A solution for our schools

schools

On Monday, the Obama administration announced plans to change how we assess whether schools are succeeding or failing, and to change how federal dollars are handed out based on such assessments. In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching program at Williams College, laid out her vision of the ideal classroom.

Engel applauded the administration’s efforts, but sees them as only a few steps in the right direction. What’s needed, she said, is a complete overhaul of primary education. She wrote that, “Our current educational approach — and the testing that is driving it — is completely at odds with what scientists understand about how children develop during the elementary school years and has led to a curriculum that is strangling children and teachers alike.”

A key concept to Engel is the idea that developmental precursors do not always look like junior versions of the skill they are meant to build on. In other words, rote memorization of a task, like saying the alphabet, does not necessarily help children learn to read, while having in depth conversations does.

The current focus leads to a “laundry list” style of goals which hem in teachers, and ultimately limit the education they provide. Engel described a school day with more creative reading, writing and storytelling, and time devoted learning activities kids naturally enjoy, such as observing the natural world, forming their own simple experiments, and counting things.

“[Children] should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay,” Engel explained when she outlined the key concepts and abilities children should master by age 12. “[They should] know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college.”

These are wonderful ideas and hopefully they will find a fertile ground in the years to come.

Source: New York Times

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