Post Reply 
What is wrong with the US education system?
10-25-2014, 09:55 PM (This post was last modified: 10-25-2014 09:58 PM by Don Shepherd.)
Post: #1
What is wrong with the US education system?
There was a discussion in the Prime thread about the inadequacies of the K-12 public education system in the United States. I thought it would be nice to have a thread on this subject here. It is not related directly to HP calculators, but I think many forum members are interested in this topic and should share their thoughts.

There are no experts on this. We do manage to provide a basic education to the majority of students, but those students at either end of the ability spectrum are certainly not as well served as they could be and should be. The public schools have largely become the education provider for the poor and lower-middle class. Families with money typically seek out private schools for their kids, and private schools usually have smaller class sizes and more interesting classes.

I attended public schools from first grade through 12th grade, and then state universities for my BA and MA degrees. I learned the basics, like everyone else. I had teachers that I thought were very good, and the opposite.

The public education system is a lot like the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control division: it is very resistant to change. That is probably smart for air traffic control; lives are at stake, and you shouldn't tinker with a system that, largely, works. Public education works too, but it could be so much better. After leaving the computer field after 40 years and becoming a teacher, I saw first-hand some of the problems in education, from a crooked principal who failed a new teacher in their end-of-year assessment review so she could appoint a buddy of hers as a math teacher the following year, to hardened teachers who could do nothing but complain about students, parents, other faculty, administrators, the school board, you name it. The irony is, despite the trillions of dollars spent on education every year, most classes remain pretty boring.

I now volunteer as a math teacher at a private boarding school in Louisville. Instead of a ridiculous test-centered curriculum--which public schools must teach--my principal told me "you've been in the business world for 40 years, just teach the kids what they need to know to get by in the world." A public school teacher would kill for that level of freedom.

I don't subscribe to the belief that there is a federal conspiracy to keep schools ineffective and boring; conspiracies require brains that congress lacks. I think the status quo is just hard to break; schools today operate pretty much like schools did in the 1950's. Just newer technology.

Personally, I'd like to see a return to the old "readin, writin, and rithmetic," but that is not likely to happen in this complex world of today.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
10-28-2014, 03:24 AM
Post: #2
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
(10-25-2014 09:55 PM)Don Shepherd Wrote:  Personally, I'd like to see a return to the old "readin, writin, and rithmetic," but that is not likely to happen in this complex world of today.
It seems that someone always wants to add One More Thing to the curriculum. I think an important question to ask whenever someone suggests adding "just an hour" of instruction on the very important topic of tea cultivation in ancient Greece or whatever, is "what should we remove to make room for it?" This forces us to consider what is more important.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
10-28-2014, 05:34 AM
Post: #3
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
Good point on the testing schedule. I went to English private schools until I was 17 (not that it was much fun there, and I didn't do that well because of the other extreme). I took SATs and wound up doing my BS and Ph.D. in the US. One of the key differences, at least in the 1970s -- is it any better --? is the propensity for multiple choice exams in the US rather than longer questions with elements of partial credit depending on how much work one showed, thought processes etc. In multiple choice -- one has to mark "the best" answer -- without an opportunity to explain the logic that might cause a deviation towards the "second best" and there is no credit for choosing B when A was considered to be the "best" answer. For instance, out of A, B, C, and D, perhaps one should get 10, 7, 3, and 0 points respectively. Or something like it. For arithmetic problems this is clearly not an issue, but it certainly can be for interpretive or comprehension-based questions. And too often, teachers are trained to teach kids how to take tests, not how to learn to apply logic (whether arithmetic or RPN!)

Ironically, when applying to law school many years later, I found the LSAT exams had exactly the same format -- multiple choice -- for the lion's share of the test. When one considers that a lawyer must surely have to argue the less prima facie obvious case to win on occasion, surely the "second best" answer is not a cut and dried issue. Certainly a defense attorney faced with overwhelming evidence who can creatively form an argument to plant reasonable doubt would deserve partial credit, the defendant's guilt or innocence notwithstanding.

