should be investing in and trying methods like arts integration, project based learning and so on that allow our students to really manipulate and use the information they learn, rather than just receive and regurgitate.

  • momof4

    I absolutely, vehemently disagree with Admin. Forget arts integration, project based learning, discovery learning et al, ad nauseum. Teachers should have content knowledge and should teach it explicitly. Singapore Math is a solid math curriculum that builds skills and conceptual knowledge. Core Knowledge and the classical curriculum (grammar, logic and rhetoric; see Wise and Bauer) include the essentials across the disciplines. Enforce disciplinary rules (regardless of racial/ethnic status) and group kids homogeneously (no more full inclusion and differentiated instruction) so that every kid is challenged but not overwhelmed and has the teacher’s attention full-time. I’ve never heard a half-way credible explanation of why 5-10 minutes of the teacher’s time, in a heterogeneous class (which may span 6-8 years of knowledge and skills) is just as effective as 50 minutes of the teacher’s time in a homogeneous class.

    • admin

      That’s an interesting take, momof4. If that method worked, why did we move away from it in the 60’s and have yet to return? Data shows that arts integration, project-based learning and other methods that allow students to manipulate what they learn to make individual meaning leads to more creativity, innovation and deeper learning overall. I’m not looking to make drones out of children, therefore, cannot support the Singapore curriculum. I want kids that are going to be able to look at a problem, and come up with an answer that may not have been thought of yet, don’t you? How else will they survive in the 21st century and beyond?