Building Education, It’s a Starting Point: Getting Back to Basics

Building Education…It’s a Starting Point: Getting back to Basics

Students Are Not Equally Able or Willing To Learn: Why?  The following is an excellent article every parent should read:  According to Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune Columnist, Dec. 22, 2010 America’s primary and secondary schools have many problems, but an excess of excellence is not one of them.   Not only do our weak students fare poorly in international comparisons, so do our strong students.  Mediocrity is the national norm.

The very best students are the ones most likely to do things of great benefit to the rest of us such as, cure malaria, devise revolutionary inventions, start the next Apple or plumb the secrets of the universe.   But we don’t always put much importance on helping them to realize their full potential.

A case in point is Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., a racially and economically mixed suburb of Chicago that is home to Northwestern University.  It recently decided to eliminate a high honors freshman English course aimed at challenging the top students.

Henceforth, these youngsters will be grouped with everyone else in a regular “honors” class in humanities.   Next year, the same may be done with biology.   Your kid is an honor student at ETHS?  Heck, everyone is an honors student at ETHS.

It’s hardly the only school in America where grouping students according to their ability is in disrepute.   There is a widespread impulse is to treat all kids as equally able and willing to learn.   But the results often fall dismally short of the hopes.

When the Chicago public schools scrapped remedial classes for ninth graders and put everyone in college-prep courses, “failure rates increased, grades declined slightly, test scores did not improve and students were no more likely to enter college,”  according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School REsearch at the University of Chicago.   Among average and above students, absenteeism rose.

The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle.   But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy.   Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, “The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top.  There’s a long-standing attitude that, “Well, smart kids can make it on their own.”

But can they?   Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math, lower than in 30 other countries.   In Taiwan, the figure is 28%.

School administrators in Evanston insist the change is aimed at making the curriculum more demanding, even as they make it less demanding for some students.  Thanks to the abolition of this elite course, we are told, “high-achieving students” will profit from “experiencing multiple perspectives and diversity in their classes to gain cultural capital.”

In other words, racial balance will take priority over academic rigor.   Blacks and Hispanics make up nearly half of all students but only 19 percent of those in advanced placement courses and 29 percent of those in honors courses.

This is because minority students at Evanston, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000, generally score lower on achievement tests.  Putting all students together is supposed to give everyone an equal opportunity.

But if you have a fever, you don’t bring it down by breaking the thermometer.  The low numbers of black and Hispanic students are a symptom of a deeper problem, namely the failure of elementary and middle schools to prepare them for the most challenging course work.  Evanston has had a big racial gap in academic performance for decades, and there is nothing to gain from pretending it doesn’t exist.

Schools that group (or “track”) kids by ability generally get better overall results.  Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, notes in a recent report, “Middle schools with more tracks have significantly more math pupils performing at the advanced and proficient levels and fewer students at the needs improvement and failing levels.”

Why would that be?  Teaching is not easy and teaching kids with a wide range of aptitude and interest is even harder.  Grouping students by ability allows the tailoring of lessons to match the needs of each group.  Putting them all together is bound to fail one group or another.

Shortchanging gifted teens creates the risk of another unwanted effect:  inducing their parents to leave.  Families in Evanston can always move to neighboring suburbs with good schools, or they can opt for several fine private and parochial alternatives.   Average students don’t gain from being in the same classes as exceptional ones if the exceptional ones are not there.

We as a society have not been very successful at turning average students into high achievers.   Maybe we’ll have better luck doing the opposite.

What a great article!  Well said!  By Steve Chapman.    Please read how CaptionsVerbatimPro can improve all levels of learning.   Separation into 3 groups can be a good thing and everyone’s scores will increase.  There is no such thing as one size fits all for the same reason we can’t buy a size 7 shoe to everyone!  However, and additionally, having 3 separate groups may set up competition for students to increase their scores to get into the higher level of learning.   When each group has all the notes verbatim they have something to work with.   Once they leave the classroom and go into another class for a different course, they lose too much information in their memory box of the former class.  It appears the student who excels has a stronger memory box than most and is able to go back in his/her head and recant what the instructor said at any given time, and, can even use that method when taking a test weeks later. 

I have a son and a grandson (father and son) who are both walking encyclopedia’s but they both learn differently.   They can recant verbatim most anything they heard when the subject arises weeks or months and even years after.  Not everyone has that kind of memory.  My grandson uses both reading and listening.  My son only needs to listen and he never forgets what was said.  He says, “All I have to do is roll my mind back to the time I heard the lesson and I can provide a verbatim account of what was said.”  Others can do the same once they read a topic.   And, still others may need both.   We’re talking about our senses here.   Some are more inclined to auditory.   Others remember more when they read.   And, still others, need both.   Once we understand what our student needs are, then we solve a huge problem in learning.  It’s easily tested to determine how the student learns best.  These are the kind of tests we need to have in our schools at the very beginning and perhaps every other year to determine any changes as they grow.

For some subjects, such as spelling, muscles need to be involved.   Remember the days when we actually wrote the word 10 times or more until we could spell  the word without looking at it?  When one writes the word several times s/he’s using his muscle memory.  When s/he hears the word for the test all s/he needs to do is put the pen to the paper and follow the pen. 

So many students coming out of high school, community colleges, universities and even some of the instructors at the universities cannot spell.  They relied on computers to learn spelling and there is no muscles involved to learn spelling.   The computer simply asks, which word is spelled correctly?   Well, that is nothing more than a guessing game. 

It works very much like a golfer.  The golfer uses his muscles to hit that ball and send it where he wants it to go.   He does that with practice over and over again.  It’s very similar to learning how to spell. 

Now let’s talk about math.   Years ago we learned math with a book, paper and a pencil.   Muscles were involved.   Today the student has a hand held calculator right on his/her phone.  And, if they enter 3 X 3 and the answer comes up as 12….they believe it!  

When I was teaching math, I also insisted the student transfer the problem from the book to paper with their pencil.   At first they balked.  Some said, “That’s outdated!”   I said, “It could be.”    However, we know that part of learning math has to do with organization skills or one gets lost in the middle of solving a problem.   I taught them to work from left to right and show me how they got the answer.   Once students learn this basic skill then it’s ok to go to a calculator or computer.   There is no substitution for learning basic skills when it comes to math and spelling.

Thoughts to ponder.  This brings up some questions: 

  • Why are we not teaching Basic Skills in the lower grade?
  • Why are we not testing our students to determine how they learn best?

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