Thursday, March 31, 2011

U.S. Education Comparisons and Challenges

I've written to my state legislators to find out how the high achieving other countries handle some of these challenges found in the U.S. classrooms.  There are probably other challenges I haven't addressed but since the U.S. is #14 (or lower) according to the recent news reports, I'd like to know how the top countries are handling these challenges so that we can learn and implement them.  At this time, I don't see why the teachers are being held totally responsible for the lower test scores - maybe the feedback I get will convince me that the teachers are at fault for the lower test scores - but right now I think that unless we have perfectly achieving parents, with perfect legislators enacting the perfect budgets and curriculum with the perfect ready to learn students, we just aren't going to have the perfect classrooms - even if we have perfect teachers.

Florida has just enacted legislation that the teachers' pay (increases?) be based 50% on the test results of the students.  I suggest that the administrator's bonuses and pay increases for the legislators also be tied to students' performance as they play a roll in what is taught in what kind of setting for how many hours and days per session.  Here is the letter I wrote:

Public Education Comparisons: The news reports U.S. is #14 or so in education in comparison to other countries. Please tell me the top five countries and what tests are used to compare.  I doubt that the comparisons take in all of the diversity the U.S. has to cope with in the classrooms.

How are these factored in:
1. Multiple non-English languages as native language.  It is hard to teach people in English who speak other native languages, yet the students from other countries are allowed into our classrooms.  Some FL school districts have 14 different native languages coming into the classrooms – teachers don’t have control over that yet are challenged to get those students prepared for the same tests as native English speaking students.  Which other countries scoring higher than the U.S. have this challenge?
2. Class content is mandated by legislators, not teachers. Time spent teaching sex ed, drug ed, manners , etc - how is this factored in?  How is this in other countries?  Or do those schools focus only on “testable” content?
3. Handicapped students are mainstreamed into many classes. Do other countries higher in standings than U.S. have severely mentally impaired students in their classes?  Even if the tests are not factored in, severely mental and physical handicapped students take more time and focus from the teacher  and other students (providing physical assistance and mentoring).
4. Days/hours/holidays are mandated by various gov and administrations - not teachers - how does our school calendar compare?  Many districts provide “planning” time to teachers during the school day.  This takes away from instruction time whether all teachers want it or not.
5. Expelling/disciplining disruptive students - U.S. teachers don't have control of who is in their classes.  How is this handled in those countries scoring better than U.S.?  If other countries’ teachers or administrators are allowed to expel students, the ones left, wanting to learn will probably score higher than those kept in classes and schools where they don’t want to be (based on their behavior).
Parents who are drug abusers, unemployed, homeless, victims of domestic violence and/or had trouble in schools themselves will have a hard time sending off a well rested, well fed, ready to learn students who will come home to a quiet place to do homework, eat a well balanced meal and get a good night’s sleep after some school or family enrichment activity.
I'm not a teacher. I've never been a teacher. I don't have a student in school currently but have grandchildren in various schools.  There are no perfect classrooms but there never will be unless we have perfect legislators setting the class content along with perfect teachers implementing it, perfect students ready and willing to learn and perfect parents ready and able to reinforce the classroom at home, getting the student prepared to learn.
I'd like to know that we are comparing apples to apples.  Please tell me how other countries handle these challenges to come out ahead of U.S. in student tests. 
Thank you,
Madlyn Blom