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American Education on the Decline – so Goes the Nation

January 20, 2014 1 comment

Parents make the rules and set the boundaries for their children. They set them up for success or failure.

All children are required to attend school in the USA. Our schools are the recipients of the children who these parents raise. They enter our classrooms either prepared to Launch into the Future or Dead on Arrival. I could go on about the teachers and their unions; the ways in which they block innovation and change, the ways in which they game the system for their benefit with the children left in their care losing ground internationally. But this is a rehashing of the obvious. What is important to know is that the American public educational system is now ranked 37 in the PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment). More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the PISA in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education. The results, published in December, 2013, show the U.S. trailing behind educational powerhouses like Korea and Finland.

It is useless to ask, “Who is to blame?” All are to blame; Parents for their irresponsible parenting and inability to have a vision for their children who are undisciplined and chaotic; Teachers for their unique capacity to remain mediocre in times that demand innovative change and diversity of thought; Unions who force every American teacher to pay dues to an organization that enslaves their members to an ethic of unexceptional performance; and Politicians who squander the promise of the youth of this nation as they waste time and opportunities to transform and revolutionize our educational practices in America. ALL are to blame.

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD (Organization for Co-operation and Development) average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading, ranks 21st in science, and 17th in reading. The U.S. scored below the PISA math mean and ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report. Even the top students in the United States are behind: This year, the PISA report offered regional scores for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida. Massachusetts, which is a high-achieving U.S. state and which averaged above the national PISA score, is still two years of formal schooling behind Shanghai.

Why is this important and why should we pay attention to this? Because, as parents, educators, and politicians we should be extremely concerned about how well our children are learning and retaining knowledge; how well they transfer their  knowledge to their life experiences; and how well they implement their dreams and visions using their knowledge. It is statistical fact that a rising PISA score for a country is a good indicator that the economy of that country will grow as well.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

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Parents, Education and Our Children; Who is to blame for our national student failures?

January 14, 2013 3 comments

We live in a culture where “Good” parenting, “Responsible” parenting is not a serious part of our national discussion. We do not make the connection between Parenting and Education. We think they are disconnected and we rarely discuss how they are intricately woven together and inseparable. When our school systems fail our children we blame the teachers, the teacher unions, the bureaucracy, the school districts, the lack of money, the political parties, anything that points the finger outside of parenting. Is this because we are a culture that is unable to accept responsibility for our decisions and actions, or the blame for our national failure as Parents?

We rarely look into the classroom to see what it is that brings disorder and distraction into the educational lives of our students. If we look inside these hallowed rooms we will see children who suffer from various, or all forms of the following: emotionally impoverished, intellectually neglected, physically undernourished, desperate for acceptance within their peer group, and because of  low self-esteem they follow; they do not lead.

Who has birthed and raised these children? What do they see when their children dress like vagabonds, speak illiterately, live slovenly lives, lack basic civilizing manners and respect for authority, their peers, and their parents? Or, are these children the mirror of their own lives? What is it about parenting that so many do it so badly?

It is done badly by so many because of repetitive life cycles preceding birthing that few transcend and break. My parents did, as so many of their generation. As a culture we have failed to address how we help those, who are trapped in these cycles, to understand the seriousness of birthing and parenting. When we abandon the real causes of dilapidated and non functioning educational systems, we abandon the children in them. There is a memorial to the Holocaust Jews in Boston. It reads something like this (paraphrasing)…“First they came for the Gypsies and I did nothing; then they came for the Jews and I did nothing, then they came for the Christians and I did nothing, then they came for me and there was no one to do something…” Who in our culture is serious about doing something?

We blame our failures in parenting on poverty; I say it is ignorance and the inability to transcend it. I was poor; we lived in poverty. The difference in my life were parents whose vision for their children was rooted in education. They knew then, as we know now, that you cannot succeed if you are undereducated or illiterate. We did not take food stamps, charity, or assistance of any kind. There was the fundamental definition between pride and shame. Shame was repugnant. Their pride eclipsed poverty. They knew it was their responsibility to improve the next generation, their children.

The usual cultural chorus I hear is, “Those times were different from these times”. That is correct; we now live in times where those in poverty are kept in poverty by what we now call ‘Social Services’. However, parenting hasn’t changed in a millennium. When Children reach up they still need the comfort of big arms, the comfort of soft voices when they cry, the comfort of community, and the stability and security of family, which means 2 parents – a Father and a Mother. These things never change, Never!

A generation has failed their children and in doing so have bound them to poverty and degradation. These children come to our schools and to our teachers unprepared in the most basic life skills; positive self esteem, good health, early cognitive skills, and intellectual and creative curiosity. BUT, more importantly, these hapless children are not provided a home, no matter how diminished in material things, that is stable, secure, with 2 parents working together to bring the generation they birthed into a greater vision from which they came. The educational statistics for minority communities are horrific. There will be no recovery in our life time if we fail to do something. The solutions are not about money or political programs.

Teachers are not baby sitters and they do not teach values. They teach Mathematics, English, Science. Teachers are not disciplinarians or policemen. Educational facilities should not be places where parentally abandoned children are dumped to cause chaos.

“If we don’t stand for something we are apt to fall for nothing.”

No Child Left Behind – The Basketball Version

September 6, 2012 2 comments

My friend Rob, who is a retired special education teacher, knows my passion for educating children to be skilled and knowledgeable participants in the emerging highly competitive global economy. He handed me an envelope. I read the contents. What follows is a summary of …

No Child Left Behind – The Basketball Version:

  1. All teams must advance to the Sweet 16, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.
  2. All kids will be expected to have the same basketball skills at the same time and in the same conditions.
  3. No exceptions will be made for interest in basketball, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities, or disabilities.

All Kids Will Play Basketball at a Proficient Level:

  1. Talented players will be asked to practice on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with athletes who aren’t interested in basketball, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don’t like basketball.
  2. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.
  3. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals.
  4. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind. They will be issued vouchers for moving closer to the successful team’s area.
  5. Any children who do not show immediate promise, or who show serious basketball visual-motor deficiencies in early grades will be given the “Dribbles Test of Early Basketball Behavior”, even if the child has one leg  or came from a country that has never played or supported basketball.
  6. Even if there is plenty of evidence supplied by sports psychologists that there are hundreds of other conditions that can cause bad dribbling, the child will play successfully.
  7. The administration may consider not requiring them to dribble since it actually is not required in order to be successful at basketball, but it sure helps.
  8. A reasonable accommodation for students under a 504 plan would be to allow them extra distance when being guarded so they can pass the ball more proficiently.
  9. Elevator shoes should also be allowed for students of below average height and any players over 6’2″ may have to have jump restrictions to make this fair to those who are vertically challenged.
  10. The parents of the tall students might also be required to pay extra for the coaching of the short students since they obviously come from a genetically-advantaged background for basketball.

Is this humorous parody, yes it is. I did laugh for about a second.

More importantly, is this how government asserts their vast store of knowledge and insight into how our teachers should be educating their students? It seems the more the government interferes in the classroom the lower the standards become. Government does not understand that this isn’t about money; it’s about teacher talent and passion.

The United States is now experiencing dismal world wide rankings against 34 countries in spite of billions of dollars spent in government programs. The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

We can safely assume that not one child was left behind, but that all were left behind!

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