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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Education Flux is Barrier to Truth

Across the country, education is in flux. Standards are being revised; curricula are being chosen, replaced, supplemented and developed; tests are being revised, delayed or kicked out completely; and teachers are being trained and retrained.

The curriculum spaghetti being tossed against the wall in Spokane Public Schools, for example, is an ongoing stream of programs, supplementary materials and changes in procedure. Even as the state revised its math standards in 2007-2008 and reviewed several mathematics curricula in 2008, this district was changing its materials for the 2008-2009 school year and planning more changes for 2009-2010.

Today, a district administrator told me that parents aren’t asked for input on district curricula because they don’t have the background required to offer informed input.

(It’s too bad none of the parents in the district ever went to college; ran a business; tutored children; became engineers, mathematicians, writers, teachers, professors or tradespeople … Any of that would have been so helpful.)

In January 2007, an administrator told me the math situation was poised to improve. She said there was a “transition period” from traditional curricula to reform curricula, and once the students had done the entire K-12 program in reform math, things would turn around. The implication? Parents should just accept that their younger children will be more successful than their older children.

(Ironically, considering the inherently flawed nature of reform mathematics, the younger children might indeed be more "successful" -- with less knowledge.)

Surely local administrators would agree that public education is broken. I’ve not heard any of them say it publicly, but you’d have to be clueless to not know it. Just look at the:

  • constant changes in standards, curricula and supplementary materials;
  • consistently poor test scores, high remediation rates, high dropout rates, and dropping enrollment over the last five years (other than in kindergarten);
  • truckloads of money spent annually on testing alternatives, teacher development and instructional coaches;
  • booming enrollment in private schools, alternative programs and homeschooling

Hey, here’s a question. What happens to the students still in the public-education system? As administrators make changes and things fall in and out of alignment, the children continue to go through a system that isn’t providing them with the skills they need. Shouldn’t administrators tell somebody?

Remember the classic episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy and Ethel were working in a chocolate factory? Their job was to wrap chocolates and put them back on the conveyor belt, which would then take the wrapped chocolates to the boxing area. Lucy and Ethel were warned that if even one chocolate went by unwrapped, they would be fired. Initially, everything went well, but before long, the belt was moving too fast, the chocolates were coming by too quickly, and they couldn’t keep up. In a panic, they began stuffing chocolates in their mouth. When they heard the supervisor coming, they got rid of the chocolates in whichever way they could – in their mouth, down their shirt and even in their hat. When she came in, the supervisor didn’t see what Ethel and Lucy had done. All she saw was that there weren’t any chocolates on the belt. She praised them for their good work and called out for the conveyor belt to go faster.

Children in American public schools are like those chocolates. They’re being sent down the conveyor belt before they’ve been properly wrapped. Workers hide unwrapped chocolates in their hat as supervisors call out for the belt to go faster. As administrators analyze, review and make decisions, the unwrapped chocolates either fall on the floor or wend their way to their graduation boxes. Collectively, the establishment put children on this conveyor belt and appears to still reject warnings of problems.

When 40-60% of consumers purchase a product that doesn’t do what manufacturers say it will, there are recalls, public notices, health alerts, class-action lawsuits and scandal. There might even be criminal charges. But with these unwrapped chocolates, there’s just: “Well, let’s wait and see.” Administrators should be issuing alerts and figuring out how they’ll fill in the gaps in knowledge before students try to graduate.

When will administrators take responsibility for the unwrapped chocolates? Remedial programs aren't standard or “equal.” Gifted and alternative programs can take only so many students. Some classes will get funds for aides and assistants, and some won’t. Some principals will deal with student challenges, and some won’t. Some struggling students will be helped, and some won’t. Some children have parents who can help them, and many do not. So how do we go about fixing these inequalities?

The administrators know the current math standards aren’t clear. They’ve said there needs to be more content. They’re making plans to change things. But for the children already in the system? Ah, well. Shhh.

Who will tell parents the reality of it – out loud, in terms that everyone can understand? Advocates will tell you. Like this:

Dear Parent:

You have been sold a product that a large body of evidence indicates is defective. On its own, it’s unlikely to adequately prepare your children for post-secondary life. Administrators are busy making changes that they hope will fix everything. Every time they make system-wide changes, the long-term effect again becomes a complete mystery, thereby preventing you from assessing the changes or determining their efficacy.

As a consequence, you might not know if your children require remedial classes until they test into them after high school or drop out in frustration. Therefore, your children might benefit now from supplementary work, remedial work and/or tutoring.

You can find out from independent, knowledgeable sources what your children should be learning in math, science and English. Singapore Math and Saxon Math have free online assessments, for example, that your children can take so you can determine where they are in knowledge and skill. If you can afford it, you can have them professionally tested. You can talk to college professors and counselors, tradespeople, businesspeople and tutors about which skills are necessary for post-secondary life. You can find ways to help your children catch up.

You also might want to look into supplemental programs and resources for subjects that aren’t covered well in the schools, such as civics, history, economics, forensics, second languages, social studies, art, music, gym, geography, ethics and communication.

P.S. You might want to start the process before the rush begins.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Education flux is barrier to truth." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was also posted Oct. 15 on at

1 comment:

nickysam said...

If you studied math, science, or engineering at a four-year college in the US, much of what you learned is useless, forgotten, or obsolete. All that money, all that time, all that wasted talent. If all we lost were a few years, no big deal. But the really scary part is that we never learned what matters most to true experts in math, science, and engineering. We never really learned how to DO math, science, and engineering.
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