I know I usually share resources and ideas, but every now and then I have a thought I want to share. Today is one such thought. Ok, it’s really some questions.
Someone posted on Twitter this week about how students don’t like school and asked the question, “What can be done to make it better?”. The suggestions ranged from student choice, less like prisons, to not requiring students to attend.
So how did we end up where we are?
History of Education
Compulsory education in the United States began in 1900 by 34 states, most in the north (Lingwall). By 1930, all states had a compulsory education law (Graham, 1974). The purpose of this compulsory education was not to learn to read, write, and do basic calculations but was deemed the best way to turn the nations unruly children into judicious, republican citizen (Groen, 2008). Horace Mann, in 1978, had already laid the foundation of grade level schools, having students progress through based on age regardless of skill level (Thomas, 2010).
In 1880, American high schools were primarily considered to be preparatory academies for students who were going to attend college. But by 1910 they had been transformed into core elements of the common school system and had broader goals of preparing many students for work after high school. The explosive growth brought the number of students from 200,000 in 1890 to 1,000,000 in 1910, to almost 2,000,000 by 1920; 7% of youths aged 14 to 17 were enrolled in 1890, rising to 32% in 1920. By 1940, 50% of the U.S. youth had earned a high school diploma (Church & Sedlak, 1976). Education in the United States: An Interpretive History) American post-elementary schooling was designed to be consistent with national needs. It stressed general and widely applicable skills not tied to particular occupations or geographic areas, in order that students would have flexible employment options. As the economy was dynamic, the emphasis was on portable skills that could be used in a variety of occupations, industries, and regions (“The History of Education in the United States: Secondary Schools”).
In the space of only a generation, public education had left behind a highly regimented and politicized system dedicated to training children in the basic skills of literacy and the special discipline required of urban citizens, and had replaced it with a largely apolitical, more highly organized and efficient structure specifically designed to teach students the many specialized skills demanded in a modern, industrial society. In terms of programs this entailed the introduction of vocational instruction, a doubling of the period of schooling, and a broader concern for the welfare of urban youth.Selwyn K. Troen, The Public and the Schools: Shaping the St. Louis System 1838–1920 (1975) pp 151, 224–26, quoted in Ravitch, The Revisionists Revised, pp 55–56
Dewey, the father of the foundation for much of what we do in education today, believed that schools were not only a place for students to gain content knowledge, but also as a place for them to learn how to live. He said the purpose of education was to realize the student’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. “Dewey insisted that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He noted that ‘education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction’.” (John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed (1897) PP. 6, 16).
The Great Depression set the precedent for moving funds away from education to other “necessary” areas of government.
In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released a report titled A Nation at Risk. Soon afterward, conservatives were calling for an increase in academic rigor including an increase in the number of school days per year, longer school days and higher testing standards.
“No Child Left Behind” was a major national law passed by a bipartisan coalition in Congress in 2002, marked a new direction. In exchange for more federal aid, the states were required to measure progress and punish schools that were not meeting the goals as measured by standardized state exams in math and language skills. We have had many reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act but most have the same goals as No Child Left Behind.
Where do we go?
Is is time for education to change again? Do we still want students to learn content or do we want them to think and be able to solve problems based on the information available to them? Those require two very different approaches to education. Learning content requires rigorous testing to “prove” the content is being learned according to the government. And what content is needed? But on the flip side, how do we “show” students are solving problems based on information they find? Do we need “proof” that this is occurring?
Do we need to only educate students through the 8th grade and then share career paths and opportunities, including college, vocational, technical, and work force? What would that look like? What if a student wants to change paths?
What about funding? How to we make funding for public schools more equitable without sending money to private and charter schools?
I haven’t answered any questions in this post. I have simply put information and questions on my blog for future consideration. Education is on the edge of another major change. As educators, we need to decide what we think needs to happen and then we need speak up and let those in power know what we think. Will they listen? Some, maybe. Will we make a difference? Maybe. Will we make a difference if we remain silent? No.
Education is changing. What do you want it to become?
1 thought on “Education is Changing”
Hello! I am a pre-service high school math teacher and found your blog post to be thought-provoking. I recollected a conversation with a professor who discussed some of the topics you mentioned in your post. I do not know too much about the history of education, but he mentioned how math and science classes were structured to teach the content that was required to become engineers during the Industrial Revolution. At the time, this made sense since we did not have the proper technology to perform certain calculations over a short period of time. Now with the ever-growing advancements in technology, I think education can change. The workforce wants applicants who are innovative and do not necessarily check off every item on their list. To do so requires students to build a strong conceptual understanding of the material. Finland is constantly admired for their education system. Vietnam and Finland use their upper secondary education levels to teach vocational skills, and I think this is something we will eventually adopt. At my high school, such a program was still new but has stayed and I think it will continue to grow.
Although I am not too sure how much the education system can change, I think that our funding is based on student scores and statistics, which seems unfair. By constantly comparing students with others from different classes, schools, districts, and states, it feels that our education system is focused less on the student and more on their scores. We have seen time and time that students can illustrate their knowledge differently. With regard to math classes, I think less time should be dedicated to preparing for standardized and district assessments, and more to understand the interconnection between math topics and classes. Furthermore, we can dedicate more time to adding discussions after solving real-life problems, which also simulate fields such as data science, etc. In this way, I think students will build a better opinion of school because it is less about a long list of to-dos, but engaging in activities that lead to optimal experiences.