SAN JOSE – Steve Wozniak, one of the original co-founders of Apple, turned a “fireside chat” at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) here Tuesday (May 3) into a spontaneous – and sometimes contradictory – critique of education, particularly math, science and engineering education, even suggesting that the American public schools have outgrown their usefulness.
Wozniak, now chief scientist at Fusion-io, described American education as stagnant, obsessed with testing and destructive of creativity. He said children in American schools, crowded into large classes, where they are pressured to complete each inflexible unit in a prescribed time and measured by statewide and national standardized tests. “They’re not allowed different ways to think” and kids grow swiftly discouraged.
Wozniak, who confessed that he spent some eight years in mid-career “secretly” teaching at the middle and high schools levels, said, “By third grade, teachers can pretty much spot the kids who’ve given up on education, for life.”
Although Wozniak noted that his children had attended public schools, he said, “I actually think home-schooling is very, very good as an alternative.” He encouraged middle-class parents – an accurate characterization of his standing-room audience at ESC – to send their children to private schools because “every year, it seems like it’s getting worse.”
Ironically, Wozniak later heaped praise on a popular engineering competition for high school students – public and private – called FIRST Robotics, in which students compete for an eventual national championship in robot design. Wozniak has served as a judge for FIRST Robotics competition.
“Building something for yourself -- that’s the way the mind develops among engineers,” said Wozniak. “If they have it inside of them, that’s the one [idea] that’s going to last.”
In essence, Wozniak’s educational views tend to reflect his own experience as a lifelong autodidact, who couldn’t really wait to be taught according to any format designed by schools, teachers or even his father, who was a Lockheed engineer.
His father, said Wozniak, pitched in and helped when Wozniak threw himself into building, for example, a crystal radio, or winning a science fair. But it was young Wozniak who launched every project on his own, only turning to others for help when his “dream” exceeded his knowledge level.
“You’ve got to be motivated, and the best reasons are internal,” said Wozniak, adding a tongue-in-cheek thumbnail of himself. “It’s better if you’re not into partying and you don’t have much chance of having a girlfriend or a wife.”
A self-described “nerd” treated as an “outsider” in school, Wozniak told EE Times’ interviewer Brian Fuller that he embraced the independence that his oddball status conferred on him. “That independence made me think I can have very strange dreams, and start to believe that I could achieve some of them.”
Indeed, he did just that, serving in the creation of Apple as the nerdy partner to a more outgoing and marketing-oriented Steve Jobs. “I wanted to do engineering, nothing else,” said Wozniak, while Jobs wanted to become “the world’s most important person someday.”
“I did my best work late at night, alone,” added Wozniak.
This streak of iconoclasm clearly colors Wozniak’s view of education and embraces his view of management in technology companies. Too often, he said, “creativity gets tamped down” by production deadlines and quarterly earnings goals. He distinguished, in his discussion at ESC, between engineers who essentially follow orders and repeat patterns and the “inventors” who sneak off on their own to do projects that strike their fancy.
Ideally, said Wozniak, “A large company can have little outposts of people” working independently or in small teams, whose imaginations are allowed to run free. “They’ve got to be isolated from the rest of the company… Let them work on a project of their own. That’s a lot more motivating.”
Wozniak cited the example of Hewlett-Packard, where – before joining Jobs to start Apple -- he helped engineer that company’s hugely successful family of calculators. There, he said, HP’s respect for engineers’ individuality made the job “the best of my life.”
“Everyone who works for a company should be valued,” he said. He pointed out that, when HP fell on hard times, the prevailing corporate ethic dictated that the company keep its workforce intact. Hence, rather than layoffs, HP asked its workers – and got their permission – to accept a temporary across-the-board ten-percent wage reduction and a four-day workweek.
“Call it socialism,” said Wozniak. “But I just wish every company could be that way… We all did a little less work and kept everybody in.”
It’s just as accurate to call Wozniak a socialist or an iconoclast. But the overarching philosophy that shone through Steve Wozniak’s ESC fireside chat can be applied equally, and loosely, to public education and private management. Show a little more respect for individual creativity, says “Woz,” and apply a lot less emphasis to standardized measurements.
According to Roger Schank, "We need to stop producing a nation of stressed out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves. We need to produce adults who love learning, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school. We need to stop thinking that all children need to learn the same stuff." http://blogbrut.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/is-school-bad-for-kids
Wozniak has the correct conclusion: American public schools mostly stink. I'm not sure his solution, however, is workable. It is hard to imagine a more hag-ridden establishment of moronic liberal-twaddle rules, procedures, punishment of the innocent and protection of the guilty in public schools: and I'm talking about the teachers there, not just the administrators. Well, ok. Let's assume for the moment that I think that American public schools are not doing, um, the best job they could. More money for schools? Nah, they get too much as it is. Better teachers? From where? Many are pretty good, but how do you work in a totally broken system, where parents assume that the teachers are persecuting their budding genii? Here's my solution: drop all the hogwash programs, incentive schools, National Appreciation of Universal Oneness malarky. Instead, teach three things: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Teach reading by making students read: toss in some history and geography reading while you're at it. Teach writing by making them write: about the books they read, history and fiction. And teach arithmetic by making them do wrote arithmetic problems over and over and over again. They don't like school? That's your metric: no kid would sit in a classroom and write an essay if they could be home playing some brain-dead video game. For an advanced curricula, we could also teach rhetoric, but I don't know if many present teachers even know what I mean by that in the classical sense.
