Thursday, March 30, 2017

Getting Education Right — for a Change

"Teaching to the test" is the common format for K-12 education. But is it working? Very little improvement seems to result. SAT scores, the generally accepted metric for college readiness have been flat since 1970. In that same period, inflation adjusted federal funding has increased 375% and state funding increases ranged from 150% to over 200%. In that same period, we have gone through one educational “reform” after another (Goals 2000, New Math, Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, Charter Schools, and Head Start). Each new initiative, typically emphasizing new money, standards, curricula, and accountability policy, was needed because the prior programs did not meet expectations.  Where is the evidence that any of this works?
Robust learning only occurs when the learner takes charge of his or her own learning. To take such charge, a learner has to be motivated and has to know how to be an autonomous learner. Who teaches them how to become that?
I just had a book published that explains this remedy to teachers and parents (The Learning Skills Cycle. A Way to Rethink Education Reform). Teachers are one segment of the book's audience, because many teachers were not taught everything that is in the book. I know, because I give workshops on the subject to teacher groups. The book's audience also includes parents, who don't have to be an educational expert to learn the ideas in the book and transmit them to their children.
Another part of the problem is that teachers are usually not given the time and flexibility to work this kind of learning-how-to-learn into their curriculum, which is often driven by government edict and enforcement educrats. Having more "school choice" is not likely to help much either if charter- and private-school teachers aren't teaching learning-how-to-learn skills.
The right kind of reform of U.S. education is obviously important to the children and parents who are directly affected. But it should also be of concern to everyone, because we live in an interconnected and economically competing world. When other countries have more curricular flexibility and the knowledge and will to teach learning-how-to-learn skills, their populations become more competitive, in science, technology, economics, and military strength.
The compelling purpose for writing the book is that student achievement in the U.S. is not improving, despite all the government programs and enormous spending. As a man of medicine, I realize that if the treatment is not working there is a good chance the problem has been misdiagnosed. And the problem, as I see it, is that the learners do not have good learning skills, and that teaching such skills is not emphasized in the curricula. What these skills encompass includes: 1) wanting to learn, 2) ability for intense attention and focus, 3) knowing how to organize information, 4) strategic capabilities for reducing confusion when you don't understand new ideas, 5) using established principles and methods for making memorization easier and more reliable, 6) problem-solving skills, and 7) creativity. When students are taught these skills, they take charge of their own learning. Schools will start achieving their objectives.


Klemm, W. R. (2017). The Learning Skills Cycle.

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