How to Fix American Education:
- Use Computers to Instruct with Teachers as Coaches:
- Instruct to Each Person’s Learning Style (coach to induce them: “to want to learn”)
- Improve Concentration by Reducing Distractions (make learning fun, rewarding & exciting)
- Rapid Feedback and Assessment (monitor & correct ‘off-track’ instantly, through a network including parents)
Instruction describes how lessons are taught to students. There are two problems here: how well lessons are received by students; and instruction methods compatible with learning styles. Obviously entertaining lessons get better results than boring ones. Learning styles facilitate how well individual students learn. Kids learn in four basic ways: 1) they listen to lectures, read, and/or see the board; 2) they are skeptical learners, they need proof, they want to verify facts and existence before they assimilate them; 3) they learn cooperatively (by interacting); or, lastly, 4) they are artistic learners, they learn through representations, graphs, or pictures. Normally, if there are 25-30 kids, the teacher will have the full range of learning styles represented in the classroom; to be inclusive, teaching will need to be “around the horn,” with lessons at least partially tailored to each learning style.
The description of interactions between individuals in a group setting, like a classroom, is called “Group Dynamics.” It can also describe a group reaction to an outside stimulus, like a school-bell, clock, loud noise, etc. Learning is a concentrated individual task; therefore, anything disturbing students’ concentration will inhibit their learning process. The degree of learning inhibition is dictated by two things: one, the student’s ability to concentrate, (blocking outside interference), and, two, the intensity of the distraction itself. My studies determined that 50-75% of all learning in a school classroom setting is interrupted by distractions. You can quickly make a judgment regarding this by looking at the general results of “home schooling.” Learning distractions are virtually eliminated in a home-schooling environment. Homeschooled kids typically learn twice as fast as those who attend public schools. It’s easy to generalize that 50% of all learning troubles are linked to classroom distractions. There is another way to get rid of this problem and still have school classroom instruction as we do now. Have the students learn on computers, following a selected online curriculum; after this, they come to the classroom for “homework,” which is assisted by teachers and/or student-peer coaches.
Feedback is huge. Feedback keeps the students “on track,” it stops students from wasting time going in the wrong direction, or “chasing the wrong information.” Testing (assessment), is all about feeding back class results to the teacher; tests show how well the students are assimilating the lessons. Student feedback is done when the teacher tells the student how well (s)he did on the tests. John Hattie (Hattie (1999)) reported a synthesis of over 500 meta-analyses, involving 450,000 effect sizes from 180,000 studies, representing approximately 20 to 30 million students. This analysis included more than 100 factors influencing educational achievement and covered various aspects of those typically identified, such as attributes of schools, homes, students, teachers, and curricula. The average or typical effect of schooling was 0.40, and this provided a benchmark figure or “standard” from which to judge the various influences on achievement, such as feedback. At least 12 previous meta-analyses have included specific information on feedback in classrooms. These meta-analyses included 196 studies and 6,972 effect sizes. The average effect size was 0.79 (twice the average effect). To place this average of 0.79 into perspective, it fell in the top 5 to 10 highest influences on achievement in Hattie’s (1999) synthesis, along with direct instruction (0.93), reciprocal teaching (0.86), students’ prior cognitive ability (0.71), and also can be contrasted with other influences such as acceleration (0.47), socioeconomic influences (0.44), homework (0.41), the use of calculators (0.24), reducing class size (0.12), and retention back 1 year (–0.12). Clearly, feedback is one of the most powerful learning factors in education.
When I first started teaching, I didn’t know the basics of the profession; therefore, I went back to college and earned an MS in education, then I continued to a PhD. The beginning of my career in education started in 1999, after my partners and I sold our electronic engineering business. I had a “non-compete” agreement; therefore, I had to retire or find another job (unrelated to my former business). I always liked kids, so I answered an ad to be a teacher.
As a teacher, I found out American kids weren’t learning very well; I became very concerned about this. So, I made the “human drive to learn” my major area of study in college. Motivation itself, and the theory of motivation, was my “thing.” I believed then, and still do, that education is the key to our success as a nation, culture, and civilization. Actually, the success of the whole human species depends on education, and our future will definitely be determined by the education of our children.
I wrote a book (an Action Research PhD thesis) named “Megasmart.” I was trying to answer the question: “why is American education failing?” I never found a smoking gun, any single thing that is the main obstacle to getting a good education; but, I did find a few likely candidates. America’s general educational breakdown is nothing like what the experts tell us; the three big problems to address and solve in education are: Individual Learning Styles, Distractions, and Feedback.
Education using computers correctly answers these problems. With computers, curricula is selected to be entertaining, tailored to each student’s learning style, teachable in a good environment, and provides instant feedback (and can include repetition, if necessary). This now provides continuous assessment; removing the need for testing. Because feedback occurs at the same time lessons are delivered, and is instant, both to the student and to the teacher (progress is measured continually during the lessons). Teachers will now have time to effectively concern themselves with the progress of each student, coaching where necessary, evaluating the effectiveness of the curricula, and making adjustments to the learning environment.
I just got a request for money supporting educational reform. I want to list some of the statistics cited because it gives us an up-to-date idea regarding education in the state of Minnesota (these numbers may be extrapolated to the whole USA).
On average Minnesota spends $13,000 per student per year.
- 42% aren’t proficient in reading
- 48% aren’t proficient in science
- 39% aren’t proficient in math
- 22% don’t graduate on time
This is even worse in cities: Minneapolis spends $21,000 per student per year
- 58% aren’t proficient in reading
- 68% aren’t proficient in science
- 57% aren’t proficient in math
- 50% don’t graduate on time
Suburban schools aren’t doing too well either. According to a 2011 report large percentages of suburban high school graduates need to take remedial courses when they get to college…as many as 60-70%. The number of those who graduate from high school is seriously understated. It reflects the number of students that graduate as a percentage of those who enter high school. There are many kids “lost” between middle school and high school. They just drop out after middle school and before they enter high school and therefore, are not counted at all. Further research can identify this number of lost kids…but my estimate is as high as 10-15% of all students.
Consider these factors:
- Minnesota ranks 2nd in the US in the need for a well-educated work force
- 60% of jobs require a college education
- 75% of crimes are committed by high school dropouts; 82% of all prisoners are dropouts
- 50% of heads of households on welfare are dropouts
- 66.7% of women who are dropouts give birth out of wedlock
This listing is not to disparage or discriminate against those who don’t finish high school. It is to give you a framework on how valuable it is to help those who are dropouts or are potentially heading in that direction. I want this to be taken positively…”look at how much better off we’d be if we help high school dropouts to stay, finish their education, and succeed.”