Ah, so "liberal-twaddle rules" raises a flag? Good; there's no extra charge for the surge of adrenalin. How can schools possibly use any more funding for any other purpose than to support teachers, administration, and (in many places) union officials who collectively DO NOT PROVIDE EDUCATION? Don't believe me? Read some of the other comments here. Have a look at testing statistics. Washington DC schools take in what, $15K/year per student? About 8 graduate high school with a 10th grade reading level? Ok, maybe 10 or 12. This is an outrage. Taxpayer money is utterly wasted in many, many school districts. And it isn't the case that we just pay too much for education: kids don't even get the education. Instead, we argue whether or not we should hand out condoms to 5th graders. Or handcuff kids in kindergarden. Or suspend a kid with a toy Lego gun. Or, a kid comes to school and shows his friends an Airsoft gun. Purchased in the toy section of Walmart. Kid gets reported to the police, and the school isn't content, the kid is charged and charges are pressed. This isn't an educational system. This is insanity. Sure, let's spend even more money: that will surely fix the problem. A few more counselors, a few more remedial programs, a few more administrators. Yep, all the kids will suddenly develop an overwhelming desire to learn long division, and to read Shakespeare. Yep. If we just increase school budgets by 50%, 100%, 200% (take your pick).
Look, there are real problems to be solved. The educational train wreck is part of a complex feedback system. Money is just one input. More money won't fix anything, the parasites in the system will just have more money to play with. The system itself is broken. B.R.O.K.E.N. Home schooling works, for reasons "Robotics Developer" cites. Good teachers (there are plenty, by the way) help, but they are often buried under top-heavy admin and union time-servers. Parent involvement is critical, but doesn't always exist. The upshot? We are graduating dolts. Lord help us, these people will vote one day.
According to Roger Schank
"We don’t try to get the average child to think in this society so why, as adults would we expect that they actually would be thinking? [...] The fact that we let them vote while failing to encourage them to think for themselves is a real problem for our society."
How much more money does school systems need to satisfy teachers union officials? Per pupil average the US spends more on public education than any other Westernized country. I say pay for performance like engineers in the private sector are paid. If schools produce morons, then their budgets should be cut.
MLED, this is a reply to your comment starting "Bob.... With". Hard to follow these threads sometime. Is conservatism or religion really an issue here? I had not meant to venture there, because as soon as someone who labels themselves a "vole" agrees with someone who labels themselves a "squirrel" that the educational system is a problem for both, then they can set aside the question of their respective diets and address educational issues. Burke and Kirk are two of a long line of worth thinkers; I cannot claim to agree with them in depth; I cannot say that I am more than familiar with them in bits and pieces. In any event, I prefer to define both my religion and my politics myself, using the labels "conservative" and "Christian" as close enough for these threads. But it simply isn't true that the majority of conservatives or religious men are intent on a dumbing-down of the educational system. What could the motive for such a thing be?. (I suspect that this response is hopelessly out of order in the discussion; it seems to be followed by a comment by MLED that was there before I wrote this... oh well...
We seem to have reached a point in this country where we as a society believe that every child should have some basic skills (no child left behind). But the reality is given the backgrounds and home life of some students this can not always be achieved - even with the best teachers. But we spend all our resources trying to achieve this goal and there is nothing left for "real" education. So it seems only when schools are allowed to pick relatively socioeconomic homogeneous students (private schools) they can provide a better education.
In these two centuries the subject matter and their real life applications evolved largely. But the basics for this whole evolution stays with those major inventions taken place at the end 18 th and during the first half of 19th centuray. Schools need to give little more attention to teach the basics clearly with 1000% more practicals in concurrence with the theories taught. This will make brains to visualize,calculate and apply them into real life applications in their future carrier from thier higher studies and in their profession. I served in business,education and industry. I am combining my expertise to produce trainer kits in the field of electrical,electronics and communications to the schools. I expect to supply the same soon. Models can be seen at my website www.tekechild.com. I suggest the same to all elederly proffesionals to contribute their expertise to the school children in every possible ways.
I agree that inflexible curriculum kills creativity but USA should already be doing not as bad as Asia where students are treated like robots. You can't believe that students in China has to attend a lot of remedy classes and tutorial from 7:00 to 23:00 every weekday in order to practice the examination skills and ways to write "correct" answers that the standard marking scheme allows. To people like us in Asia, USA is already a free land for thoughts and creativity!
Wozniak was right about the public school system, the growing numbers of home schooled students reflects the fact that HOME SCHOOLING works. It works for many reasons: parents are engaged, students are accountable, teaching can focus on strengthening a student's weakness areas and allow for greater exploration of interest areas, the cost is MUCH lower than the school system (I know, we homeschooled our 7 kids),the students are treated as individuals and not as a block of 20 to 35 students. When I was in public and then private schools the class was always dragged down to the lowest common denominator student because the teacher was trying to teach the basics to all the students. The effect was to slow down class progress (boring) and limited what could be taught in the school year. There are great teachers (no enough) and many so-so teachers, the system does not reward the great, nor penalize the bad or mediocre.
I served as a judge in the Trinity Fire Fighting Robot Contest, an international robotics contest, and noticed that, in the high school division, all US participants came from private schools.
The biggest problem with schooling is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Home schooling is a great solution for proper pacing but depends on parents being able to judge their children's abilities objectively, a diminishing skill in today's participation-ribbon culture. Public schools tend to have a big demographic mix and therefore leave behind kids who don't have involved parents or bore kids who have been educated from a young age and need a challenge. I believe that we need mandatory pre-k education, balanced by letting kids drop-out, or test out, after any year of high school. This would shift cost away from expensive public high school teachers to much less expensive pre schools, while also ensuring a solid basis of learning from the youngest possible age. Anyways, just a thought from last night's shower. Feel free to rip it to shreds.
I think Woz's comment about some sort of hand held computer being able to keep 30 students engaged, each at their own pace has a lot of merit. Home Schooling is impractical when it takes two salaries to pay the bills. Having a competent teacher who can support the students as needed while they are each learning at their own pace is where we should be using all this technology. The technology exists today, someone just needs to start writing the apps.