So... I quit law school after becoming disenchanted with its inexactitude and went back to science....and have forever believed that if one took all the lawyers, and all the teachers, and simply swapped their salaries, the world would be a better place.

Thanks for reading this totally non-HP related vent!
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
10-28-2014, 01:25 PM
Post: #4
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
(10-28-2014 03:24 AM)David Hayden Wrote:  It seems that someone always wants to add One More Thing to the curriculum.

Since becoming a middle-school math teacher, two of my pet peeves have been box-and-whisker plots and stem-and-leaf plots. People of my generation (age 64) have probably never heard of those statistical entities because they didn't exist in the 1960's. Younger folks may vaguely remember them from middle school, but they were quickly forgotten because they just are not used in the media. But many public school systems require them to be taught because they are included in many standardized tests, and we all know how important tests are. I refuse to teach them because a kid will never see one once he/she leaves middle school. I wrote my state Education department years ago about why these two things need to be taught, and I got a form letter, "thank you for your comments blah blah blah". We waste so much valuable time teaching meaningless things like this because some bureaucrat thought it would be nice.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
10-28-2014, 01:44 PM
Post: #5
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
(10-28-2014 05:34 AM)JimP Wrote:  One of the key differences, at least in the 1970s -- is it any better --? is the propensity for multiple choice exams in the US rather than longer questions with elements of partial credit depending on how much work one showed, thought processes etc.

Those multiple-choice tests are still there and probably always will be due to the cost-effectiveness and consistency of automated versus manual scoring. Many non-math-based tests have written essay type questions where students can write whatever they wish, but even these (which are manually scored) aren't always scored to take into account what the student really knows.

The best test I ever took was in a college United States history class, and it wasn't even a written test at all. The professor told us that our final would be this. We would schedule a time to meet with him in his office, perhaps for 15 minutes. He told us that he would ask us to discuss one of three or four selected topics. He told us what the topics were in advance, but we didn't know which one he would ask us to discuss, so we had to prepare and study for all three or four topics. I met him in his office, he said something like "so tell me about possible ways that the US Civil War might have been avoided", and I discussed that. I think that was the best "test" I ever took. That professor is now a city councilman and is well-respected.

That is what our education system desperately needs: innovative ways to allow learning to be fun and worthwhile.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
11-02-2014, 11:54 PM
Post: #6
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
Here is an interesting perspective on teaching math. The author's premise is that math is really more of an "art" than a "science," and should be taught accordingly. It's rather long, but it's a good read.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
11-09-2014, 05:13 PM
Post: #7
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
Quote:The author's premise is that math is really more of an "art" than a "science,"

Hi Don. To me, math is a broad subject - including art, science and philosophy.


John
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
11-11-2014, 09:27 AM
Post: #8
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
One thing that is annoying about the US education system is that some schools force students to get a TI-Nspire (or borrow one from school) running the latest OS and no other calculator model (not even the TI-84 Plus, HP Prime nor TI-89 Titanium) are allowed. Isn't it illegal in some countries to force students to buy one specific calculator model and disallow every other?

-DJ Omnimaga
Calculator, mobile & PC game development & art: http://codewalr.us
My music: http://djomnimaga.bandcamp.com/
Visit this user's website Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
11-11-2014, 12:02 PM
Post: #9
RE: What is wrong with the US education system?
(11-11-2014 09:27 AM)Kevin Ouellet Wrote:  One thing that is annoying about the US education system is that some schools force students to get a TI-Nspire (or borrow one from school) running the latest OS and no other calculator model (not even the TI-84 Plus, HP Prime nor TI-89 Titanium) are allowed. Isn't it illegal in some countries to force students to buy one specific calculator model and disallow every other?

Kevin, I'm not aware of any school districts in my state that "require" students to buy and use a specific model calculator in math class. Some schools may "recommend" certain models, but I would imagine that a student could choose a different model if he/she wanted to do that.

We don't use calculators at all at my school.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply 




User(s) browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)