My first classroom was Montessori. I remember sitting down on the rough carpet, listening attentively to my teacher as she recited the story of Tikki Tikki Tembo. Montessori was fun, consisting of paper punch outs and map coloring followed by a quick snack of celery and peanut butter. I would be home by noon time bidding farewell to my fifteen classmates. Kindergarten rolled by and my class size crept up to twenty.
I was left to my own devices, save quick instructions on how to count by twos, threes, and fives. As I traveled through the grades of primary school, the number only increased. Hands went unnoticed, and questions were brushed off. By second grade, the teacher only glanced at my raised hand before dismissing it. Marked as a gifted student, my teachers would turn to other children who were struggling.
I was crushed but understood. With class sizes creeping to thirty-five, there simply was not enough time to meet the needs of every student, and it was the duty of the teacher to make sure every pupil in the classroom had adequate knowledge to pass the nation’s education requirements. While I had no issue learning, since my parents at home were able to instruct me one on one, I saw that many of my peers were lagging behind. The class time was not long enough to answer questions, and there certainly was not enough attention span to answer thirty questions per topic.
Slowly as I climbed through middle school, hands began to fall, eyes glazed over with bored gazes, and no one asked any more questions. The teacher plainly ran through the lecture, went through last night’s worksheet, answered one or two questions, and assigned the night’s homework before the bell shrilly rang. The worst part was I knew there was nothing I or the teacher could do. Managing a group of thirty some adolescents was time-consuming and the best way to teach such a large group was to cater to the general majority. There was no time for the struggling during the one hour period, and those who were struggling fell further and further behind. This is the story of the United States public education. To the lucky ones like me who have parents who tutor their children or hire private teachers, we cheat the public education system.
We bypass the gaping flaws that our system resides on, and the results prove it. In the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) measuring math literacy in 2015, U.S. students ranked 40th in the world. The U.
S. average math score of 470 represents the second decline in the past two assessments — down from 482 in 2012 and 488 in 2009. The U.S. score in 2015 was 23 points lower than the average of all of the nations taking part in the survey. In reading and science, U.S.
students were treading water, ranking 25th in science literacy and 24th in reading literacy (Heim). The top ten countries in education proficiency were South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Poland. Not one of those countries surpassed the United States in GDP or public funding for the students (Compare). While we can pass bills to increase funding into education, the plight with American education is not the lack of money. The central issue is where the resources are heading as well as the foundation that education is built upon. In order to reform public education, the administration, government, parents, and students must increase after-school educational tutoring focusing on the development of math and reading comprehension, reduce class size, increase the school year, and implement block scheduling.
The most gaping hole in American public education is the culture itself. While we focus on the latest sporting events or celebrity gossip, other countries cherish the embodiment of education. Teachers are paid more and respected as high-ranking officials. One of the only ways to reverse this tide is to place emphasis on the development of the fundamentals of education, such as math and reading, starting at a young age and continuing throughout primary and secondary school.
While added weight during class time is beneficial (and has been done in the past), reinforcement after school time is extremely important, especially with one-on-one or small group tutoring. Multiple studies have been conducted on the effects of tutoring and show improvement in academic growth and other intangible skills such as increased confidence, critical thinking, and self-esteem. For example, an Oregon tutoring program that included two weekly 30-minute sessions led to increases in words per minute read aloud from 45 to 61.
5 by the end of second grade, and increases from 77 words to 91 words by the end of the third grade (Evidence). In addition, a British tutoring program involving 2,372 elementary and junior high students who were tutored by trained parents and peers for an average of 8.6 weeks improved their reading comprehension 4.4 times the normal rate and word recognition 3.3 times the normal rate. Four months after the end of tutoring, the average tutee was still improving at twice the normal rate in both comprehension and word recognition (Evidence). Tutoring can also lead to improvements in self-confidence about reading, motivation for reading, and behavior, both among tutees and among peer tutors. The Partners for Valued Youth employed at-risk middle school students to tutor low-achieving elementary school students for four hours per week.