Woz sounds like he's got asperger's. I was a nerd as well, growing up and going through school, so I empathize. I'm reading a biography of John Elder Robison called "Be Different", about an aspergian's mastering of technology and only slowly learning to deal with people. Sounds like what Woz went through.
Home schooling is tough when one salary won't cover all the family expenses. But kudo's to Woz for actually teaching to understand what is going on in schools. Keeping children motivated is important in keeping them in school until they graduate, and every child will have their own motivating factors and interests.
Contrary to the earlier comments, limiting learning to reading, writing , and arithmetic is not sufficient to live productively in a complex world. So the conservative world view fails from the start. And the commentator uses liberal as a pejoritive, when it really means someone willing to consider all external factors in decision making, and to shun cut and dried definitions of life.
Hm. Well. I guarantee you, if you teach kids to read, write and do arithmetic by 10th grade, that those kids could rule the present world, provided that the reading includes some history and the writing encourages them to think critically. What else would you teach them, anyway? Microsoft Word? The ability to live in a "complex" world isn't gained by coursework: the world has always been complex, no matter when one lived. Past generations weren't entirely full of fools. Lastly, my objection to "liberal" policies isn't across the board, it's just that when I hear that the solution to a complex social problem is to spend more money, I am skeptical. Especially when it's my money. A liberal, open-minded outlook is fine, but when your world view is centered on discarding the thoughts and actions of the last 2 or 3 thousand years, that's not "liberal", its more like "suicidal". But of course, as the US' educational system follows its economy down the drain, I am sure that new and innovative ideas, based on ignoring the past, will save the day.
Everyone has a right to an opinion, including Woz, but I submit that kids are kids and make many stupid decision based on lack of life lessons. We didn't just wakeup yesterday and learn how to deal with this, it comes down to us from millions of years of evolutionary experience. Kids need adult's guidance on their choices. If you're a parent, you know what I mean.
We used to have it right in our education system - teachers were the respected guides to our kids, schools ensured the basics were taught in class, and schools typically provided lots of outlets for creativity - wood/metal classes, athletics, art, music, computer clubs/classes,drama, auto repair, drafting,and on and on.
Then we started convincing ourselves that the teacher was the enemy (like they dreamed of getting underpaid to teach disrespectful kids of unappreciate, uninvolved parents) Now we focus on testing to measure schools, blaming teachers and cutting back on funding for all those creative and job skill opportunities at school. Parents as a whole still spend far too little time involved in their kids education. One little secret Asian parents can teach us - they tend to be personally involved in helping their kids with their studies.
This is not rocket science folks and we need to stop looking for magic when it's just hard work on our part. Do the work or stop complaining.
Bill, you are basically in the right. An unholy and diametrically opposed viewpoint seems to have sprung up between parents and teachers. In addition, "product" has taken a backseat to "process". The results are as anyone can see. I've had a daughter go through a pretty good public school system near Houston: she graduated UT Austin with a dual major, history and French. (Sorry to say, she did get 2 B's.) Two more kids, 12 and 13 now, had to be yanked from terrible public school systems, and placed in private schools: it's like having a second mortgage. (So with three kids, I've been blooded.) But what can I do? My wife and I both work, so home schooling isn't an option. It's a very disappointing situation, the public school system, and I don't see any fix for the kids whose parents can't fork out the cash for a private school. School vouchers never get past the teachers' unions. Very sad situation.
Bill Teasley, Most of your observations are good.
I would add a few points for your consideration;
The long term social cost of "retarded" citizens (with various accepted implementations of "retarded") is minimalized by maximizing a child's learning achievement. This fact is what has led to the notion of student "least restrictive environment" criteria for K-12 student placement.
However, under massive funding pressure, main streaming or, "least restrictive environment" became "un-restricted random assignment." This is a bloody disaster.
Dr. Hurd, I write this comment after my comments that follow, below. I am somewhat surprised, as your comment on "lease restrictive environment" is perfectly sane, and I myself have watched parts of what you call the "bloody diaster" in person. Now, here's a question for you, since you seem to have some actual interest in the topic of education: what will make the US public school system work better than it currently does? I presume that you are not entirely pleased with the state of things, therefore, I presume to ask the leading question.
Standardization will be the rule moving forward. When I was in 1st and 2nd, we used something called "Initial Teaching Alphabet" or ITA to learn to read. When I brought home these books to my parents, they pretty much freaked out because it was so wierd. I think the transition to regular reading was seamless. I think that efforts to teach creatively like that would be frowned upon today. As long as the funding is tied to performance on standardized tests, the teachers will focus on standardized tests... I don't really know of a better way to handle it. And I agree with the comparison to Asian schools. However, in the case of Korea where my fresh UC Berkeley grad is teaching, the early part of the day (8 to 3) is very regimented and you could say "traditional" while the afternoon and evening classes are referred to as "academies" and they are generally much looser and varied.
This popped on my news feed today, and I was immediately impressed by the lack of cogent comments. Particularly, incompetent bloviations by Bob Lacovara caught my eye. Bobby spouts off with some numbers, and I am a numbers guy.
If the numbers don't work- neither should you.
2006 data from The National Center for Education Statistics gave averaged expenditures per student for the United States: $10,267 for joint elementary and secondary level. Slightly different averages are obtained from the 2009 EPE (publisher of The Chronicle of Higher Education). They examined per-pupil expenditure levels for 50 states and the District of Columbia. Using the 2005-06 school year, they found that 23 states and the District of Columbia spent over $10,000 per pupil, adjusted for regional costs. Vermont ranked highest at $15,139 per student, followed by Wyoming ($14,126) and New Jersey ($13,238). At the low end, Utah spent $5,964 per student adjusted for regional costs, the cheapest in the nation. The 2006 national average for per-pupil expenditures was $9,963. Bobby's bogus “DC” numbers are already out.
