Education Needs To Be Reformed

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Warns of Failures by 2014!

This a.m. I was reading The Register over a cup of coffee when I came across this timely article.   When the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, admits we need to make a change in education it gets my full attention.  

Los Angeles.  U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said Tuesday, March 22, that virtually every school in Los Angeles Unified School District will be classified as failing by 2014 if the “No Child Left Behind Act” is not urgently reformed.

Duncan told about 1200 educators and business leaders at a United Way education summit that the law now is too focused on test scores on core subjects.  That, he said, has led to a narrow focuses on those subjects at the expense of the well-rounded education every child needs.  “No Child Left Behind is fundamentally broken,” he said.   “We want to fix it before we go back to school this fall.” 

Duncan, the former head of Chicago’s public schools, and presently the Secretary of Education stationed in Washington, D.C., said he wants the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act to measure schools on year-to-year improvement, rather than on a specific test score.  “We should be far more concerned about levels of growth than proficiency,” he said.  On other topics, the secretary came down hard on the dismal performance of LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest school district.  Although he said district leaders are working to fix underachieving schools, he said the 50 percent graduation rate is the lowest among big-city districts.  “L.A. is a world-class city but does not have world-class schools,” he said.  

I Believe Every Parent Agrees We Need To Change How We Educate Our Students and Hire our Teachers

I believe we are doing the wrong kind of testing.   We ought to be testing all students at the entry level, grade 1 and again prior to middle school and prior to high school.   The purpose of this testing is to find out 2 things:
• The interests of the student, and;
• How the student learns best.

The interests of each student needs to be nurtured throughout school.   The individual interest may change as a student moves through the grades all the way into college and sometimes beyond.  And, then we need to think about forced change as a result of economy changes.  The student needs to be ready for a change if needed.  The one thing that remains constant is ….change.   We have to teach flexibility and adaptability throughout life.  In other words, college students need to major in two topics to be ready for a change if and when needed. 

We need to respect the fact that not all students belong in college.   There are other ways to become educated in life that does not require a degree but can be as resourceful to an individual.
It seems college may prepare some students to make a living but there are other resources out there that can provide a lifestyle.  There is a difference.

We need to find out how a student learns best.   I’ve talked about this throughout my blogs.   Some students learn better by auditory, meaning some students learn better by listening.   Others learn more using the visual sense, meaning s/he learns more by reading.   Still others need both.  In fact, most remember more when they have both.  It is the auditory system that puts it in the memory box.   That’s why it’s important to teach children to read aloud when they study.  They need a quiet room to do that without disturbances.

Remember the days we learned to read by reading.   It all starts when a parent reads to a small child before putting them to bed or taking them to libraries where they have readers who read to children.  In school, I can remember how I learned to read.

The teacher gave an assignment for reading homework.  The child was to read the chapter at home, look up words in the dictionary, write the meaning of the word and proceed to the end of the chapter.  This required having a parent assist the child in understanding what the story was about and to encourage vocabulary development.   The child was to try to use the new word 3 times in discussion at home and thereafter.

The next day, the teacher had  each student in the classroom read one paragraph or parts of a paragraph…aloud, in the chapter for the day, while all students listened and followed along.   Note here… that it is not the teacher who is reading to the students…it is the students who read.  And, they read aloud.   That is the key.  If a child came upon a word s/he couldn’t pronounce s/he could ask for teacher support and keep reading.  

The teacher did not start with the student sitting in the front row and then go down the line.    Instead, the teacher would call on different students unexpectedly to read.   This kept the students on their toes because they didn’t know when their name would be called and, as a result, they had to be ready to stand up and perform when called upon.   That is how a teacher teaches reading.   A student may never learn to read if s/he doesn’t read and/or read aloud in private.  Reading aloud is the best way to learn to read because it involves both the visual and the auditory system.   When we involve both it is easier to remember what one is reading.

When I was teaching adult education I had many interesting adult students in my classroom.   This particular student, Marion Cox, actually Dr. Marion Cox, was the psychologist for the development of Dick and Jane Reading Series.     That is a series of reading books back in the 1940’s and maybe beyond that decade.   She was now in her ’80’s.  What an interesting woman!

I asked her to talk about those books because they were banned in later years.  I wanted to hear it from her as to how these books were created and why were they banned later.   Dr. Cox had a crystal clear memory as she spoke and I gave her the floor.  She said when these books were created, they were pictures only.   There were no words at the bottom of the page.   They were to be used in kindergarten and first grade only at that time.  

The teacher was to sit down on a small stool with the children gathered around in front of her on a rug on the floor.   She would show the picture to the children and ask them what they think is happening in the picture.   Then one by one each child made his/her statement about what s/he thought was happening on that page.  The children used their own words. 

The teacher would write those words spoken by each child on a separate sheet of paper with the name of the child at the top.   At the end of the story she had several different stories written in the words of the different children.  Then she would let each child read his/her own story what s/he actually said using his/her own words presented as his/her own interpretation of the picture.  

The teacher then asked each child what s/he wanted the title of the story to be and each child created their own title by discussion of their story with the teacher.   This taught socialization and communication skills.   Then came the writing session.  Each child could copy all the words they used in their own handwriting…printing.   And, each child was allowed to keep his/her own hand written story they told.   They could take it home and read it to the parents.   That was how the books were supposed to be used. In doing so, it was the children who actually created the story by looking at the picture.    And, each story took a different direction and they created a different title.  

I’m sure each child could not wait to get home and tell his/her parents about this wonderful experience in writing their own book and it had a title.   Not only that….s/he could read the story to his/her parent. 

Now let’s break this apart and look at what the children learned:
• The children created their own story by looking at a picture and talking about what s/he saw in the picture;
• The children learned to respect their own ideas by using their own imagination;
• The children learned to print their own words used in the story;
• The children learned to complete the project by adding a title to the story; and,
• It taught them pride. 

I can visualize the excitement was blowing through the roof with this method of teaching.   And, the most important thing it did was it kept the children’s attention because each child was a part of the development of his/her own story.   The child felt important.  S/he wrote a story s/he could read in his/her own words!   And, Dr. Cox added one more thing:   She had each child write the publishing date on the first page with the title. 

That idea was beyond brilliant!

We then asked, when did the words come about at the bottom of the page and she said they were later added by a writer who felt the book was not complete without words.   The writer who added the words was trying to teach by rote which is why the words were repeated often throughout the books.  Learning by rote is part of learning to read, however.   But do we need one word repeated 5 times in a row?    “Run, Jane, run.  Run. Run. Run.”   There are only 2 different words used in that entire statement to show Jane was running.  

The writer who added the words suggested a teacher read the book to the children.   It didn’t create an interest, the children were no longer writing the story, they were no longer involved and it destroyed the children’s creativity.  There was no more excitement. And the books were banned because of boredom.  In thinking about this, I don’t see the children running home to show the parents how excited they were with the project for the day.  It was passive teaching.  Easy for the teacher.  Nothing learned and nothing gained.

Dr. Cox is the kind of teachers we need in our schools today.   Unfortunately, we have too many teachers like the one who killed these books!  That, in itself, should explain the difference between a teacher with passion and one who just has a job.

Even a child in kindergarten could add more words to the story than the writer who added the words on the bottom of the page!

Bobbi Barras


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