So I’m going with pregnancy as an excuse, even though I did exactly the same thing last year: it is final exam week and I am frantically trying to grade the pile of essays my students turned in over a month ago, before I have to grade the 168 essays my AP students are writing me today and tomorrow for their final exam grade.
[I love TEACHING English…I just despise grading it]
As I was grading I did an informal survey of the responses and thought I’d share them. Here is their prompt:
“The only real education comes from what goes counter to you.” ~ André Gide, essayist and winner of Nobel Prize in Literature
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” ~ Mark Twain, American author and humorist
Many see standardized testing as the answer to improving public education in the United States. Others look to a longer school day, increased use of technology, or more rigorous standards to obtain a teaching license. Still others believe solutions should be found in activities outside the classroom.
In a well-written essay, develop a position on what you believe is the key to improving education in the United States. Support your position with evidence from your reading, observations, and/or experiences.
~ 30% wrote that the key to fixing education is the teachers: we need to teach more exciting lessons/be less boring/engage students/interact with students/teach better/be more passionate/go to college longer/do more hands-on stuff. Here I’ve been doing it wrong the entire time when I sit down to plan lessons and my objective is “Students will not be able to understand a thing I teach because I willfully ignore their multiple learning styles and seek to bore them to tears.”
~ 25% wrote that students need more choice in education: like the college model of majors, kids shouldn’t not spend time in classes they won’t use/are a waste of time (examples included Spanish, chemistry, algebra, and US History); most argued toward career-specific courses that you decide on as early as 12.
~ 10% wrote that schools/AP classes need to be more selective: “Anyone can take an AP class, even if they shouldn’t be there, and they slow everyone down.” “A few bad apples can ruin the whole pie.” Some students went so extreme as to say students who don’t want to succeed in school shouldn’t be allowed to be there.
~ 10% believe standardized tests don’t make kids learn more (they’re not meant to); not a single one recognized tests don’t MAKE you learn – they’re supposed to MEASURE what you learn. “If teachers didn’t have to spend so much class time on studying what’s on the tests, we would have more time to study important stuff, like English.” Ah. Silly me. I’ve been too busy teaching what’s on the English test (English) to teach my subject (English).
~ 10% advocated to not make school attendance mandatory or to cut short the years of high school. If students don’t see the value in education and want to work a dead-end minimum wage job the rest of their lives, they should have that option. No one should make kids do anything they don’t want to do. Few students offered solutions for the massive amounts of poverty that would be generated by the number of 8-year-olds who decided they no longer wanted to get up for school.
~10% advocated for somewhat realistic solutions: high schools should start later in the day and run later to accommodate teen sleep cycles; a break period should be built in to allow students a nap/study hall time; school should run during the summer, with more breaks built into the year to minimize knowledge lost/review time in the fall; rather than organize students by age, organize them one-room-schoolhouse style by achievement (basically, a student could be in 4th grade math but 2nd grade reading – and kids stay in school as long as they needed to be). One student noted that poverty was a larger factor in education than anything in the educational system; another proposed that students could drop out at 16, but they had to sign a waiver saying they would never accept government welfare as long as they had no high school diploma. A third looked up his facts, and found out that we spend $12,000/year on a high school student in the US (highest of any country) but around $40,000/year on each inmate…and if we switched that spending we’d have fewer inmates.
~ 5% advocated for REALLY outrageous solutions: shipping failing students to an island, making every public school teacher get a Ph.D, coaches should never be teachers, all dropouts go automatically to boot camp, tripling teacher’s pay, class sizes of 10-12 kids everywhere, teachers take a survey and teach only what the students are interested in, no schools – just field trips, or probably the most common suggestion I read, “students just need motivation.”
I shouldn’t be so hard on them – they wrote realistically about what they felt were problems and tried to propose solutions. As one of their first real argument essays of year, I can’t fault them too badly for not thinking through every angle of their positions. Most students don’t consider the time teachers put into lesson planning or technology training or the cost that is associated with lowering class size, giving every student a laptop, or the ramifications of releasing teens into the real world sooner than 18. As a first year AP teacher, I’m pleased that they all grasped the purpose of the essay. And perhaps someday when they are the future, they will improve education for their kids.