Nationally, K-12 Public school systems spent an average of $10,259 per pupil in 2008, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This less than 6% increase from 2006 is lower than inflation.
Comparisons of the 2006 percentage of GDP the United States spent on elementary and secondary education compared to other OECD countries by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 8 countries spent a higher percentage, 19 countries spent less, and 1 country spent the same. The top four countries in total expenditures of GDP were Iceland (8.0 percent), the United States (7.4 percent) Denmark (7.3 percent), and Korea (7.3 percent). The difference in rank results from a very high calculated cost of post secondary education in the US - nearly double that of other countries in the OECD. The federal research budget expended in US universities makes up most of the difference.
Let us consider an actual case.
“Education Week” May 3, 2011 “Pressure from the U.S. Department of Education has led some states to curb a testing exemption that applies to only the 1 percent of students with the most severe disabilities, but districts that have long used that flexibility to win some breathing room in their accountability systems are bristling.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states are allowed to administer exams based on alternate standards to students with severe cognitive impairments and then count those scores toward their adequate yearly progress, or AYP, ratings—provided the number of scores counted as passing doesn’t exceed 1 percent of the total number of students tested.”
Let us compare those numbers with a randomly selected Washington DC elementary school's 2011 budget:
Hyde Elementary School
Total Student Enrollment 260
Special Education 13 (Really really Slow, ~5%)
ELL 48 (English Limited Learners, ~18%)
F&R Lunch 34 (Very Poor, ~13.3%)
Total allocations (all sources) $2,615,100
For the intellectually challenged conservative numerical illiterates, like Bob Lacovara, who are playing along at home, that is $10,058 per student. That is less than a hundred bucks over the 2006 NATIONAL AVERAGE expenditure per K-12 student. This increase is well below inflation. This is at a school with 5X the number of special education students officially “allowed” by "No Child Left unscrewed" (but about the US average), with 18% who haven’t learned English at home, and 13.2 per cent who live below the poverty line.
Sorry Bobby, you and your numbers don't add up to anything real. I won't buy vapor ware, and that is all you are peddling. Any self respecting engineer would be ashamed (and unemployed if their boss finds out).
Dr. Hurd, thank you for your informative if somewhat condescending remarks. I am forever indebted to learn of my faults and philosophical leanings from total strangers: it is a debt I doubt that I can repay. But pertinent to your comments, and assuming your statistics are more or less accurate, do we conclude that, having found out the size of the expenditures per student in a half dozen or so places, that all is well? If so, what are all of these folk in these columns worried about? If all is not well, do you have a concrete suggestion to improve the output of the educational system? Perhaps it is something unique and ground-breaking like "triple the expenditure per student"? If so, I invite you to try that experiment; please do so with your own money. Do you have anything else concrete to add to the discussion, or would you care to continue to merely derogate my comments? Either is fine with me. In any event, I am please to hear that the poor results in the DC school system are not due to spending as much as Vermont does per student; this certainly makes all well. I will now return to my cave, and continue to dance around an inflated wine-skin. Regards, Dr. Bobby.
Public education is under attack. Yes, the schools are failing but more often than not the administrators are doing all in their power to make them fail. The administrators are less and less educators and more and more business flunkies whose reputations have been built on drastic cost cutting and attacks on workers and or the public.
In Chicago, under Mayor Daley, we had Ron Huberman as CEO of the public school system for about two years. Mr. Huberman started in Chicago as a cop and ended up Assistant Deputy Superintendant in a department known for frame-ups, torture, killings and cover ups. He later was made President of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) where under his tenure there were drastic cuts in service, especially in poorer non-white communities, fare hikes and preparations for massive layoffs.
We are now faced with an incoming administrator where the vast majority of teachers where he last headed voted no confidence in him.
Testing is a big issue. Much of this testing is neither a good measure of student or teacher performance and often is an incentive to teach to the tests at a detriment to overall education. In many cases the amount of time required for the testing significantly reduces the time remaining for the actual teaching.
The actual performance of students has much to do with the environment they live in where often it is schools in poor communities that have the lowest performance scores. This is not helped by the increasing large class sizes teachers and students have to contend with.
These attacks are being orchestrated by government, from President Obama all the way down to just about every jurisdiction in most states and cities. It’s a political question. Corporate America is a major part of and the thrust behind these attacks.
Les, I am willing to buy almost all of what you have to say with just a few grains of salt... maybe only one or two. Except, your last statement drags "corporate America" into the blame. Why would this be? Doesn't corporate America require a supply of workers, at all levels from floor sweepers to engineering and management, who can count beyond their fingers and toes? What's in it for corporations to allow public schools to go down the drain?
Bob, A major part of education 'reform' is being put forward by private think tanks. One is headed by Bill Gates. They are sponsoring legislation and heavily investing in politicians favoring their approach.
The economy, including industrial and service sectors, are being driven in a direction of increasing disparity between the elite and the common worker. As far as the common worker is concerned industry is pushing for a low common denominator where simple math and communications skills will suffice. A good example is the way airline pilots are treated these days, including quite low pay and very long hours. This is not designed to necessarily attract a well rounded, educated person.
Quality education is expensive and ultimately these costs are reflected negatively in the profitability of corporations competing internationally.
A good article on Bill Gates and education is http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=3781 . "The cost of K–12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy—where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision—investing in education yields great bang for the buck."
Most of the issues touched on by Woz and the comments here do not require big expenditures, just changes in educational policy.
