Personal Thoughts on Education

Fifteen year-old students in the US ranked 25th out of 34 nations on an international math test and ranked in the middle in science and reading. This again raises concerns for America’s youth being able to compete in a global economy.

Teens from South Korea and Finland led in almost all academic categories on the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment. This is according to the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that represents 34 nations. U.S. students ranked 17th in science and 14th in reading.

The Obama administration is promoting national curriculum standards and a revamping of teacher pay that stresses performance, rather than credentials and seniority. According to Secretary Duncan, “other countries are ahead of the US and improving more rapidly.”

The OECD’s international test, first administered in 2000, is given every three years, aims to measure skills achieved near the end of compulsory schooling. In the US, 165 public and private schools and 5,233 students participated in the two-hour paper and pencil examination.

A total of 470,000 students participated in a 65 nations and economies. For the first time Shanghai region was considered distinct and they scored even higher than South Korea and Finland.

Some suggest the US is placed at a disadvantage due to its heterogeneous and immigrant population. Some thought is also given to the idea that the US fails to put the most talented teachers in the challenging classrooms.

From a policy perspective the top scoring nations on the test offer clues to the US. Successful countries provide comparable opportunities to all students, regardless of wealth, offer autonomy to individual schools in terms of curriculum and prioritize teacher pay over smaller classes.

From a brain enrichment perspective, the argument for heterogeneity of population does not hold as everyone has a brain and the brain will react to proper stimulation with an outcome of learning. Some of the following suggestions might be considered by policy makers:

1.    Schools need to be considered brain health environments and we should apply our latest research on proper environments and nutrition to the school environment.

2.    The school day is not scheduled according to proper sleep-wake cycles and thus impairs learning. Our children are not getting proper sleep. Start the school day later and end later. This will also help students have time to eat breakfast. Our     students are also too stagnant during the day while all research indicates a relationship between mobility and enhanced learning.

3.    National Standards are good because they permit valid comparisons of performance.

4.    I agree with the report that autonomy (I call it freedom) is critical for schools. Teachers and students should have the freedom to be innovative and creative. To     this end Unions need to be significantly reduced or removed from the equation.  Bureaucracy tends to limit and reduce achievement, stifle innovation, and breed mediocrity. Is there anyone out there who wants to be limited? Teachers are a  talented and motivated group generally and they should be given the freedom to create and innovate.

5.    Curriculum is best learned when it is personal and applied.

6.    Scores should be considered a by product of other more primary mechanisms such as what motivates teachers and students, what stimulates peak brain function, and how the function of learning in school can be applied with a personal meaning.

7.    Money is clearly not the answer. Greatness can be achieved with a stick and stone if delivered in a personal and brain stimulating way.

8.    The student can overcome most obstacles if he or she is motivated to do well and enriches his or her brain through study, repeated exposure to the material,  application of the material to life, and prioritizes his or her education as     important. Family/parental input is critical here.

9.    Local solutions are typically better than one-size-fit-all approaches. While there are general principles of learning and environmental changes that should be applied in all schools, the creative and innovative capacities are best left to the     brains that work and learn within each school.

10.    A nation that spends more than most and yet is behind most is a nation that needs to change and to stop approaching the important topic of shaping the brains of  children in a political manner.

11.    We should integrate our latest neuroimaging technology to the school system to better understand proper shaping of the young brain and to build curriculums that  have the outcomes desired.

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