Responses to questions about education.

“Future Parent and possibly Teacher…15 years from now” e-mailed a series of questions. Here are some brief responses:

“Where do you see us standing in terms of education quality 15 years from now?”

It’ll be better at some schools, worse at others, and roughly the same at still others. There will still be the traditional models of school that we have today, there’ll be experimental models, and there’ll be many more alternatives in terms of charter schools, study centers, and online programs. I can’t say whether education quality will improve on average. It’ll be interesting to see how the public systems react to increased competition.

“Would you advise between public, private, or competent homeschooling?”

Not if I don’t have additional information. There are some public schools to which I’d rather send my kid than certain private schools. There are some private schools to which I’d rather send my kid than certain public schools.

But then I supposed that with that modifier “competent” in front of “homeschooling,” that’s the answer I’m supposed to pick, isn’t it? The most commonly heard objection to homeschooling is that it doesn’t get kids to socialize with other kids. That may be true, but there are plenty of other opportunities to socialize with kids of similar age (sports, arts, clubs, volunteering, religious activities) if you take advantage of them.

“Do you believe it’s likely the school system will see a turn towards improved education over this timeframe?”

Some parts will, some parts won’t. Some places will, some places won’t.

“And lastly, a twofur. What are some of the worst changes that have been made to the system…”

I’ll limit myself to those changes that’ve been made since I started teaching.

1. Grade recovery, a.k.a. learning recovery. In Duval County, we allow students who earn a quarterly grade of D or F to attempt to raise that grade as high as a C. In theory, it’s not a bad idea; why not give students another opportunity to learn the material and show that they’ve learned it? In practice, I think the net effect has been negative. Too many kids attempt to game the system by screwing around one quarter and making up for it the next, and more often than not, it doesn’t work out the way they hope.

2. The abolition of the unexcused absence. Technically, they’re still on the books, but if you skip my class you are entitled to make up everything you missed for full credit. Unsurprisingly, the number of absences seems to have increased.

3. The 90-minute A/B block schedule. I don’t have research in front of me, but I’d bet good money that there are plenty of studies out there that show that generally, kids learn skills and content better by having shorter classes more often (say 50-60 minutes every day) instead of longer classes less often (90 minutes, alternating days).

4. Excessive standardized testing. I’m a big believer in standardized testing, but at some point, diminishing marginal returns kick in. It feels like we’re overdoing it.

5. Excessive Advanced Placement. Thanks to the obsession with the Newsweek and WaPo rankings, our district decided to shove as many kids as would fit into AP classes, regardless of preparation. The results have been ugly and expensive.

There are others, but those are the first that spring to mind.

“…and what are some “core” attributes of successful teaching or of an educational system?”

See the list above? Start with not-those.

I think it comes down to the “three R’s.” The better a school system is at teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic (and I mean arithmetic, not mathematics), and the better it is at reinforcing and further developing those skills throughout elementary, middle, and high school, then the better it will be at teaching the students everything else. So check to see how far a school system will let kids go without those basic skills. The further kids can go without those skills, the worse the school system is.