A child's first and best teachers have always been mom & dad, but unfortunately for many kids, parenting skill and parental involvement do not always follow naturally from the act of procreation. You cannot fix bad or absent parenting by throwing more money at the problem.
Frank, you're right about this being a bigger problem than just public education expenditures.
The problem is that the attacks on public education are part of a larger attack on the public as a whole, especially the working class. The income and wealth disparity in U.S. society have been growing dramatically and this has been going on for decades. Poverty is increasing. It's hard to be a parent when you're are working three jobs seven days a week or have no job at all.
All should read the article linked by Brad above to see this connection.
Mr Woznak is right. This what happens in schools and colleges in India. Students are taught to follow schedules and memorize rather than unleash their minds to be creative. Thats the reason India does not have Hi-tech product companies. We have excellent service model, just take orders and do the stuff or else sit dumb. Thats is what big corporates prefer too, hire engineers who can follow orders and not try to to be out of the crowd. Startups help here as they give a creative platform. But the majority of young engineers look for stability and join big corporates to be part of the herd.
Americans (partcularly OBAMA) should not take examples of Indian students as better students.. Indians are hard workers and taught to follow not lead, While Americans have been leaders in technology, they have created job for millions of Indians.. I just wish India comes up with good technology policies to encourage creativity, but that means we need to change the model of our scools and colleges. But Indian bureaucracy is not bothered..
A breakthrough technology is necessary now.. Nanotechnology can give creative engineers a path to think.. but only when the students joining these courses have the aptitude to think creatively it will make sense.
rajat_asic is right. In India, and I'm sure in many other Asian countries, the education system actively discourages any innovative thinking. What happens in even the most prestigious institutions is pathetic. I am pursuing engineering, and I can tell you that in my class there are no more than five people who joined engineering because they liked it. Many joined engineering because it has become a sort of norm in this country to get an engineering degree, then an MBA, an then become a manager in an IT company. What is more sad is that those students who cram all the syllabus are at the top of the class, scoring 10/10, and are in high demand.
You don't get to see even a single quality research paper from Indian researchers, nor even a good book by Indian authors. Yes there are people who complete there undergraduate studies, and then do postgrad, doctorate, and post-doc from USA or Europe and I do not count them as "educated in India". And if you chance to meet some of them, they will tell you how bad the education system here is.
My children are in public schools, and only a few of their teachers I would label mediocre. None were "bad". I'm sure "bad" teachers exist but they are few.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of "bad" co-workers, leaders, bosses, etc... to deal with, so a "bad" teacher is just another learning opportunity for the pupil to experience. Teachers have a difficult job that is impossible to fulfill perfectly for every student. They do not deserve the bashing I see them getting in the media.
If you want your kids to be creative, free thinkers, you better be setting that example at home.
If you think a child can decide to give up learning by the 3rd grade, age 9, then you better be considering the example that kids parents were setting for the first 5 years of that child's life- before they ever hit school. It's not the teachers' fault, and it's not the schools' fault. The children are innocent, so the common demoninator is the PARENT.
While home schooling is a great idea, few people can actually do it well, and can afford this luxury. This is indeed a LUXURY few Americans can afford.
A functioning democracy requires education of ALL citizens. This is why we can not march into a country, like Iraq, and plop down democracy and expect it to work. If the indigenous population is illiterate, desperately poor, hungry and hopeless, they do not have the tools to behave in a democratic society, and there is no room for surprise if they turn back to a barbaric theocracy (for instance).
PUBLIC Education is a function of government and a National Security and Sovereignty issue. There is no room for profit motive in PUBLIC education. If you don't like the PUBLIC schools in your geography, either get involved to effect a change, or send your kids to private schools while still fulfilling your civic duty to pay your local taxes that support PUBLIC schools and further the advancment of general literacy and democracy in America.
It's interesting how we view every significant component of civilization as having burst on the scene sometime after the day we were born.
The task of education is hardly new. Home "schooling" preceded what we refer to as civilization and was honed over millenniums. There was plenty to teach. Calculus etc. has been around for millenniums. History was no less interesting and important than it is today. Individual resourcefulness flourished far more than it does today.
While all this doesn't mean new thinking isn't useful and needed, closing our eyes (as we do) to expertise badly needed today that was honed to perfection over millenniums is not only egotistical but self-defeating.
FIRST is a great organization!
Eleven months ago I was at a conference where Dean Kamen was a keynote speaker part of the key note was a request for everyone to get involved as a mentor or coach. My older two kids were interested in FIRST Lego League and I had been considering coaching their team. After the keynote I felt I had to coach. My kids ended up on different teams one of which I coached. They both learned a lot and had fun doing it.
The team I didn't coach made it to state and was invited to compete at the World Festival last weekend. Each time that team reached their goals. They set new ones (a valuable lesson especially when you learn it before High school).
At world the robot designs were robust and efficient. Everyone was there to compete, but courtesy and respect are also emphesized so it was a very enjoyable atmosphere. Some of the research projects that the teams had done were earning them patents! One team had developed a patentable device but rather than getting a patent they made the design public domain.
As a coach I probably learned as much as I did at the conference and had more fun too. All three of us are ready to do it again next year (We registered with the local organizers the day after we got back). My fifth-grader is already planning on joining the high school team in four years.
This is hopefully still a "live" discussion. I will be very direct here- I am an elitist. I define this as caring more for the opinions of experts than amateurs, and respecting training, experience, and talent. I would very much like to know the educational, and professional status of every poster, but I will probably have to guess based on their comments.
Personally, I first taught middle school science in 1971. After my doctorate, I was a research professor at medical schools, and an industry consultant in polymer and geological chemistry. I left medicine and returned to archaeology. My first fellowship was in archaeological geochemistry. I also organized, and sold, some manufacturing start-ups. I returned to teaching as Director of Education, and curator for a natural history foundation and museum. I also took to teaching at a local Community College, and won awards for research and innovative teaching, so they said on the plaques.