After participating in the program, tutors had lower dropout and absence rates and higher self-esteem scores than a randomly selected control group. The elementary school students also experienced improved reading scores, lower absence rates, and fewer disciplinary referrals (Cardenas). These studies demonstrate the numerous, beneficial effects of tutoring on students. Not only does it boost academic achievement that many schools struggle to accomplish, tutoring also brings the disciplinary aspect that both parents and administration stress.Another characteristic of American public education that must be adjusted is class size. In many higher performing schools, such as charter or private schools, emphasize this very idea–and for a very good reason.
Studies have shown that reducing class size greatly improves academic performance because there is more one on one contact between the student and teacher, giving the teacher the ability to fit students’ needs better. Reducing class size in grades K-3 result in the average student in small classes to score higher on the Stanford Achievement Test in reading/math than about 60% of students in regular-sized classes (Whitehurst). The most prominent study supporting smaller class sizes was the Tennessee STAR (Student/ Teacher Achievement Ratio) experiment. The STAR experiment was a four-year statewide random-assignment experiment. Students in kindergarten in the same schools were randomly assigned to classes of 13-15, classes of 22-25 with a teacher’s aide, or to classes of 25 without a teacher’s aide. In the early studies, these students were followed through grade 3.
In practice, the small classes ranged in size from 13-18 and the large classes from 22-28. The smaller classes performed substantially better by the end of second grade in test scores, grades, and fewer disciplinary referrals (Mathis). In grade K, students performed on average 0.8 and 0.
9-grade equivalents (A grade equivalent (GE) of 3.4 for a student on test X, for example, means that the student is a typical student is performing at the fourth month of the third grade. This means if a student is actually in second grade, he or she is performing quite well) higher in Total Readings and Total Maths respectively above their control peers. This gap widened to an average 5.
4 and 3.1 GE in Total Readings and Total Maths respectively above the regular class in third grade and continued to expand to other subjects of interest such as science and study skills, which scored at a frightening difference of 8.1 and 7.2 GE respectively by the seventh grade (Finn). In addition to implementing after-school tutoring and smaller class sizes, extending the school year is also crucial to improving American public education. One of the studies that has helped to popularize the idea of lengthening the school day is conducted by the Department of Education in Massachusetts. The study, conducted in 2006-2007, found that increasing the school day by 25% in 18 schools around the state caused test scores to rise by 4.
7-10.8 percentage points. Other programs conducted in regional schools, including one in New Hampshire, were found to improve not only test scores but grades as well (Staff). Another study estimated the amount of time required to teach standards at four grade levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) as compared to the time available for instruction. Teachers from four districts in Wyoming, Colorado, and North Dakota made three types of judgments regarding each benchmark within a standard, most importantly, the amount of time needed to teach a given benchmark to an average class of students at the grade level they taught. Survey data indicated that an average of 1,100 hours of instructional time was needed at each grade level to address the standards in four domains (language arts, civics, mathematics, and science), which translated to approximately one-and-one-half times the instructional time allotted to teach (Florian). Many other high performing countries have proved these studies. For example, numerous east-asian countries that consistently perform above the United States in academic achievement have longer school years.
In South Korea, schools are open 220 days a year–roughly 60 percent of the whole year– for grades K-12, nearly 25 percent more than the typical 180 days students attend school in the U.S (How). The longer school days grind results: in the U.S.
, the percentage of 55- to 64-year-olds who eventually get a high school degree, including a G.E.D., is the same as the 25-to-34-year-old group– 87%, but South Korea has driven its rate from 37% to 97% for the younger group, the highest percentage of any of the 36 nations studied by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). South Korea also boasts a high graduation rate: a staggering 93%.
Compare this statistic to the United States, who sports a pitiful 1.2 million dropouts, nearly a quarter of all students (Lynch).In hand with a longer school year, the allotted time per class or subject must be increased. This is seen in higher levels of education such as colleges or universities which closely mirror the idea of block scheduling, which each class lasts 1.5 to 3 hours.
Other high-performing countries such as China, have also mimicked this idea by keeping the school year the same number of weeks, 35 weeks compared to the United State’s 36 weeks, but extending the school week to six days a week compared to the five days a week United States standard. This results in roughly 20 percent more days than American kids, translating to approximately 240 more instructional hours per year (Hull).