Public Schools and Education: Why Teaching for High Achievement Doesn’t Work in the Real World

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When I was in the fifth grade, my class was learning the 50 United States of America and their capitals. We even learned a song of the states in alphabetical order, that I can still recite 98% correctly today (the “M” states always tend to get jumbled). While my teacher was helping us review for the big test, I raised my hand and asked “Why are we learning this?”

My teacher was shocked by my question, but she replied that we should know the place where we live and take pride in our country. I agreed that knowing the names of the 50 states was important for some nationalistic purpose, but why also the State Capitals. She suggested that maybe I would need to know the capital if I decided to travel there one day. I told her that the likelihood of me visiting St. Paul, Minnesota was ‘slim to none’. She continued the review as if I had no further comment.

The American Public School System has been failing for a long time now. With the Bush Administration’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top Initiative” there have been no significant changes made to better the education system in my lifetime. It’s been lost in competition strategies with no actual positive output.

One of my favorite writers on the topic is Diane Ravitch (http://dianeravitch.com/). She wrote many great books about educational policy and culture. In The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education she describes how education evolved over history and how High-Stakes Achievement Rankings are losing sight of actually teaching us anything at all.

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Last week, teachers across the United States led walkouts in the ‘Red for Ed’ movement. They have finally had enough of these unrealistic expectations, as budgets get slashed each school year. Teachers are never paid enough, unless they work in Europe.

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I recently read an article by Charles Chu titled “Rethinking Education: Is Education a Waste of Time & Money?” He says that it is generally acknowledged that “more education is a good thing, because more education equals economic prosperity.” But then he goes on to state “there is little evidence” to support this claim.

So, how does education need to change to be more productive for our world economy? Surely, there is no easy answer, and the more complex it gets, the less likely there will be real change.