More recently, I was selected for the pilot group establishing the National Assessment of Educational Progress: Science Achievement Level Setting. Commonly called the “Nation’s Report Card,” this is administered under Federal contract by ACT, publisher of entrance exams. We must remember that few students become scientists. As a practical matter, we need to establish the minimum curriculum, and minimum pass rate for all students- and use that to measure success. ACT, arbitrarily shifted “acceptable” from a 50/50 to a 67/33 ratio for the NAEP because they said, “it gives reasonable results.” What it was really intended to do was create the “Crisis in Schools as Science Scores Plummet” headlines we are reading today. The NAEP-Science tests were given in spring 2009 on a curriculum outline only released in September 2008. We can expect more bad headlines. This is good business for ACT because this headline created “crisis” will be “solved” with mandated new textbooks and more new tests.
I walked out in protest.
The “school crisis” is largely fabricated, and is perpetuated by the “cure.” We are projecting our anxiety about the future; global climate change, economic crisis, emerging diseases, etc. onto our schools. In the 1960s, the Russian space program, like ours, was really about ICBMs. Sputnik launched a massive revision of the US K-12 curriculum, adding “new math” (really just algebra at early grades), and evolutionary biology. These were both seen as outrages by a near majority of parents, and a sizable minority of teachers. Then, racially segregated schools were forced to desegregate, the “school crisis” was the rallying cry for the far-right racists, religious fundamentalists, and befuddled parents who could not solve their children’s math homework. The far-right has never given-up their effort to “cure” public education by killing it.
Charter schools and voucher programs are about re-segregating public schools, and Home Schooling is the ultimate in segregated schools. (See: http://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/deseg/equity-overlooked-report-2009.pdf and references below)
Charter schools and voucher programs are also about cherry picking the best students. That creates two very large problems. First, students model and learn from one another- if the best behaved and academically capable students are removed this student-to-student learning is damaged. Next, the teachers with the remaining students are having to work harder with less resources. When these teachers are rated on one time student standardized test scores, they are legitimately angry and resentful.
I’ll assume that most of you are, or have been, in production at some level. If you were not allowed to select your raw materials, and were attacked with law suits by your suppliers, and politicians if you objected to their substandard materials, you would be teachers.
Testing isn’t teaching. Up to twenty percent of the California classroom hours are wasted in preparing for testing and taking standardized test. This is true here in California even at the second grade. Close your store, or plant one out of every five days for a needless inventory check and you will soon be bankrupt. But, we are doing this to our students. This academic year’s budget just from the state general fund was ~$56,000,000,000 serving ~6.2 million students (about 9,000 per student, well below the national average). Now think about the fact that standardized testing cost wasted more than 1.1 billion dollars just in California.
Test taking is not a marketable skill.
We hear a lot of talk about how wonderful “diversity” is supposed to be. Not all students learn the same way, or the same amount, or enjoy the same subjects. Not all teachers teach the same way, nor do they all have the identical interests. But then we straight jacket teachers and students by judging them entirely by the test industry’s rapidly, and constantly changing standards. The same companies that published textbooks gain state, and/or local test contracts. They basically promise that if you buy their books, you will pass their tests.
Well, again no paragraphs. Sorry.
Some highly recommended reading:
“The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools”
Alfie Kohn, Lois Bridges *Very short, fast reading, good material.
“Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party”
Max Blumenthal *Some early voucher and segregation efforts and how they continue today.
“Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right”
Richard Rothstein, et al *I think they are far too optimistic.
“Accountability Frankenstein: Understanding and Taming the Monster (PB)”
Sherman Dorn *Very dry academic presentation. Good material.
“Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools”
Sharon L. Nichols; David C. Berliner
“Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It”
I remember Sputnik but that was not the beginning of the massive change in school curriculum. I was in ninth grade when Sputnik was launched and I was already involved in part of the new curriculum. I elected to take an electronics course. It turned out that this was hastily put together. There were no texts and the assigned teacher had no specific knowledge about the subject. I was the only student that elected that class. We went through it together and designed the course.
I think the impetus for the new curriculum was the International Geophysical Year starting July 1, 1957. I started ninth grade in September. The launching of Sputnik in October brought further urgency. I showed an aptitude for math and I was assigned second year algebra work while in first year algebra. I was also encouraged to study calculus. I was since tracked in advanced math and science through high school.
Well, I was born in 1951, and my recollection might have been clouded. While searching around, I came across a really well done discussion of "new math" by Prof. David Klein:
It turns out we are both correct for some values of "correct."
Quote, "The University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics headed by Max Beberman began in 1951 and was the first major project associated with the New Math era."
However, "The efforts of these and other early groups received little attention until the U.S.S.R launched Sputnik, the first space satellite, in the fall of 1957. The American press treated Sputnik as a major humiliation, and called attention to the low quality of math and science instruction in the public schools. Congress responded by passing the 1958 National Defense Education Act to increase the number of science, math, and foreign language majors, and to contribute to school construction."
Then, "That same year, the American Mathematical Society set up the School Mathematics Study Group (SMSG), headed by Edward G. Beg1e, then at Yale University, to develop a new curriculum for high schools. Among the many curriculum groups of the New Math period, SMSG was the most influential."
It happens that as a 5th and 6th grade child, I was enrolled in the SMSG elementary pilot project. That would have been about 1961. These lower grade texts were never widely adopted. Sadly, the notion that set theory should be taught in 2nd grade did not die.
The massively influential creationist book, "The Genesis Flood" was published in 1961. Still in print today, this book is the single most influential factor in the restoration of young earth creationism in America.
I realize this is very general question impossible to answer in a few sentences.
But envision a curve (a bar chart) having 100 vertical bars, each bar representing 1% of all school children/adults completing their entire education that year - regardless of educational level. The height of each bar is proportional to the achievement of that group.
For example the leftmost bar is the average of measured (or estimated) achievement level for a group (1% of students in size) who scored above all others. The bar just to right of it is the average of measured (or estimated) achievement level for a second group (also 1% of students in size) who scored above all others but less than those in the bar to the right. 100 bars are calculated this way forming an "Achievement Characteristic' for the entire group.
(The method of skill measurement (or estimate) and the parameters measured (or estimated) are left for the experts to sort out.)
Suppose our experts build one of these charts for every educational system proposed or in existence, from 100% home-schooling to 100% public schools to 100% charter schools and various combinations.
Comparing estimating charts of this kind, it might be possible to quickly demonstrate advantages and pitfalls to competing approaches in a far more convincing manner than is the case today
It may also imspire hybrid approaches that could perhaps show multiple groups purposely served differently.
It should be remembered that simpliscity and uniform education for each person are not major goals here. The goal is the best education possible for each persom.
Teaching is an art of teaching the student to stand on his own leg to make him independent.
There are millions of books to read. No one can gain all the knowledge in one life time. A kid should be taught to take away only the essentials and to practice to concentrate on the assimilated info. The brain will take care of the result. Few kids of this caliber can change the fate of our world.
We are talking about globalization. Why not we make the education system global. A universal syllabus for every subject in every grade.
Here is my conclusion: You can employ an R&D engineer from other world to work in our world. But the same is not true for managers. It is scientifically possible to research about gravity and you can create applications using it in all the universe (probably MEMS accelerometer is such a device).
Managers are great in their own place.
An Engineer is great in all the place. He is unlimited and independent.
I am a self taught embedded system engineer from India.
No one can argue that this is one of the most debated topic. I used to think American classrooms allow students to think out of box, do something on their own and be creative. If that happens the society would be full of people who think about every actions, the question Why and how comes immdiately to their mind when they observe anything. I hope kids are allowed to think rather than made to learn something by heart.
Since standardized tests seem to be all the rage, why don't we come up with a set of standardized tests for software and hardware? This way we can have one thing that works, and we can always test it with the same test. Anybody who wants their system to do something that is not supported by the standardized test doesn't really fit in anyway so we can simply ignore them.
This will represent a huge cost savings for the industry because all of the costs of development would be eliminated and training would be simplified since there would only be one thing to learn. An engineering degree could be achieved in a few weeks, saving on education costs as well.
The key focus here is cost, since that's the only thing that matters. If something costs more, nobody will ever buy it because, well, it costs more. With only one thing that works, there will be no reason for anything to cost more or less than anything else because there won't actually be anything else!
Carno, your point is taken. However, standardized testing is appropriate in some cases. For example, FAA flight instruction is basically "teach to the test". Flight instruction becomes a repetition of maneuvers and techniques designed to pass the flight test. In the process, the basic skill sets are reinforced; responses to common contingencies are learned; and a consistent new pilot "product" is turned out in anywhere from 40 to 80 hours. But this technique only works when the subject matter is cut and dried: you really don't want innovative and curious pilots trying out new landing techniques at whim.
I agree that there is a place for standardized tests, but the results are being misused and the value is grossly overestimated when applied to public schools.
The amount of time spent preparing for and conducting standardized tests is interfering with actual teaching. If we were to limit them to one test per year we might derive some value from them while still allowing for variations in teaching methods and ideologies.
None of the value that I got from my years of schooling came from standardized tests. All of it came from a mix of teachers who presented the material and devised their own tests to evaluate their students.
Cute, but… even if we were to devise and implement a functional synthesis at the highest levels of abstraction in a formally airtight language of the problem space at hand we would still have a moving target as to the physical platform, or parts thereof, for implementation.
The problem of teaching human beings from the beginnings of their lives to meaningfully contribute to a rapidly developing society with all its cultural immenseness is far more difficult. The problem itself is the subject of much debate and not all interests of all layers of society are the same. Some are downright contradictory.
I was just trying to put standardized testing into terms that engineers could relate to. I'm all for standardized tests for standard students. For non-standard students teachers need more flexibility, and the standardized tests should be limited to no more than one per year.
Hmmm: how about "Standardized task, standardized student, standardized test." That covers the various areas (such as pilot training) where standardized testing will work. Of course, when you get to the edge of the flying skills envelope, a Bob Hoover for example, no amount of testing would qualify anyone: that sort of skill is just plain old rare. But that's not the issue in public schooling, where a reasonable educational outcome for a reasonable range of students is what is desired. And agreed, testing is of moot value. It won't tell you that you are succeeding fantastically: that sort of test would kill off the average student. Instead, it tells you that you've made a mess out of things, and incidentally, it tells you rather late in the game.
Here's a different take on standardized testing: the pressure it puts on students who score in the 99th percentile. They already know they're smart and doing very well in school, but do they really need the pressure of a nationwide exam that tells them they're smarter than almost everybody else? It imparts an expectation of greater future academic success, and kids already have enough stressors and expectations of high achievement these days.
This is pretty funny. It's flame bait, right? "Reinvent" education? A terminology that sets the reader up well for the diagnosis to follow: conservatives and the religious are to blame. Exactly my thought. I am both conservative and Christian, and there's nothing I enjoy more than working to undermine my kids' education. After all, I have my education, to the devil with everyone else, no? It's sort of like drilling holes in the boat we are all in to best ensure that the liberals get their feet wet. I take special pride in the fact that the tax money I fork over for education is poorly spent in many cases. Doesn't matter to me at all that we'll all be fish food when the supply of educated adults sinks to the bottom.
It is entirely unnecessary to scrap the current embodiment of public education and "start over".
There will never, ever, EVER, be enough money to meet the demands of human creativity and ambition. NO ONE likes paying taxes, and there will ALWAYS be some amount of waste in any organization, whether it be governmental, corporate, small business, or family unit. Arguing about these points is a waste of time, and accusing public schools in particular of inefficiency is baseless unless you have specific hard evidence and are willing to approach the school board and demand a change. Both large and small corporations try new business practices, training, and research to try to make improvements. Only a fraction of these efforts are successful- was all the rest a waste?
The US has both healthy and unhealthy schools. Unhealthy schools need more resources to improve; this is just common sense. Sometimes this means literally tearing down a failing school and starting over (recently done here in Denver). No one is out to “punish” healthy schools. The long term benefits to the community of having thriving, safe, healthy public schools is lower crime, better employment, better health, better jobs, better tax base, better everything. In fact, I can't think of a single reason I wouldn't want healthy public schools.
If you're a conservative capatalist, with a LONG TERM view of the world, you will instantly recognize that healthy public schools bring more opportunity for profits from the market at large. To lobby against good public education is a short term, self-centered, self-defeating position that actually harms the market.
It's fair to speculate that education 50-100 years from now will differ greatly from our current model.
In the US we tend to view this prospect as something that will spring from this country. But it is becoming clear even now, that the US will be just one of dozens of countries who will shape the tools and future of education. It may or may not turn out to be a major contributor.
However we should prepare to anticipate what changes may take place and adapt when they do. Perhaps one day we will even find a way to reverse our current tendency to substitute political jabber for genuine constructive activity in fields of this kind.
"Political jabber" is inescapable, because so much of human activity falls into the realm of politics, as opposed, say, into the realm of network theory. Our solutions to problems are often predicated upon our political leanings. This is especially clear in a discussion such as this one. The notion here is that public schools are lacking in some areas. Also, people here seem to want effective and efficient schools. But solutions, when they are propounded, may not be agreeable to all, since all may not agree on the concrete goals to be attained. For an interesting and amusing take on how and why conservatives and liberals can seem to want the same thing, but disagree on the means, read G. K. Chesterton's "What's Wrong with the World". Free at Gutenberg. Be warned, Chesterton had no preconceived notions. A quote: "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."
Very interesting quote. I, for one, prefer to continue to make mistakes. It is through making mistakes and recognizing as such, that I learn. Learning is a good thing, I think.
Preventing the correction of mistakes sounds like a definition of Evil.... or perhaps I'm just taking all this too far out of context.
Antennahead, Chesterton was an odd duck in many ways. But he's a great read. His comment on teaching methods that seek to explain the reason for the subject in detail to students goes along these lines: "explain to your 5th grader how important a mastery of math is, and see if you don't unlock his hidden desire to do long division." He's a hoot, and counted as friends both sides of the political spectrum.
A very interesting thread on our schools. Personally, I believe all of California's school problems start and end in Sacramento. Everything else downstream is merely following the laws put in place by Sacramento politicians and schools doing what they can do to avoid being sued. If a student happens to learn something in the middle of this, consider it a success.
MLED, the thread is so disconnected that I just put a response to "Your question on" down here. I agree with you; dumbing down of all sorts of things seems to be going on. That conservatives or the religious are the cause of it, I'm not so sure of. Some of it comes from the entertainment industry, who have discovered that catering to the lazy can pay pretty well: I don't think I'll label Hollywood as conservative or religious, would you?
MLED, I didn't read your note as a question as to whether or not I myself believe in evolution, sorry. Ah, yes and no. I certainly believe in natural selection: most of the species that have ever lived on earth disappeared millions of years ago when the coal and oil deposits were laid down. Others disappear when their niche disappears, if they don't adapt fast enough As to evolution, you'll have to be more specific as to what you mean by that. For me, the design of complex living organisms through random mutation, guided by natural selection doesn't work. There hasn't been enough time for a good crustacean to appear, let alone a man. How does it go, a million monkeys typing away for a million years don't produce Hamlet? Some other mechanism is at work. Does God directly tinker with His designs every day? No, I don't think so. I think the design pattern for this universe was laid down at the time of the Big Bang. Now look, we are far off this thread, and I'd love to chat with you (as you seem sensible) about the notion that the only cause of the BB must necessarily be "super" natural, but this isn't the place. By the way, my Hollywood herring was blue, don't you think? ;-)
I find it hard to believe in any THEORY that does not have any facts backing it up. There is no evidence in support of evolution and as such it is still a theory not fact. Creationism is a belief not a scientific theory and as such is a personal matter and not for science. Consider the "evolution" of the eye. How could hundreds of mutations happened all at once? The eye, the optic nerve, the connection to the brain, the eyelid, tear ducts, etc.. Without all these occurring at the same time there is no reason for success of that mutation. An eye forming without the rest would not have given the body any advantage. So no, I can not accept the theory of evolution it does not make any scientific sense.
The world will be a much better place when people stop making up belief systems to accommodate observations they don't understand.
As you said, creationism is a belief, and you are entitled to it under the First Amendment. But it also does not belong in schools as it is ultimately based in some sort of theology.
Just because one can not grasp how evolution works, or the scale of time and space on which it operates, doesn't mean it isn't true. Just because one doesn't understand, or chooses not to accept, the evidence that is present, doesn't mean it isn't true. Just because one doesn't understand, doesn't legitimize substituting in some other falicy, belief, or fiction for the sake of comfort.
How about you just say, "I don't understand how the eye formed," and just leave it at that. At least that's honest, and avoids encroaching on the beliefs of others, or science for that matter.
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